The cy young award carries almost none of the interpretive intrigue of the MVP. It's the realism of Courbet contrasted with the abstract expressionism of Pollock. After all, since the current balloting format began in 1970, only eight of the 64 Cy Youngs have been decided by fewer than 10 points (the equivalent of two first-place votes), and there have never been two such close calls in the same year. However, the simple act of choosing the best pitcher in each league never has been more difficult than it is this year.
The 2002 races might bring the first double photo finish, with vexed American League writers having to choose from among Barry Zito of the Oakland A's and teammates Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe of the Boston Red Sox, while their NL counterparts must try to split the microfibers that separate the Arizona Diamondbacks' Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson.
"It's like having twin daughters," Arizona manager Bob Brenly says, "and they're both up for homecoming queen. They're identical, and I love them both. I'm glad I don't have to weigh in on that."
Schilling (23-6, 3.02 ERA, 303 strikeouts in 250? innings) and Johnson (23-5, 2.40, 326 strikeouts in 251 innings) seem to be near statistical twins. Could Schilling possibly not win the award with an eye-popping 9.5 strikeouts for every one walk, twice that of Johnson's ratio? Actually, yes.
Johnson has been slightly tougher to hit (.210 to .223), and especially untouchable with runners in scoring position (.146 to .252). The 0.62 difference in ERA is also significant in this hairsplitting exercise. Finally, consider how many times each man pitched like a Cy Young winner. Forget quality starts (at least six innings with no more than three earned runs allowed), a template for mediocrity that allows for a 4.50 ERA. Look at how many times these two delivered what we might call superlative starts, lasting at least eight innings and giving up no more than two earned runs, a 2.25 ERA equivalent. Schilling turned in seven such outings; Johnson had 11. Give the edge, and the award, to Johnson.
The superlative start count is useful in divining an AL award winner too. Lowe and Zito each had five; Martinez had 10, an enormous difference. But wait. Didn't Zito (22-5, 2.74) win the most games? And didn't Lowe (21-7, 2.45) throw a no-hitter? And didn't Martinez (20-4, 2.26) fatten up on losing teams (12-0)? True. But so is all this: Martinez had a lower ERA against winning teams than Zito or Lowe (2.14 to 3.63 and 2.91, respectively), more strikeouts per walk (6.0 to 2.4 and 2.7), a lower opponents' batting average (.198 to .218 and .210), a better winning percentage (.833 to .815 and .750) and more strikeouts (239 to 176 and 122).
Finally, most any pitcher, not just Cy Young winners, can win with generous run support. In a test of mettle, what happened when each pitcher had less-than-average support—four runs or fewer? Martinez was 9-4, Zito was 6-5 and Lowe was 6-7.
There has been only one tie in the voting, in 1969 ( Mike Cuellar of the Baltimore Orioles and Denny McLain of the Detroit Tigers), and that prompted a change: Instead of voting for one pitcher, writers had to make first-, second-and third-place choices. Only seven times has a writer ever split a vote between two pitchers, and there's no need to do so this year.