It's almost time for games again...you know what that means, right? Of course - gambling!
A few years ago, a friend and I, tired of the annual media wheeze-fest over whether another pitcher could ever get to 300 wins, decided to put our money where our mouths were: we decided to gamble for foodstuffs. Specifically, steak. Each of us chose a young hurler we thought most likely to get to 300 wins.
We made our choices in late 2005, a fact which turns out to be relatively important.
I chose a young lefty, age 24, portly of composition but already in his fifth full season. He won 17 as a rookie in 2001 but hadn't topped 13 wins since. I specifically passed on both Johan Santana and Roy Oswalt; both had slight frames and violent deliveries. My choice was made partly on talent and partly on the fact that his listed height-weight of 6-7, 250 sang to me a song of durability. I chose C.C. Sabathia. I chose Grimace.
My friend, on the other hand, chose a 23-year-old lefty whose star was, at that moment, bursting through the baseball firmament. In 2005, he was en route to a 22 win season and a second place in the NL Cy Young voting. He chose a high-energy, high-charisma player with a high-effort delivery. He chose Dontrelle Willis.
At the end of 2005, this seemed like a fairly even contest. Willis was nearly two years younger and already had 46 wins through his first three pro seasons. Sabathia had 69 wins, but was not racking them up nearly as fast as Willis.
It was sort of like the tortoise and the hare, if only the tortoise had a three-season head start and was pushing 3 bills. Incidentally, Baseball Reference has Sabathia weighing in at 250 - I mean, come on! Shouldn't a site dedicated to baseball statistics demand a little more accuracy in its data?
The 2006 season was a wash. Both players had 12 wins. For their careers, Willis had 58 wins, Sabathia 81.
Still, there had to be cause for concern for D-Train fans in the underlying numbers. Willis went from a 2.63 ERA in 2005 to a 3.87 ERA and both his walks and home runs allowed spiked upwards. Sabathia on the other hand went from a 4.03 ERA in 2005 to a 3.22 in 2006. His K/9 increased while his walks and home runs allowed both decreased.
Fast forward to 2007, where Willis' trend continued to deteriorate; his ERA rose again to 5.17. Perhaps more importantly, at least for the sake of steak, was the Marlins' fire sale that eroded Willis' hopes for run support. Wins are, after all, a team game. No huge surprise that with a 5+ ERA and a last-place team, D-Train could manage only 10 wins.
Sabathia, on the other hand, had his long-awaited breakout season. His peripherals didn't vary tremendously from 2006, but he stayed on the mound for more than 240 innings. Backed by a playoff-bound team, Sabathia won 19 and earned the AL Cy Young award.
Career tally: Sabathia 100, Willis 68.
The 2008 season marks a new chapter in Steak at Stake, as Willis moved to the Detroit Tigers in the off-season in a move that can only help his win totals. The two hurlers now find themselves not only on the opposite side of a steak wager, but also on the two teams vying for supremacy in the American League Central.
We'll be updating the tally as the season moves forward, but, for now....