When Numbers Lie: Why Tim Lincecum's ERA Is Better Than Chris Carpenter's
I'm a shade unclear as to the specific voting rules for Major League Baseball's regular season awards. Common sense would dictate the writers who select the winners have to wait until the last of the 162 games (including any one-game playoffs that might be necessary) so that they have a complete data set.
Which means I still have some time to do my part in helping to redirect the group think that seems to be driving Chris Carpenter's charge for the 2009 National League Cy Young.
I won't rehash the general data, but suffice it to say the Carp has small leads in the more traditional categories while his strongest adversary counters with the same in most of the advanced sabermetrics.
Despite Tim Lincecum's stranglehold on categories that more directly and accurately reflect an individual pitcher's efficacy, the brilliant minds at ESPN are leading the general public down the primrose path—straight to door of the St. Louis Cardinals and the bigger dollar signs hanging over the Gateway Arch.
If the ground swell behind Carp sputters, I'm sure the so-called experts will fuel up the "Adam Wainwright for NL Cy Young" bus and start touring the Nation.
Recently, proponents of the Redbird's older ace have taken up the run prevention angle to bolster his case for big league pitching's highest honor.
It goes like this—the professional pitching game is all about keeping runs off the board, so his lead in earned run average over the Freak (2.24 to 2.48) should be the deciding factor with everything else being so equal.
Well, the rest of the numerical landscape isn't exactly level, but let's pretend it is for argument's sake. In this hypothetical world, I'd agree—Carpenter's slightly superior ability to scatter his baserunners rather than allow them to cross the plate would be enough to take home the trophy.
Of course, there's still one small problem—Chris Carpenter did NOT have a better year stifling offenses even from a run scoring perspective.
When the margin is as small as 24/100 of an earnie per nine innings, the devil can be in the details. If you care to look...or should be expected to do so.
It's fine for casual baseball fans to see a slim lead in earned run average and conclude Player A was better at tossing up donuts, but the actual voters—the men and women entrusted to make an informed, objective (as possible) decision—can't hide behind similarly blissful ignorance. If there's a more telling current under the surface to be found, they must find it because it is their responsibility.
These people should be expected to become intimately familiar with 2009 game logs or splits for each hurler when the case is this close.
Even more so because, when you take a gander, you find a nasty little secret about Chris Carpenter's 2009 season as compared to Tim Lincecum's. One that makes the ultimate choice much easier.
Obviously, that's a lot of cluttered information, but that's why I'm here—to parse out the important stuff. The raw data is simply there for those of you who want to see it with your own eyes.
The categories are pretty self-explanatory expect for possibly the last five.
The runs, batting averages, on-base percentages, and slugging percentages listed belong to each respective team as ranked according to their own league i.e. the Anaheim Angels, Oakland Athletics, Cleveland Indians, and Kansas City Royals are ranked against their American League counterparts. AVRR is just the total of these rankings divided by four, or the average rank.
I'm not about to suggest the AVRR is a precise indicator of overall offensive strength as there is more to offense than merely those four aspects. Plus, it's an inelegant analysis and not simply because the AL teams are thrown in haphazardly.
All I'm arguing is that teams with average ranks less than eight are better than average while those above eight are below average—for such purposes, the bludgeon is an effective tool.
Grouped accordingly, the raw data condenses into this:
Three things should jump off the page immediately—the San Francisco Giants' ace made six extra starts against top tier offenses, twirled 39 extra frames against the stiffer competition, and STILL posted a better earned run average.
Furthermore, take an even closer look at the caliber of foe.
Not only did Tim Lincecum throw more innings against the top offenses in the National League (and one from the AL), the Freak threw more innings against the absolute best run-scoring teams in baseball.
Tiny Tim spent over 70 frames toiling against the Angels (No. 2 run-scoring offensive in all of baseball), Philadelphia Phillies (No. 1 in the NL), Colorado Rockies (No. 2 in the NL), and the Los Angeles Dodgers (No. 4 in the NL).
Compare that to Carpenter, who chucked six fewer innings even if you open the floor to any better-than-average offense.
Yet Tim Lincecum still composed the superior masterpiece.
True, Carp surrendered three fewer earnies in about six extra innings against the weaker lineups. But that's not the primary reason why he leads in earned run average—the Cardinal leads the Gent in that category because Lincecum gave up 11 more earnies while laboring through those 39 additional innings against the stronger offenses.
So what does it all mean?
It means the Franchise's .24 deficit in earned run average can be explained by spending more innings staring down a better collection of hitters. Despite the additional strain, the youngster managed to stay right with an excellent pitcher possessing a much easier schedule. He even outperformed Chris Carpenter against the nastier assignments.
It means you can add "superior run prevention" to the bullet points in favor of the Freak's candidacy.
And it means Tim Lincecum is the 2009 National League Cy Young.
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