Sunday, May 30, 2010

Ubaldo Jimenez can forget winning the Cy Young

On Saturday night, Ubaldo Jimenez lost his bid to become the first Colorado Rockie to win the Cy Young award.

What is interesting about it is that Jimenez hasn't pitched since Wednesday, and won't pitch until Monday when he squares off against Tim Lincecum and the San Francisco Giants.

2,000 miles away, in Miami, Colorado native Roy Halladay pitched the 20th perfect game in major league history. It was a 1-0 gem over the Florida Marlins. Halladay did not rely on any big defensive plays, he simply sliced and diced the 27 consecutive Marlins into oblivion. It may have been the only way that the Phillies, who seemingly cannot buy a run, could win.

When something has been done 20 times in major league history, it is great. There is no way around that. Halladay deserves all of the accolades that come with throwing a perfect game. There is no doubt that he is one of the best pitchers in the game, and he has been for years.

The only problem with the perfect game thrown by Halladay is that, for all intents and purposes, it eliminated budding star Ubaldo Jimenez's chance at winning the National League Cy Young award.

Rockies fans have seen it far too often in the past. In 1998, a young first baseman named Todd Helton was showing the league why the Rockies had spent their first round draft pick on him. Helton led all rookies with a .315 batting average, he hit 25 home runs and had 97 RBI's. His OBP was a robust .911. Finding a rookie with similar stats to Helton's was impossible.

Unfortunately for Helton and the Rockies, a kid named Kerry Wood had two phenomenal games back-to-back. On May 3rd, Wood struck out 20 Houston Astro's, tying a major league record. In his next start in Arizona he struck out 18 Diamondbacks. The 38 strikeouts set a record for back-to-back starts.

Wood was impressive, going 13-6 with a 3.40 ERA and 233 strikeouts in just 26 starts, but the 20 strikeout game put him on the map and engraved his name on the Rookie of the Year trophy.

In 2000, Helton once again found himself missing out on national recognition. He led the league in two of the three triple crown categories, winning a batting title with a .372 batting average, and driving in the most runs with 147 RBI's. He also hit 42 home runs and had an OPS of 1.162. Anyone else with numbers like that would win the Most Valuable Player award in a landslide. Instead, Helton finished in 5th place, receiving just one first place vote.

In 2007 the Rockies experienced their biggest disappointing losses. In a year in which the Rockies found themselves in the World Series, their leader at the plate, Matt Holliday, led the league in batting average, with a .340 mark. He also led the league in RBI's with 137. Holliday notched a league leading 216 hits, 50 of which were doubles and 36 of which were home runs. His OPS was 1.012. He lost the MVP award in a close race to the Phillies Jimmy Rollins.

In the same year, Troy Tulowitzki set a National League record for home runs by a rookie shortstop with 24 long balls. He drove in 99 runs and batted .291. All of those numbers are incredible from the shortstop position. On defense, Tulowitzki did nothing more than lead the league in chances, and fielding percentage. He seemed nearly a sure bet to win the National League Rookie of the Year award.

Instead, Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers took home the prize. Braun hit .324 and drove in 97 runs while smacking 34 home runs. A phenomenal season, but especially great considering Braun did not arrive in the big leagues until May 28th of that season. Because of his late arrival, voters turned a blind eye to the .895 fielding percentage at 3rd base. Braun committed an incredible 26 errors in just 248 chances. Braun's WAR (wins over replacement) was 1.5 in 2007, while Troy Tulowitzki sported a rookie leading 5.6 WAR and helped lead his team to the playoffs.

So while Halladay and Tim Lincecum struggled over the past week, Ubaldo Jimenez was starting to see his national credibility go up. However, just like in 1998, 2000, and twice in 2007, most voters are going to forget about the pitcher who plays for the only team in Mountain Daylight time.

Instead, just like always, they are going to remain focused on the games that happen before most of the voting sportswriters find themselves in bed. Most Colorado Rockies games are played in Mountain time or Pacific time, meaning the majority of East Coast sports writers have already watched the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies and Mets play and have called it a night.

When those writers wake up in the morning, they may take a look at the box scores, but what is resounding in their mind is what they witnessed the previous night. They will never see that Jimenez has lightening stuff and that he throws up to 101 MPH but does not just throw heat, he makes it move as well.

When sportswriters cast their votes at the end of the season, Jimenez's no hitter will look like a junior varsity game compared to Halladay's perfect game. Writers will point to Jimenez's six walks as reason not to vote for him.

One thing that will undoubtedly happen is for the writers to completely forget where Jimenez plays half of his games. The reason why that is so important is because where the Rockies play their home games was the biggest excuse for all of the other Rockies not winning the awards in their respective years.

Everyone pointed to the fact that Helton only did what he did in 2000 because of Coors Field. They all talked about Matt Holliday only being a great hitter because of Coors Field. Troy Tulowitzki could not have been as much of an impact player had he been playing at sea level. The altitude of Coors Field was a driving force behind those awards not finding their way to Denver.

So the natural response when a pitcher is dominant at Coors Field is for the media to acknowledge that not only is that pitcher dominant, but that pitcher is dominant in what many have considered the greatest hitter's ballpark in the history of the game.

If Coors Field added so many positive statistics to Helton, Holliday and Tulowitzki, it would make sense that Jimenez is having to pitch against hitters who have a huge advantage half of the time because they are playing at Coors Field.

Instead, Rockies fans should brace early for the fact that even if Jimenez cruises to win 23 or 24 games, Halladay will be taking home the honor because, well, he threw a perfect game.

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  1. I think you are right. Ubaldo still has 2 chances for the Cy Young. He can throw a perfect game, or the Rockies could relocate the franchise to the East Coast. I don't think the former would help because, just like Dallas Braden, it would not count if not pitched by an East Coast team. It would be a curious anomaly, as opposed to a "real" no-hitter by an established name.

    By the way, I saw the Kerry Wood game on one of those "classic games" programs. It was embarrassing to watch because the ump had a ridiculously large strike zone that day. I don't want to take anything away from Wood who was terrific and used what the ump game him, but he had a little help.

  2. Druid posting here.
    Yeah, while there is a lot of East Coast bias, it is important to note that a perfect game does not always equal Cy Young. In fact, before 2010, at least the last 5 pefect game pitchers have not gotten the Cy Young award at all (I'll leave you to wiki that up.) And if we see a lot of no hitters and perfect games come up this year, then this is going to be less of a factor.

    What this does mean is that unless Lincecum can come up with the power pitching he had the last 2 years, there will not be a 3-peat. To be honest, I'm looking forward to Monday's game where it's Ubaldo v. Lincecum for this reason. Ubaldo certainly has the stuff of a quality Cy Young pitcher, has beaten Halladay as well. It doesn't make it a ultimate bid for Cy Young. It does make it a legitimate bid, as long as Ubaldo comes up with his regular mechanics. And if he still loses, then we can say it's the #eastcoastbias
    --@druidloveRox on Twitter.

  3. Miketober-
    Thanks for the comment, I agree with you on Wood's strike zone that day, he got a couple pitches that were a good six inches outside. We will see if the bias continues.

    Thanks for posting. I am not saying that Roy Halladay throwing a perfect game ensures him of the award, what I am saying is that if Jimenez ends the season 22-6 with a 2.50 ERA and Halladay goes 17-8 with a 3.00 ERA I think that the voters are going to remember the perfect game and give the award to Halladay, completely forgetting about the fact that Jimenez pitches in Coors Field, a place that they have discounted offensive numbers in for years.