Monday, November 16, 2009


Cy Lincecum Deux?

The National League Cy Young Award will be announced on Thursday, with our hemp-loving friend Tim Lincecum looking to defend the award he won last season. Lincecum's case this year rests in his 2.48 ERA and 176 ERA+, both good for second in the NL. He also led the league in strikeouts for the second straight year, fanning 261. For what it's worth, Lincecum's 2009 season was even better than his immaculate 2008 that brought him his first Cy. In '09, Lincecum slashed his walk rate (while maintaining exactly the same strikeout rate) and increased his ground ball rate, meaning few balls even had the chance to leave the yard.

We know how these award votes used to go, as the pitcher with the shiniest win total usually took home the hardware as more deserving pitchers with lower ERAs and whatnot hung their heads. However, it's starting to look like a lot of voters are seeing the light. Last season, Lincecum beat out Brandon Webb despite having four fewer wins. In the AL vote this season, Zach Greinke seems to be the clear favorite despite an underwhelming 16 victories, and most ESPN "experts" picked him in a mock vote (though Jon Miller voted for Justin Verlander. Come on, Jonny!).

This year, though, Lincecum has some stiff competition, and it's not just because voters are going to be googly-eyed over win totals. If he's going to lose out to someone, it'll be to one of St. Louis's two-headed monster of Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, who both had excellent seasons of their own. So was Lincecum better than these guys? His relatively meager win total of 15 might still hurt him, but let's look a little deeper to see if he really does deserve to take home Cy number two.

Wainwright had 19 wins and threw a few more innings than Lincecum, but he had a higher ERA and wasn't even in Lincecum's world when it came to the strikeout ability. He just may walk away with the award because of the wins, but he shouldn't. Carpenter has Lincecum beat in both ERA and ERA+ (he led the league in both), and also had two more wins, so does that mean the deal is sealed in Carpenter's favor?

Not so fast, slick. Carpenter pitched about 30 fewer innings than Lincecum did. That might not seem like a lot, but it makes a big difference over the course of a season. Don't believe me? Check it out. Fangraphs calculates that Lincecum produced more than two whole wins better than Carpenter, and that's largely attributable to that difference in innings. Not only does Lincecum boast a big lead over Carpenter in WAR, he kicks the crap out of pretty much everybody else in the National League. That speaks volumes.

Also adding to Lincecum's argument are the strikeout totals. They aren't just pretty numbers designed to leave us cackling as the latest Dodger batter wails away feebly at another low changeup; they're very important. Essentially, if the batter isn't even able to put the ball in play, he's not going to be able to hurt you in any way, shape, or form.* He won't be reaching on any bloopers that your slow outfielder couldn't get to and he won't be legging out any infield bleeders.

Lincecum was the absolute best in the NL when it came to factors he can control, namely being simply freaking unhittable. If that isn't enough for him to ride off with his second Cy Young in his car (along with, um, other supplies), I don't really know what is.

*Yes, I am aware that he can reach on a dropped third strike, you literalist bastards, you, but my general point still stands.

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