12/11/2002 09:05 am ET
Fans tab Smoltz as top pitcher
Closer beats Cy Young winners for MLB.com award
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
56K | 300K
ATLANTA -- John Smoltz may not have won a Cy Young Award this season.
But MLB.com's readers still believed his record-setting 2002 season was impressive enough to vote him Pitcher of the Year. Smoltz outdistanced the competition, which included the likes of Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Barry Zito and Pedro Martinez.
While making a smooth transition from starter to closer, Smoltz amassed 55 saves to set a National League single-season record. He converted all seven of his save opportunities in September. But the limited amount of opportunities prevented him from reaching Bobby Thigpen's all-time single-season record of 57 saves, which was set in 1990.
Despite allowing eight earned runs in his second appearance of the season, he rebounded to finish the year with a 3.25 ERA and four blown saves. If you take away that April 6 outing against the Mets, his ERA would have been 2.37.
Before the season began, Smoltz said he was prepared for the many different setbacks a closer can encounter throughout a season. But those were few and far between for the Braves' hard-throwing stopper.
After allowing 20 earned runs in April and May, he permitted just nine more earned runs in the final four months of the year. During that stretch he recorded a franchise-record 25 saves and was a major reason the Braves were able to overcome a 19-21 start and win their 11th consecutive division championship. The team won the final 49 games in which he appeared.
Smoltz's transition to closer came as a result of the Braves' desire to protect the longevity of his arm. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2000 and struggled at times as a starter early in the 2001 season.
But he proved to be healthy throughout the 2002 season and was registering 95 mph fastballs with regularity toward the end of the year. He posted a 1.60 ERA in his final 50 innings and allowed just two hits and no runs in his final 11 innings.
Since the This Year in Baseball Awards debuted Nov. 7, more than 300,000 votes were cast at MLB.com for the six inaugural awards, which included Play of the Year, Blooper of the Year, Setup Man of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Pitcher of the Year and Player of the Year. The awards were created to allow fans to have the final say on the top moments and players from the 2002 baseball season.
Smoltz, who won 24 games in his 1996 Cy Young Award campaign, joined Dennis Eckersley as the only pitchers ever to accumulate both a 20-win and 50-save season in their careers.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This
story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its