Sabathia’s Big Push
How much should late season performance factor into award voting? On Saturday, C.C. Sabathia threw a seven-inning one-hitter to defeat the Red Sox and push the Yankees magic number to clinch the division to 1. Will this last bit of dominance push Sabathia to the front of the Cy Young voting? In the Cy Young Predictor, developed by Bill James and Rob Neyer, puts Zack Greinke slightly ahead of Sabathia after Greinke’s 1-run shutdown of the Twins on Sunday. If Sabathia wins one more game, he will be the only pitcher to reach 20 in the American League.
One important comparison would be Chipper Jones’ MVP in 1999. In the first three months of the season, Jones hit 14 homers with a .291 batting average and 44 RBIs. Over the last three months, in slightly less at bats, he hit 31 homers, 65 RBIs, and a .349 batting average. Jones had an exceptional last three months of the season. He also had an outstanding year against the Mets, the chief rival of the Braves that season, hitting .400 with 7 home runs and 16 RBIs in 12 games, including dominating the Mets in September. That same season, Larry Walker led the league in batting average, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage. Walker, of course, played for the Colorado Rockies, and his numbers were subsequently discounted. He hit .461 at home and only .286 on the road. Clearly, factors beyond simply on-field performance are important, including when and where you do what you do.
If you look at the numbers, Jones, like Sabathia, had a very good year. His performance down the stretch, though, was certainly essential as he won the MVP nearly unanimously over Jeff Bagwell, Matt Williams, Greg Vaughan, and Mark McGwire. Could the same happen to Sabathia? His September ERA is 1.29, by far his lowest of any month. He is also 4-0 with 35 strikeouts. Greinke, of course, has an 0.55 ERA with 35 strikeouts and a 3-0 record in September, but he has done it with less fanfare. My prediction? If Sabathia wins 20, he will win the Cy Young award with voters referencing his exceptional performance down the stretch and how sad it was that he did not win last year in Milwaukee. I would still support Greinke, but I would not be surprised to see him lose.