Keith Law and the NL Cy Young Vote

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Keith Law and the NL Cy Young Vote
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

So in case you had not heard, the fellow nerds of baseball prospectus, beyond the box score, fangraphs, and the like really lost their ability to complain about their annual insane individual award vote.

Greinke won the AL Cy Young over Sabathia (in fact, Sabathia wasn't even No. 2), Mauer won the AL MVP over Teixeira, and all was right in the world.

Lincecum, the NL leader in Strikeouts per nine innings and FIP, won the NL Cy Young vote as well. This was a close vote, where Lincecum barely edged out the one-two punch of aces of the Cardinals, Chris Carpenter, and Adam Wainwright.

Was this the right choice? Well, that's up to you. The independent pitching statistics favored Mr. Lincecum (FIP, tRA, K/BB, but this was a slight edge). Carpenter led in ERA, had a better walk rate, didn't give up the long ball, and had a lower WHIP. It really comes down to how much being a ground ball pitcher with a SS of Brendan Ryan's quality really matters to you (it was obviously a help).

No, what this article is about is a partly humorous, partly annoying reversal of roles. Suddenly, we see the "old guard" up in arms over a vote they find illogical. The vote came from Keith Law. Law, if you are unaware, was a former employee of the Toronto Blue Jays, before resigning in 2006 to work for ESPN.

As a highly critical former outside of the BBWAA, he already had a contentious relationship with many within the ranks, and was indeed denied admission to the BBWAA his first time trying, in 2007. The next year, he was voted in, and this was his first season on the ballot.

So he voted Lincecum first. Why is he getting special attention? Well, the reason is his second and third place votes, Javier Vasquez and Dan Haren. Vasquez quietly had an awesome season in Atlanta, finally seeming to put his peripherals together. Haren slipped in the second half, but still finished with a extraordinary K/BB rate and all the signs of a quality pitcher for years. They also pitched more innings than Mr. Carpenter.

This reasoning was not enough to appease the critics, and while most of the BBWAA has either no commented, or applauded Law's rational, yet unconventional, thinking, many fans, radio hosts, and the like have had their way on the man, whose seemingly become the new Billy Beane for many.

However, there are many reasons that this hatred and backlash at Law is ridiculous. Here is why:

Carpenter loses anyway. Say instead of Law's real ballot, he went for the less contentious Lincecum-Carpenter-Wainwright order. Carpenter ends up with 97 points, and Wainwright 91. Tim Lincecum wins anyway. And for anyone who lashed out at Law by saying the statistics did not back up what he was saying...

Justin Verlander got a first place vote in the American League. Yes he did. Make no mistake, Verlander was great in 2009. He struck guys out and almost was able to keep his team's head above water as the offense faltered. However, Vasquez had a 2.87 ERA, and Haren a 3.14. People screamed foul over them finishing ahead of Carpenter (2.24 ERA) on the NL Ballot. Well, Verlander had a 3.45 ERA. Yes, Verlander did not win, but Kornacki affected the Cy Young vote as much as Law did in the end (which was, not much at all). If we are going to be up in arms over one guy voting with minimal regard to ERA, why not be uniform?

Chase Utley in ninth, despite being second in the NL in WAR (and that does not include non-stolen base baserunning, which almost pulls Utley even to Pujols), Ethier and his 2.5 WAR in fourth (albeit his terrible UZR screams aberration more than an eroding skill set in the field), and my personal favorite, having the audacity to call Ryan Howard "underrated". Ryan Howard, the man who won the 2006 NL MVP for nothing but home runs.
Pujols lead in OBP, SLG, had about the same RE24, and Pujols is a better fielder. Yes these were all close, but Pujols' team made the playoffs, so it is not even like the voters voted based off that.
Ryan Howard, the man who slept through half of 2008 and almost won the MVP despite being nowhere near the most valuable on his own team (Utley's OPS in April was higher than Howard's in September, where's his team carrying credit?). Ryan Howard's good, but if you are a GM, and you want to build a team, do you take Utley or Howard first? If you take Howard, you may be criminally insane

Voters have historically made terrible votes. Of course, the difference here is, Law used reason, logic, facts, and baseball research, to back up his point, whether it was right or not. On the other hand, let us view the NL MVP Ballot of Jon Heyman (though I am unsure if this is an official ballot or not):

NL MVP

1. Albert Pujols, Cardinals: Near-Triple Crown winner had it locked up by June.

2. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies: Spectacular talent could have won Comeback Player. Playoff failures don't count.

3. Ryan Howard, Phillies: May actually be underrated.

4. Andre Ethier, Dodgers: Six walk-off hits led league.

5. Hanley Ramirez, Marlins: Big-time talent earned wrath of teammate Dan Uggla for not playing through pain.

6. Matt Kemp, Dodgers: Starting to become the superstar that folks predicted he'd be.

7. Chris Carpenter, Cardinals: Nearly untouchable when healthy.

8. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals: League's leading winner starting to get appreciation he deserves.

9. Chase Utley, Phillies: Perfect 23-for-23 in steals to go with everything else. Teammate Jayson Werth also a consideration.

10. Matt Holliday, Cardinals: As soon as he got to St. Louis, the Cards took off.

The insults are ridiculous. The threats are ridiculous. Whether Law was correct or not, is not the point. The fact is, Law has a background in MLB front offices. He is well aware of how baseball teams evaluate pitching talent, and believes that journalists should evaluate them in the same way. While it would be foolish to take what he says and give no critical thought, is it not reasonable to believe Keith Law knows what he is doing?

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