R.A. Dickey continues his unlikely role as the wizard of Queens, but his support staff has been unmasked as an empty uniform. If Dickey is to land in Oz, he’ll have to do it on his own.
Oz, in this instance, isn’t where Dorothy and Toto wound up but is Dickey’s destination as baseball’s best pitcher this season. He is headed in that direction despite the erosion of the team that has turned out to be, not unexpectedly, as punchless as the Scarecrow, Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion.
Dickey is the only pitcher among the major league leaders who is not performing for a playoff contender. What’s that? You took a long summer’s nap or a summer vacation and missed the Mets’ discouraging development?
At the All-Star break the Mets had a 46-40 record and were 4 ½ games out of first. Since then, through Saturday, they had an 8-20 record and had plummeted 17 games from first. There is no chance or hope for recovery.
Dickey was the winning pitcher in three of those eight victories, maintaining his status as the lone consistently reliable player on the roster. His place among the majors’ leading pitchers is impressive.
His 15 wins are the most in the National League and tie him with the Angels’ Jarrod Weaver and the Rays’ David Price for the major league lead. His 166 strikeouts are tied with Stephen Strasburg’s 166 for the most in the N.L. Those are two of the pitching triple crown categories.
(I digress here. When I mention pitching victories, critics let me know how foolish I am. Hey, dummy, they write, haven’t you learned that wins are a meaningless, at least most unimportant, measurement of a pitcher’s performance. He has no control over winning and losing, they say. I say nonsense and will continue to say nonsense.)
In the third triple crown category, earned run average, Dickey’s 2.72 is half a run higher than Ryan Vogelsong’s N.L. leading 2.27 for the Giants, a narrow enough gap for Dickey to close by the end of the season. Dickey also lags behind the Nationals’ Jordan Zimmerman 2.35 and the Reds’ Johnny Cueto 2.58.
There is no official recognition of the pitching triple crown, just as there isn’t for the hitting triple crown (batting average, home runs, runs batted in), but Elias Sports Bureau provided a list of pitchers who led their league in wins, earned run average and strikeouts in the same season, Bob Waterman noting that the feat has become “fairly common” in the past decade and a half.
From 1973 through 1996 the only pitching triple crown winner was Dwight Gooden in 1985. This is the list of winners since:
|1997||AL||Roger Clemens (Toronto)||21||292||2.05|
|1998||AL||Roger Clemens (Toronto)||20||271||2.65|
|1999||AL||Pedro Martinez (Boston)||23||313||2.07|
|2002||NL||Randy Johnson (Arizona)||24||334||2.32|
|2006||AL||Johan Santana (Minnesota)||19||245||2.77|
|2007||NL||Jake Peavy (San Diego)||19||240||2.54|
|2011||AL||Justin Verlander (Detroit)||24||250||2.40|
|2011||NL||Clayton Kershaw (L.A.)||21||248||2.28|
This is not a bad group for Dickey to aspire to join. However, most of the pitchers who could block Dickey’s path to the triple crown of pitching are in a better position to help their teams get to the post-season than Dickey is, though through no fault of his.
Johnny Cueto and A.J. Burnett each have 14 victories, one less than Dickey, and their teams are one-two in the N.L. Central. Gio Gonzalez has also won 14 games, and his team, the Nationals, is in first place in the N.L. East.
Gonzalez is also among the strikeout leaders with 154, putting him 12 behind Dickey and his teammate, Strasburg, but Strasburg won ‘t spoil Dickey’s triple crown chances because the Nationals plan to shut him down for the last month or so of the season.
The pitchers who have lower earned run averages than Dickey are all with first-place teams – Vogelsong with the Giants, Zimmerman with the Nationals and Cueto with the Reds.
Besides these mundane and meaningless statistics (I get confused about what’s important these days), which would seem to put Dickey in position to win the N.L. Cy Young award, he leads the league in innings pitched and complete games with twice as many, 4, as anyone else.
If he maintains his season-long level of pitching, the award should be his, unless the voters come up with an 11-game winner who they feel is more worthy because of his obscure statistics. The only negative factor on his resume is he pitches for the Mets. His competitors don’t have that drawback.
Does the American League have a triple crown candidate? Price would seem to be one, but Weaver would suddenly have to become a strikeout pitcher to join the competition.
Weaver has a 15-1 record and a major league-leading 2.13 e.r.a., but he has only 101 strikeouts. Verlander, last year’s A.L. triple crown and Cy Young award winner, leads the majors with 174 strikeouts and has the second lowest American League e.r.a., 2.46. But he lags behind in wins with 12. Price is tied with Weaver in wins with 15 and is third in e.r.a. at 2.50, but he is 23 strikeouts behind Verlander.
There’s always Felix Hernandez of Seattle, the 2010 Cy Young award winner with a 13-12 record. Based on that achievement, he shouldn’t be discounted this year because of his 10-5 record. He is fifth in e.r.a. with 2.74 and third in strikeouts with 162.
After he won the 2010 award, I expressed the view that I thought he was the A.L.’s best pitcher but questioned the writers’ decision to give him the award that year. CC Sabathia had a 21-7 record and Price 19-6, and I thought either one was more deserving than Hernandez.
But if you think Hernandez is the best pitcher in the league, a reader asked, why do you think he shouldn’t get the award? I explained that I can think a player is the best generally but not in a particular season, which I believe was the case with Hernandez. Chances are if Hernandez pitched for the Yankees or the Rangers, he would win 20 games every year. I think that was the reasoning used by the voters in 2010.
But baseball history is filled with unfortunate placement of good players with bad teams. Unless those players become free agents and can go to much better teams, the most they can expect is sympathy.
NOT THE WIZARD OF OS
Roy Oswalt was the odd man out in Philadelphia last winter and found himself the odd man out again in Texas this summer.
The right-handed pitcher, twice a 20-game winner with Houston, played a season and a half with the Phillies after the Astros traded him two days before the non-waiver trading deadline in 2010. He compiled a 7-1 record with the Phillies the rest of that season and won a game in the league championship series. But last season he struggled with a 9-10 record, and the Phillies let him leave as a free agent.
They had kept Roy Halladay from leaving as a free agent after the 2009 season by giving him $60 million for three years. After the 2010 season they signed Cliff Lee as a free agent to a 5-year, $120 million contract. But they had no money left in the bank for Oswalt.
The 34-year-old right-hander did not sign with anyone last winter but agreed to a 1-year $5 million contract with the Rangers two months into this season. On June 22 he began a string of six starts for the Rangers in which he produced a 4-2 record and a 6.49 e.r.a. The day after Oswalt’s sixth start the Rangers acquired another starter, Ryan Dempster, and now had to move a starter to the bullpen.
They didn’t want to mess with Scott Feldman because he had won four straight starts so they shifted Oswalt to the bullpen even though he wanted to be a starter.
“He wants to start; he has no bones about that,” Thad Levine, the assistant general manager, told reporters. “We have had internal conversations about that, but we prefer to keep the exact nature of those conversations private.”
In each of his first two relief appearances the first week of this month, Oswalt pitched two scoreless innings. After the second one, however, it appeared that Oswalt had refused to pitch a third inning, saying he had told the Rangers he didn’t want to pitch in relief. What the Rangers didn’t need in their quest for a third consecutive World Series appearance was that kind of attitude.
But manager Ron Washington quickly defused the situation.
“He said he couldn’t go any further,” Washington said. “He said he had enough.”
John Blake, the Rangers’ executive vice president for communications, said Washington and Oswalt met last week in Boston and discussed the issue.
“He had thrown 200 pitches in seven or eight days,” Blake said, “and that hadn’t been communicated. He threw 96 pitches against the Angels July 30. Then they told him the next day to prepare to pitch Sunday, and he threw a bullpen (session). Then he pitched two innings in relief against the Angels. He said he never had thrown that many pitches in seven, eight days. They’re learning how to user him in relief. He’s dominant for one inning. He’s not suited to being a long man.”
Oswalt’s time with the Rangers won’t do much for his free agency next winter if he puts himself on the market as a starter, but he could benefit from the Rangers’ post-season presence and another possible World Series.
WILLIE AND MIKE
Ron Washington, the Rangers’ manager, apparently got tired of hearing comparisons of Mike Trout, the Angels’ terrific rookie outfielder, with one of the game’s greats, Willie Mays.
“He’s not Willie Mays,” Washington said recently after a series with the Angels. “He’s a pretty good player, but I think the comparisons have to stop. Let the kid play. When he’s been here five years, six years, then you can start doing that.”
Washington makes a good point, but he has to remember one thing. Trout, before Sunday’s games, was the American League leader in hitting (.344), runs scored (88) and stolen bases (36). As a 20-year-old rookie with the New York Giants in 1951, Mays had one hit, a home run, in his first 26 times at bat. His .038 7-game average became .274 by the end of the season.