Clemens will pick off Cy Young Award, even without 20 victories

BASEBALL

September 29, 1991|By PETER SCHMUCK

For some reason, there is the mistaken impression around baseball circles that there is a weak field for the American League Cy Young Award.

This, of course, is ridiculous.

There also is the mistaken impression that there is no clear-cut front-runner for the AL half of baseball's most coveted pitching trophy.

This also is ridiculous.

It is true that there will be no surplus of 20-game winners in either league, but the pertinent statistics tell a very simple story.

Boston Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens will win the Cy Young, even though he probably will finish a victory or two shy of the magical 20. The rest of his resume overwhelms the rest of the field, but a weak field it is not.

True, there were three 20-game winners last year, including 27-game winner Bob Welch, but there were only six pitchers with 18 victories or more. This year, there could be as many as nine pitchers with 18 victories when the season is over.

The best of the rest:

* Minnesota Twins 19-game-winner Scott Erickson, who had the Cy Young wrapped up until someone insisted that second-half statistics be included in the evaluation process.

* Jim Abbott and Mark Langston, who have won 17 games each for the second-division California Angels and each have sub-3.50 ERAs.

* Chicago White Sox ace Jack McDowell, whose 15 complete games lead the league, but whose 3.44 ERA is more than a run higher than Clemens'.

* Detroit Tigers right-hander Bill Gullickson, who has won 19 games despite giving up an average of almost four earned runs per nine innings.

Clemens rises to the top on the strength of his league-leading 2.38 ERA, but his superiority doesn't stop there. He also is the league leader in strikeouts (217) shutouts (four) and innings (248 1/3 ).

It seems like a pretty clear choice, even if there isn't a 27-game winner this year.

*

Unkindest cut of all department: Angels second baseman Luis Sojo became the first casualty of an Operation Desert Storm pre-game celebration last week, when teammate Lance Parrish accidentally slashed Sojo's hand with a ceremonial bayonet.

The bayonets had been awarded to Wally Joyner and Abbott for the moral support they gave Desert Storm families during the Persian Gulf war.

Sojo suffered deep gashes in his left thumb and right little finger when he overreacted to a playful attack by Parrish in the Angels clubhouse. He was fortunate that he did not suffer tendon damage, but he will be lost for the remainder of the season nonetheless.

The Angels second baseman tried to cover for Parrish by telling reporters he cut his hands on a broken drinking glass, but a remorseful Parrish freely admitted his responsibility for the injury.

It may have been the unkindest cut of an unkind season, but it was not the first time an Angels player has been in stitches with a less-than-reasonable explanation. In the early 1980s, veteran pitcher Dave Goltz had to be removed from the Angels starting rotation after he cut his pitching hand on a toilet-paper dispenser.

*

Rumor of the week: The word about Anaheim Stadium is that new senior vice president Whitey Herzog has been given carte blanche to build a world championship team. There has been speculation that the Angels will make a major play for Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Bobby Bonilla if he becomes a free agent and will spend whatever it takes to keep Joyner (another potential free agent) in an Angels uniform. Not that the Angels were ever hesitant to open the vault for an attractive player. They made Langston the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history after the 1989 season and signed third baseman Gary Gaetti to a $10 million free-agent contract last winter.

*

Here's another interesting Cal Ripken stat, courtesy of baseball writer Vern Plagenhoff of Booth Newspapers:

Ripken is batting .325 with 32 home runs, 110 RBI and 40 strikeouts. If he finishes the season with with fewer than 49 strikeouts, there will be only one active player -- Don Mattingly -- who has hit at least .300 with at least 30 homers and 100 RBI in a season and struck out fewer times.

Mattingly had three seasons (1985-87) in which he reached the benchmark plateaus in the Triple Crown categories and struck out 41 times or fewer, including a 1986 season that included the lowest strikeout total (35) of any active player in the .300-30-100 club. George Brett has the next fewest strikeouts in a .300-30-100 season, with 49 in 1985.

There are only nine active players who have had .300-30-100 seasons with fewer than 100 strikeouts -- Mattingly (1985-87), Eddie Murray (1980-82, 1983), Brett (1985), George Bell (1986-87), Dave Parker (1978, 1985), Dwight Evans (1987), Ryne Sandberg (1990), Barry Bonds (1990) and Pedro Guerrero (1982).

*

Cleveland Indians pitcher Greg Swindell has 29 walks in 232 innings this year and two in his past 36 innings.

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