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Friday, September 27
 
Zito deserves nod in tight AL Cy Young race

By Matt Szefc and David Schoenfield
ESPN.com

Who should win the American League Cy Young Award? When you glance at the numbers for the top three candidates -- Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe and Barry Zito -- it's difficult to pick one:

Martinez: 20-4, 2.26
Lowe: 21-8, 2.58
Zito: 22-5, 2.78

Pretty even? You better believe it.

That's why it's necessary to look deeper inside the numbers to see if one of the three separates himself from the other two. Here's a breakdown of each of the three and how they've done against above .500 teams and below .500 teams.

Martinez: 7-4, 2.14 ERA in 13 starts against above .500 teams; 13-0, 2.36 ERA in 17 starts against below .500 teams.
Lowe: 8-6, 3.16 ERA in 14 starts against above .500 teams; 13-2, 2.10 ERA in 18 starts against below .500 teams.
Zito: 11-4, 3.66 ERA in 20 starts against above .500 teams; 11-1, 1.88 ERA in 14 starts against below .500 teams.

As you can see, all three excelled against lower-tier teams with Martinez and Lowe doing especially well against the dreadful Orioles. Martinez was 4-0, 1.88 in four starts against the O's while Lowe was 4-0, 1.33 in four starts against Baltimore.

Zito, meanwhile, made several more starts against above .500 teams than did both Martinez and Lowe, thanks in large part to having Anaheim and Seattle in his division. Zito made nine starts combined against the Mariners and Angels and went 5-2, 4.44 in those outings.

Martinez made four starts against the Yankees, going 2-1, 3.46. He also had 35 strikeouts in 26 innings against New York and by far outdistanced Zito and Lowe in total strikeouts (Martinez had 239 K's compared to 178 for Zito and only 127 for Lowe). And while ERA is the most telling stat when determining a pitcher's value, Lowe's disappointing 8-6 record (3.16 ERA) against above .500 teams should basically drop him out of the running.

Thus, it should come down to Martinez and Zito for the award. And while Pedro had a great season and is still arguably the most dominant pitcher in the AL, if not the majors, Zito deserves to win the award. With their records and ERAs being so close, Zito has made four more starts and in turn has pitched 24 more innings (223.1 IP for Zito; 199.1 IP for Martinez) than Pedro. And don't forget, he pitched more often against better competition.

The king of New York
Derek Jeter is having another fine year for the Yankees, hitting .295, scoring 120 runs and stealing 32 bases in 35 attempts. On the other hand, he's hitting .295, which could be his first sub-.300 season since 1997, and has just 41 extra-base hits. This continues a downward trend in Jeter's offense since his best year in 1999:

YEAR   AVG   OBP   SLG  X-BASE  OPS
1999  .349  .438  .552    70    990
2000  .339  .416  .481    50    897
2001  .311  .377  .480    59    857
2002  .295  .372  .414    41    786

In '99, Jeter ranked fifth in the American League in OPS. Last season, he ranked 21st. This year, he's all the way down to 45th. Heck, the much-maligned Jose Hernandez has a higher OPS (834).

Jeter is the seventh-highest paid player in baseball this year at $14.6 million. He's signed through 2010, when he'll make $21 million . That's a lot of money to be paying for a player in a severe three-year hitting decline. At 28, Jeter is young enough to regain his swing, but George Steinbrenner could be shelling out a lot of money for a mediocre hitter.

By the way, the Yankees have six of the 25 highest-paid players on their roster. The A's have zero. The A's enter the final weekend tied with the Yankees with 100 wins, as they try to finish with a better regular-season record than the Bronx Bombers for a third straight year.

Ersty vs. Cammy
Darin Erstad's Angels made the playoffs. Mike Cameron's Mariners did not. Erstad is hitting .283 and hustles a lot. Cameron is hitting .240 with a 170 whiffs. Ergo, Erstad is having a good year while Cameron is not.

Wrong.

Player    AVG   OBP   SLG  HR  X-BASE  OPS
Ersty    .283  .313  .388  10    41    702
Cammy    .242  .345  .451  25    56    796

It's not even close. Cameron has a much higher on-base and slugging percentage. When factoring in that Cameron plays in tough-to-hit Safeco Field and is a better center fielder, he blows away Erstad -- despite all the strikeouts and the low batting average.

Seventy-three American Leaguers have played regularly enough to quality for the batting crown. Erstad ranks 67th in OPS. The Angels are fourth in the AL in runs scored entering the final weekend, but that's due to guys like Anderson, Salmon and Glaus, not Erstad.

Random stuff

  • Ever notice how many more bad hitters there are in the NL compared to the AL? Of the 30 regulars with the lowest OPS, 22 are National Leaguers.

  • Trevor Hoffman has zero tough saves (entering with the tying run on base). Byung-Hyun Kim leads the majors with six tough saves, John Smoltz and Eric Gagne have five apiece. Mike Williams also has zero.

  • Billy Koch has blown six saves, but got the win in five of those games. His only blown save that resulted in a loss came on May 30 at Tampa Bay, a game the Devil Rays won in 14 innings.

  • Vinny Castilla homered Friday, only his second homer since June 11.






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