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Wednesday, November 6
Cy Young debate: Zito's the choice

By Matt Szefc

Much like the race for the AL West title for most of the 2002 season was a three-team battle, the race for the AL Cy Young Award is a three-man battle between Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe and Barry Zito.

And when you look at the basic numbers for all three, it's impossible to easily pick a winner:

Martinez: 20-4, 2.26
Lowe: 21-8, 2.58
Zito: 23-5, 2.75

Zito had the most wins (23), Martinez had the lowest ERA (2.26) and Lowe was a close second in both categories.

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 did against .500 and above teams and below .500 teams:

Martinez: 7-4, 2.14 ERA in 13 starts against .500 and above teams; 13-0, 2.36 ERA in 17 starts against below .500 teams.
Lowe: 8-6, 3.16 ERA in 14 starts against .500 and above teams; 13-2, 2.10 ERA in 18 starts against below .500 teams.
Zito: 11-4, 3.66 ERA in 18 starts against .500 and above teams; 12-1, 1.86 ERA in 17 starts against below .500 teams.

All three excelled against lower-tier teams with Martinez and Lowe doing especially well against the woeful Orioles. Martinez was 4-0 with a 1.88 ERA in four starts against the O's while Lowe was 4-0, 1.33 in four starts against Baltimore.

Zito, meanwhile, made more starts against .500 and above teams than Martinez and Lowe, thanks in large part to having Anaheim and Seattle in Oakland's division. Zito made nine starts combined against the Mariners and Angels and went 5-2 with a 4.44 ERA 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 127 for Lowe). The low strikeout rate for Lowe also indicated he had to rely on his defense much more than Martinez or Zito, since he wasn't recording the outs himself. And while ERA is the most telling stat when determining a pitcher's value, Lowe's disappointing 8-6 record (3.16 ERA) against .500 and above teams basically dropped him out of the running.

Thus, it should come down to Martinez and Zito for the award. Their win-loss records and ERAs are so close, but Zito made five more starts and pitched 30 more innings (229.1 IP for Zito; 199.1 IP for Martinez) than Pedro. And what also must be taken into account is that Zito pitched more often against better competition. (See the Baseball Prospectus article for more details on pitchers' schedules.)

I bet you know who I would vote for. But just to make it official, here are my picks:

How I'd vote:
1. Zito
2. Martinez
3. Lowe

How they'll finish:
1. Zito
2. Martinez
3. Lowe

Matt Szefc is the assistant baseball editor at

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