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Monday, August 13, 2012
Hear ye! Aroldis Chapman for Cy Young


If the season ended today (which remains highly unlikely), I regret to inform the Knuckleballer Fan Club that the 2012 National League Cy Young Award winner shouldn't be R.A. Dickey.

It also wouldn't be Johnny Cueto. Or Jordan Zimmermann. Or Ryan Vogelsong. Or anyone else whose job description includes the words "starting pitcher."

No, sir. The NL Cy Young winner should be the one, the only, Aroldis Chapman.

I have voted in a half-dozen Cy Young elections over the years. I have to pick a winner -- for column-writing and air-time-filling purposes -- every season. So I understand that our mission statement as Cy Young voters is simple. We just need to answer one uncomplicated question:

Who has been the most dominant pitcher in this league?

Friends, if that's the question, how is there any answer this year besides Chapman?

If you talk to hitters about the pitchers in this Cy Young field, they'll tell you that they admire Dickey. They respect Cueto. They have no fun facing Zimmermann. They have no interest whatsoever in hitting against the other lights-out closer candidate, Craig Kimbrel. But you know what they think about Chapman? I can sum it up in one word:

Fear.

"A lot of guys nowadays throw 100 [mph]," Skip Schumaker said, "but I've never seen anybody with a fastball like his.

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Schumaker

"For one thing," he said, looking up at a visitor who was approximately a foot and a half away, "when you face him, it feels like [he is as far away as] me to you. Then he winds up, and he's all herky-jerky. He's big. He's tall. He's throwing elbows and knees at you. And even though you're sitting dead-red fastball, it's just like it's by you, before you can even think about it. I've never seen a fastball explode like that. Ever. It's just ridiculous."

"Ridiculous" is an excellent word to describe the numbers Chapman is piling up this year.

• Start with this one: 106 strikeouts, 25 hits. Unless something bizarre happens, this man's numbers project out to make him the first relief pitcher in history with 110 more strikeouts than hits. Crazy.

• Then there's this: This fellow is averaging nearly 17 strikeouts per nine innings (16.74, to be exact). How many other pitchers in history have done that? None, of course.

• OK, next up: The batting average of the 216 hitters who have had the misfortune to step into the box against Chapman this year is an insane .127. Want to guess how many pitchers in the live-ball era have proved to be that unhittable in any season of 50 innings or more? Not a one. (The record is .133 against Eric Gagne in his ultra-dominating Cy Young season in 2003.)

• Meanwhile, talk about dominating his league: Chapman's ERA against the NL this year -- in 47 trips to the mound -- is (ready for this?) 0.17. That's 51 2/3 innings, one earned run. NL hitters have batted .099 against him (17-for-172). He has faced 190 hitters in his own league. Just 34 have reached base.

• Then there are all the strikeouts. Do you realize this guy is piling up more than four strikeouts for every hit he allows (4.24, to be precise)? Once again, nobody has ever done that in a year in which he pitched this many innings. Only Gagne in 2003 (3.7) and Billy Wagner in 1999 (3.5) have even approached it.

• Bet you didn't know that Chapman has more strikeouts than the Opening Day starters for 11 teams … or that he has struck out more hitters than two pitchers who made the All-Star team (Matt Harrison, Wade Miley), as well as Vogelsong … or that he would lead four teams in strikeouts (A's, Royals, Blue Jays, Rockies).

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Weaver

• Ah, here's the clincher: I hear lots of people refer to Jered Weaver as the favorite for the American League Cy Young Award. But guess what? Chapman has racked up exactly as many strikeouts this season as Weaver has -- in 81 fewer innings.

Wow. What makes all this especially incredible is that everybody knows what's coming. And it's still hopeless.

"The guy throws fastballs," Schumaker said. "That's pretty much it. I mean, he mixes in sliders every once in a while, but when you're up there, you're getting his fastball. Everyone knows it. And not only are they not hitting it, they're not even putting it in play."

Want to talk domination? This guy has thrown 964 pitches this year. Only 9.9 percent of them (95) have been put in play. You have got to be kidding.

Yet I wouldn't bet my lunch money that Chapman is going to win this award. You know why? Because the Cy Young has turned into a starting pitcher's award, almost without exception. One reliever (Gagne) has won it in the past 20 years.

A couple of years ago, I made a proposal to the Baseball Writers' Association of America that we add a new award to honor the best relief pitcher in each league. Not because I think relief pitchers are a bunch of great dudes with cool beards and funny quotes who need to fill up their trophy cases. It's because over the past two decades, the writers have pretty much decided not to vote for them. For anything.

Cy Young. MVP. Senator. Congressman. ESPY Award. Anything.

It's gotten so absurd that the great Mariano Rivera, one of the most dominating, difference-making players of modern times, has never won any of our awards. He has never even come close. How incomprehensible is that?

If we couldn't find an award that even a relief pitcher as great as Rivera could win, it seemed it was about time to invent one. But that proposal was voted down, naturally.

And you know what I was told by the folks who opposed it?

That if I thought a relief pitcher was so good, so dominant, that he deserved the Cy Young Award, then just vote for him.

You know what? I thought that was such great advice that I'm now advising voters everywhere to do exactly that.

Aroldis Chapman Cy Young fever. Catch it. Please.