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Pitching Dominant NL

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What happened to the domination of the American League starter in 2004? We had to choose between Mark Mulder (before he exploded), Curt Schilling, Johan Santana, and Pedro Martinez...all worthy candidates and some of the best pitchers in either league (Santana the finest). This year? Roy Halladay is 8th in the league in VORP among pitchers, but first in the American League...and it was just announced this weekend that his fine season is over. Johan Santana is the next highest ranked AL starter, coming in at 10th overall, but that just does not seem right. Let's take a look at last year versus this year according to VORP. Overall rank is in parentheses after the league rank

2005 NL Top 10
1. (1) Clemens (75.9)
2. (2) Carpenter (67.2)
3. (3) Willis (58.7)
4. (4) Martinez (57.2)
5. (5) Patterson (54.7)
6. (6) Smoltz (54.0)
7. (7) Oswalt (53.8)
8. (9) Andy Pettite (52.9)
9. (12) Jake Peavy (46.5)
10. (15) Carlos Zambano (45.1)

2005 AL Top 10
1. (8) Halladay (53.3)
2. (10) Johan Santana (50.4)
3. (11) Mark Buerhle (46.6)
4. (13) Jon Garland (45.7)
5. (14) Colon (45.5)
6. (16) Silva (44.2)
7. (17) Garcia (43.3)
8. (18) Washburn (42.0)
9. (19) Zito (41.5)
10. (20) Rogers (40.5)

It looks as if the National League has all of the frontline caliber starters, whereas the AL, excepting Halladay and Santana (remember Halladay has only thrown 141.7 innings, 40-50 less than everyone else on these list) is more of the 1A type. This explains their dominance in the second part of the top 20 of the league. Oddly enough, the 21-30 spots are split 5/5 between the two leagues. Let's check out 2004.

2004 NL Top 10
1. (3) Randy Johnson (69.3)
2. (4) Ben Sheets (66.8)
3. (5) Carl Pavano (62.4)
4. (6) Carlos Zambrano (61.3)
5. (7) Roger Clemens (61.3)
6. (8) Jason Schmidt (60.1)
7. (10) Livan Hernandez (58.3)
8. (11) Jake Peavy (57.5)
9. (12) Oliver Perez (54.5)
10. (15) Roy Oswalt (51.8)

2004 AL Top 10
1. (1) Johan Santana (88.8)
2. (2) Curt Schilling (72.9)
3. (9) Brad Radke (60.1)
4. (13) Jake Westbrook (54.4)
5. (14) Kelvim Escobar (53.2)
6. (16) Pedro Martinez (51.2)
7. (17) Mark Buerhle (50.8)
8. (20) Tim Hudson (48.6)
9. (21) Rodrigo Lopez (47.3)
10. (23) Ted Lilly (44.6)

What happened? The American league controlled the 1 and 2 spots...and nothing else in the top 10 besides spot #9, held down by Brad Radke. In essence, nothing really changed for the NL. In the AL though: Santana has been very effective this year, but not at the deity level of last year as far as his BABIP luck has gone (.252 last year, .279 this year). Schilling has been injured/ineffective. Brad Radke had his best year last year, Pedro Martinez switched leagues, Mark Buerhle has stepped it up, Tim Hudson was sent to the NL, Lopez is inconsistent this year, Lilly is injured/ineffective, Westbrook had a rough start to the year, and Kelvim Escobar has been hurt. The NL on the other hand, lost Johnson, Perez, Pavano and Schmidt and haven't even lost a step, replacing them with Martinez and a rejuvenated Chris Carpenter, as well as a healthy Pettite, a starting Smoltz, and a healthy John Patterson. The National League became stronger while continuing to miss some of its big name pitchers. Oliver Perez is an unstoppable force when his control (be it mental or the pitching variety) is in full force, and Jason Schmidt seemed to have a case of dead arm that knocked him out of effectiveness.

VORP is nowhere near a tell all pitching statistic; first of all, a pitcher like Carl Pavano, who we know to be entirely lucky for many reasons with his 2004 season, is #5 overall in the majors in 2004. It does not take enough into account, but it does allow us to see what did happen. It is almost like a traditional stat that has to be read with an eye on certain details. VORP by itself is useful for sorting out the dominant pitchers, but to understand the why you need to check out the peripheral stats. I prefer the offensive version of VORP to the pitching, but I like other BP statistics more than that as well. For the purposes of this exercise VORP does do a nice job though, showcasing just who had the best seasons, regardless of the how and why. That is something we have to learn to divulge on our own, using peripherals. Ask Carl Pavano how important peripherals are to continued success.