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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: September 26, 2022 5:45 pm PDT
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The chatter in New York about the possibility of Mets closer Edwin Diaz getting serious consideration for the Cy Young Award started to gain some traction –  during and immediately after his dominating performance in a five-game series against Atlanta at Citi Field earlier this month.

While Diaz’s effort against the Braves that weekend was just a microcosm of what he has been doing all season, it was the first time many fans got to see what he has been doing this season. Still, chances are that any campaign for him to win the coveted award will likely fall short. Though nine relievers have won the award, none has done so since Eric Gagne in 2003. It takes a special combination of circumstances for a reliever to win the award and the stars simply don’t seem set to align for Diaz regardless of how dominant he has been.

Miami starter Sandy Alcantara seems to be this season’s darling and could be headed for the award despite playing on a moribund team. The Baseball Writers Association of America votes on the award and we spoke with several active and retired members of the organization who have or are currently still casting votes for Cy Young, Most Valuable Player etc. While they are impressed with what Diaz has done, it doesn’t appear as if it will be enough to knock Alcantara off his perch despite the fact that Alcantara allowed eight earned runs in two of three starts heading into Monday’s action against San Diego.

Even though Alcantara saw his ERA jump from 1.81 to 2.01 over that stretch [it was also the first time his ERA went above 2.00 since the end of May], he remains a workhorse and the current favorite in the National League. He had gone at least seven innings in 16 of his first 23 starts, including a stretch of 13 consecutive starts between May 11 and July 15. He was also leading the National League in ERA, innings pitched [166], batters faced [636] and complete games prior to Monday’s games.

Edwin Diaz #39 of the New York Mets reacts after the final out during the ninth inning against the New York Yankees at Citi Field on July 26, 2022 in New York City. The Mets won 6-3. (Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images)

Diaz, meanwhile, led the Major Leagues among relievers with 94 strikeouts, 23 more than his nearest competitor, through Sunday. He had fanned 52.2 percent [94 of 180] of the batters he faced, which is the highest strikeout rate by a relief pitcher in MLB history through 47 appearances. He was also leading the Majors with a 17.87 K/9 innings. Diaz, who picked up his 200th career save on Saturday against the Phillies, hadn’t allowed a run in his last 20 outings and was the NL Reliever of the Month in both June and July.

So, who should get the nod? There are still nearly seven weeks remaining in the regular season. Diaz is pitching in high-leverage situations for team with World Series aspirations while Alcantara is largely pitching in a vacuum.

Dodgers Tony Gonsolin [14-1, 2.24 ERA], who was tied for the league lead in wins, and Tyler Anderson [13-2, 2.81 ERA] have been equally spectacular with Gonsolin chasing a bit of history as well. Pittsburgh’s Roy Face holds the record with a .947 winning percentage in 1959, when his 18-1 final record was the best in nearly 50 years. Detroit’s Max Scherzer would match him at 18-1 in 19 decisions for the Tigers [2013] but finished the season at 21-3 [.875 winning percentage]. And, Atlanta’s Kyle Wright, whose 14 victories had him tied with Gonsolin heading into Monday.

So, what do the people who have cast the ballots in the past think. Consider Clark Spencer’s point of view. Spencer covered the Marlins for 20 years at the Miami Herald before retiring in 2019. He doesn’t see much of a path for Diaz. Know that when Gagne won the award Clark was one of two voters who did not cast a ballot for the Dodgers closer. Clark voted for San Francisco starter Jason Schmidt of the Giants and Chicago’s Mark Prior.

“The idea that they not only have a lockdown closer but a spectacular lockdown closer I think has added a little hardness to the Mets.”

“He [Gagne] got 28 of 30 first-place votes and I didn’t have him in my top three,” Spencer said. “It was nothing against Gagne, he was great. But my point of view on relievers is that they face three or four batters and that’s it. Starters, particularly in those days, had to churn through the lineup two or three times. They had to give you at least five innings and what has greater value?

“Go back and look at what Edwin Diaz did with Seattle in 2018. He led the Major Leagues in saves [57] and look where he finished in the Cy Young voting [eighth with two percent of the vote]. He finished low. This isn’t my view; this is kind of the universal view. Nothing against Edwin Diaz, he is an elite reliever and you can tell from watching the Marlins that they don’t have anything in the same breath as this guy. Alcantara has been kind of a throwback. He leads the league in innings and has three complete games. Do you want to compare 150 something innings to 40 something innings? It’s no contest.”

We also spoke with one long-time BBWAA member from New York who appreciates what Diaz has done. While he leans toward having the same view as Spencer when comparing the closer to Alcantara he does appreciate what Diaz has accomplished, particularly in light of how poorly he was viewed after he arrived in New York.

“I wouldn’t say that I would pick him over Alcantara but I would think about it and that says something,” the writer said. “You can say they pitch so many fewer innings but you can also argue that they impact more games than a starter. They don’t traditionally have a foothold, though, and you have to be this extraordinary to get into the conversation. Unfortunately, he is in a season where Alcantara is turning starting pitchers on their heads in a world where it’s five [innings] and fly.

“I’ve seen him [Alcantara] pitch live and it’s very impressive. He is truly remarkable. But Diaz is someone I would consider, if not number one then in the top three because of the year he is having. Obviously, he has had a huge impact on that team. The idea that they not only have a lockdown closer but a spectacular lockdown closer I think has added a little hardness to the Mets. I don’t want to say swagger, but they ought to feel how good they are because they are really good. Diaz doesn’t attempt to be flashy but his stuff is so flashy and maybe that lends to the idea of him being on the ballot.”

Tony Gonsolin #46 of the Los Angeles Dodgers walks back to the dugout after retiring the side against the Tampa Bay Rays during the first inning in Game Two of the 2020 MLB World Series at Globe Life Field on October 21, 2020 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Another point that the aforementioned writer also discussed was Mariano Rivera, a Hall-of-Famer and the greatest closer the game has ever seen. Rivera, for all his brilliance, never won the Cy Young. He finished second once [in 2005 as a 35-year-old] and third three times [1996, 1999 and 2004] in the voting. Rivera, who is the all-time save leader [652], received eight first-place votes in 2005 while Angels starter Bartolo Colon [yes, Big Sexy] received 17 votes after leading the league with 21 victories. Rivera had 43 saves and a 1.38 ERA with 80 strikeouts in 70 1/3 innings, numbers that could pale in comparison to what Diaz may end up with should he stay the course.

“That’s a fair question,” the writer said. “I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that some voters would think of that and wonder. Mo had some tremendous years. Every year if he had two appearances in a row that weren’t great you’d have to write a ‘What’s wrong with Mo’ story. That’s how unusual it was for him to falter.

“Maybe closers are considered differently than they were in Mo’s day. Do voters look more kind on closers now? Diaz is locking down games and having an effect on 50 or 60 games as opposed to a starter who goes 32. At least a closer is more of an everyday player than a starter. How can anyone win, though, if the greatest never did. Eric Gagne did win and that’s one of the most incredible closing seasons ever, so that’s also a wrinkle.”

Relievers have long gotten their due, whether it was earning the Rolaids Relief Man [1976-2012], which Rivera won five times, The Delivery Man of the Year Award [2005-2013] and now the Mariano Rivera AL Reliever of the Year and Trevor Hoffman NL Reliever of the Year, both of which were created in 2014. Relievers do get recognition, several have even won MVP Awards, but should they be considered for the top honor?

Tom Haudricourt covered the Brewers for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for nearly four decades. He voted for the major awards during his career but doesn’t see much of a path for Diaz, either.

“I think they took it [the chance of the Cy Young] away when they introduced The Reliever of the Year Award,” he said. “It would take what I call a special achievement for a reliever to win. I always looked to the starters first. I thought that starting every five days and going 200 innings was more representative of the top pitchers. And I struggled with the same things everyone else does – what are we supposed to make of saves? A one-run save is certainly not the same thing as a three-run save. I’m just not real sure how important a save might be.

“And I think what has made it harder for a relief pitcher to win a Cy Young is the understanding of the voting writers that wins and losses are not how we should judge starting pitchers. Once guys came around analytically and to not have to be 18-3 to win the award, that hurt relievers. That expanded the field of starters. Look at Jacob deGrom. He started winning the Cy Young with 10, 12 victories. People look at wins and losses less so they look more at starters.”

A great deal can happen between now and October so to say Alcantara, Diaz, Gonsolin or anyone else has a lock on the award would be a bit foolish. The chatter in New York will only continue to grow if Diaz continues to perform at his current level but will it be enough? History says probably not.

Covered a Mets-Astros doubleheader in 1987 and never looked back. Spent eight years at MLB.com, more than half of that as the Mets beat writer. Had one beat writer from another newspaper threaten to kill him in an elevator at the winter meetings. The other half was as MiLB.com’s staff historian. Worked three years in Philly at Comcast covering the Phillies’ minor leagues and doing weekly TV spots. Author of the popular blog The Bobblist, which covers everything A to Z in the world of bobbleheads. Really.

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