Today’s question is, just how important are wins?
The Baseball Writers’ Association of America will announce today the Rookies of the Year for 2003, and the leading contenders in the National League are two pitchers — Diamondbacks standout Brandon Webb and Florida Marlins sensation Dontrelle Willis — and Milwaukee outfielder Scott Podsednik.
Willis, with a winning smile and high leg kick, is credited with breathing life into the Marlins and their fan base. All Webb did is pitch better than Willis.
Webb finished fourth in the NL in ERA — not fourth among rookies, fourth overall at 2.84 — but was just 10-9 because of poor run support. Arizona scored two runs or fewer in 13 of his 28 starts. No starter with fewer than 13 wins has won Rookie of the Year, except Dave Righetti in the strike-shortened 1981 season. Willis went 14-6 with a 3.30 ERA, finishing 1 1/3 innings shy of qualifying for the league leaders (3.30 would have ranked 12th). Podsednik led NL rookie position players in average (.314), runs (100).
D-Backs general manager Joe Garagiola Jr., naturally, endorsed Webb.
"When you look at his season and get behind the numbers a little bit," Garagiola said, "the only number where I think he’s lacking is in wins. If you look at the runs we scored — or did not score — for him, that answers the question of why didn’t he win more games?"
Webb is the fifth rookie since 1990 to finish in the top five in his league in ERA, the first since Hideo Nomo (second in the NL) won the 1995 Rookie of the Year.
Tiring down the stretch, Webb lost a chance to strengthen his case. He had a 2.50 ERA before allowing 16 runs (nine earned) in eight innings over his final two starts.
The Marlins were 15-21, in fourth place, before Willis made his debut May 9. They went 76-50 the rest of the way and earned the NL wild card.
"I think you had to be here to see that," Marlins GM Larry Beinfest told the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, "but what he did for us in terms of our turnaround, to come out of the box 9-1 at a time when we still had our pitching beat up, it’s certainly worthy of consideration. . . .
"I don’t know how much appreciation (voters) have for exactly what he did for us, but in terms of the (fan) interest and the actual turnaround, he was a big part of that."
Willis, however, was 5-5 with a 4.60 ERA after the All-Star break.
Podsednik won the Players Choice award for top NL rookie, decided by major leaguers’ votes. Webb was named top rookie in the majors by Baseball America magazine and was the unanimous pick of the 11 writers at baseballprospectus.com, a statistics-oriented Web site, for NL rookie of the year.
BBWAA voters — two from each league city voted on Rookie of the Year before the postseason began — have shown a willingness to look at more than just wins when judging pitchers. In 1999, Mike Hampton went 22-4 for the Houston Astros, but Arizona’s Randy Johnson won the Cy Young Award with a 17-9 record because he led the NL in ERA, strikeouts and innings pitched.