Lincecum wins Cy Young; Some Appalled

In case you hadn’t heard, and I hadn’t due to being at an off-site today, Tim Lincecum repeated as NL Cy Young winner, in one of the closer votes ever. It was so close that Adam Wainwright had more first place votes, but finished third overall. Chris Carpenter finished second. 10 points separated the three hurlers.

As can be expected, some Cardinal writers are incensed by this result, and that’s fine. And as is typical in these types of contests, some voter ranking choices are being called into question. Interestingly, my rankings closely matched Keith Law’s ballot, except I had Carpenter third instead of Wainwright. I never thought I’d agree with Keith Law on anything.

I am on record as saying Lincecum, Wainwright, and Carpenter were all worthy candidates, and whoever won amongst the three of them would be deserving. But based on the results, and some of what’s been written by other writers, there are a couple of things I wanted to at least throw out there.

Innings pitched should not enter into the Cy Young argument. What, no reliever can ever win a Cy Young again? Besides, to say one pitcher is less qualified than another because he threw 40 fewer innings, in this day and age, is ridiculous. Most pitchers don’t go more than seven innings a start anymore as a general rule. Assuming a starter gets 32 starts in a season, and goes 7 innings in all of them, he’ll rack up 224 innings. Lincecum averaged 7.04 innings/start (225 1/3 innings, 32 starts). Wainwright – 6.85 (233 innings, 2 more starts). Carpenter 6.88 (192 2/3, 4 fewer starts). So on the average, each guy lasted almost as long per game as the other two. It’s a wash. Total IP shouldn’t be the deciding factor.

Advanced statistical metrics exist to take some of these things off the table; to allow the serious observer of the game to strip things the pitcher can’t control away (like how long the manager will leave him in the game) and evaluate him based on his talent alone. If anything Carpenter is MORE deserving of the award based on total innings pitched. He missed 6 weeks with a strained muscle in his midsection, and upon his return he was as dominating as he was before he got hurt. Compare that to Lohse, who was never the same after getting hit by a pitch, or Lincecum, who tired down the stretch.

That said, some statistical metrics may be overrated. There was a comment at the bottom of Jeff Gordon’s post regarding FIP, that it’s too heavily weighted by strikeouts. FIP, as the name implies, takes the contribution of the defense out, evaluating the pitcher on the things he alone can control. (HR*13+(BB+HBP+IBB)*3-K*2)/innings pitched is the equation. You can see that strikeouts will raise the numerator’s total value, bringing it closer to innings pitched and lowering the quotient. So it is a short walk to obvious-ville to say guys with high strikeout totals and high innings pitched will have a lower FIP than others. Lincecum led the NL in FIP at 2.34. and K with 261.

But pitching isn’t all about strikeouts, nor just preventing HR, and the like. Pitching is about getting guys out and not allowing the other team to score. I did my ranking largely based on the FIP and WAR of the major candidates, but using FIP (and to a lesser extent, WAR) does a disservice to guys who successfully pitch to contact. Keith Law’s ballot also appears to be largely influenced by FIP and WAR (in fact, his top 3 exactly match the WAR rankings for starting pitching). There’s got to be a better way than ERA to evaluate pitching that doesn’t rely heavily on strikeouts.

In the end, it is what it is. Carpenter and Wainwright had outstanding seasons. For Cardinal fans, the hope is 2009 wasn’t a career year. Perhaps the Cy Young results will help motivate these guys for 2010.

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