An Indepth Look At The NL Cy Young Award Race

Andrew KneelandSenior Writer ISeptember 22, 2008

There are numerous ways to look at the Cy Young Award, and possibly many different winners based on many different points of view. There are a plethora of ways to discern what characteristics the winner of this award should have.

Should actual talent be measured with more weight than performance? How does team success or how valuable a player is factor into the picture? 

My answer? Take a look from every angle and go from there. 

The AL Cy Young award is pretty much locked up with the winner being Cleveland Indian Cliff Lee. He has over 20 wins and the lowest ERA in the league. When you shift your attention over to the Nation League, however, things are much closer. Here is a look at the NL. 

If you prefer flat-out talent and performance, ERA is certainly necessary. While it is perhaps the most common and widespread pitching statistic, it is considered by some to be the best. Here are the top five in this category, through Sunday, September 21st.

Tim Lincecum2.46
Johan Santana2.65
Jake Peavy2.77
Ben Sheets2.98
Ryan Dempster2.99

Lincecum is dominating this category, and that alone is seemingly giving him the award. While an ERA that low is certainly impressive it shouldn't be the only thing a voter looks at.

A more in-depth statistic that measures a pitchers' overall talent is called tRA. It was developed by Graham MacAree. It takes into account a number of things, but can be narrowed down to expected runs and expected outs. What are expected runs and expected outs?

Basically, through analysis of play-by-play data, it is possible to determine a set number for how many outs a particular event brings.

Well, thanks to MacAree and, here are some charts that explain:

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While only an example, this determines the percentage of outs a specific play causes. For instance, in this example, line drives are turned into outs just over 30% of the time, while outfield fly balls are turned into outs over 80% of the time. This is pretty simple and can be done by anyone with a lot of time on their hands.

Finding expected runs can be a little more challenging, however. Without going into the nitty-gritty, here is another example of expected runs per event:

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In this example, a walk is the same as 33% of a run. tRA is expected runs/expects outs * 27. It can be viewed the same as ERA, or RA/9IP. Here are the five NL leaders so far in 2008:

CC Sabathia2.62
Tim Lincecum3.00
Brandon Webb3.16
Dan Haren3.34
Derek Lowe3.39

Controversy rages over whether Sabathia should be included in the NL Cy Young race. He was traded mid-season from the Cleveland Indians to the Milwaukee Brewers, and has put up outstanding numbers after changing teams. Should a player be included in the voting if he has only played half a season with the league? 

Another thing to consider when weighing Cy Young nominees is the value he has to his team. Some may not consider this as important for this award, but others depend on the concept of value when making their decisions. There is a stat called PRC, (pitching runs created), developed by The Hardball Times. The founding principle of this statistic is that a run saved is worth more than a run scored. Using that, you can find a pitcher's value to his team. Here are the top five so far in 2008:

Tim Lincecum138
Johan Santana120
Cole Hamels110
Dan Haren108
Ryan Dempster108

Another way to view the concept of value is to ask the question, "Where would this team be without this player?" Without Lincecum, the San Francisco Giants would be a mess. They aren't a successful team this year, but without Lincecum leading them every fifth day they could potentially be the worst team in the major leagues.

There are other stats to look at, such as xFIP, WPA, or RZR if you would like to factor in defense. I don't have the room to give you every one of them here, but please feel free to check them out by yourselves. I would greatly recommend doing so before laying out your support for your choice in any award.

Statistics may not be everything, but they are certainly a starting point in evaluating the NL Cy Young award race.


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