Tim Lincecum's quest for a second-straight Cy Young Award involves competition with some of the same pitchers from last year, such as Johan Santana. However, in 2009, some unexpected challengers have emerged, such as Saint Louis' Joel Pineiro and Lincecum's own team-mate Matt Cain.
But by far the biggest obstacle in the repeat campaign has been rejuvenated former A's pitcher Dan Haren, who is having a career year in almost every category.
Comparing Lincecum and Haren is easier than comparing, say, 2008 Cliff Lee and 2008 Lincecum, since not only are Tim and Dan in the same league, but are also in the same division.
They have also made eighteen starts each.
But although Lincecum was selected as the starter for the National League, Haren's first-half statistics are better in many categories.
Wins: Lincecum +1
Lincecum has ten wins in eighteen games, Haren nine.
Losses: Lincecum -3
Not only does Lincecum have more wins, but also fewer losses. However, he also has better run support (see below), and was actually saved from a few losses by the Giants offense.
Quality Starts: Haren +2
While Lincecum has struggled to get outs in a few games this year, Haren has been extremely consistent, resulting in seventeen quality starts. Haren's total leads the N.L., while Lincecum is not far behind (tied for third at fifteen).
ERA: Haren -.32
Haren looks like he has a large lead in ERA. However, in the same number of games pitched, Lincecum has allowed only four more earned runs. When unearned runs are considered, Haren's lead jumps to six, possibly reinforcing the assertion that Arizona's defense is better than San Francisco's.
Lincecum allowed four earned runs in his worst two starts. Haren allowed five runs once, but has not allowed more than two earned in any start since late May.
Strikeouts: Lincecum +20
Just as home run hitters add flair to the All-Star game, strikeout pitchers add drama through sheer power. Lincecum leads the National League in strikeouts with 149. Haren is only twenty behind, which translates to only slightly more than one strikeout per game.
WHIP: Haren -.24
Haren really starts building up an advantage when it comes to walks (16-34) and hits allowed (89-100), so the WHIP discrepancy is not surprising.
Pitches Per Plate Appearance: Lincecum -.08
Despite walking over twice as many batters as Haren, Lincecum is actually slightly more efficient with his pitches.
Walk-to-Strikeout Ratio: Haren +3.68
Despite Lincecum's lead in strikeouts, Haren's K/BB is much higher. This makes sense because Haren has given up fewer than half the number of walks.
Run Support Per 27 Outs: Haren -.99
Haren's April was especially brutal: He lost 3-0, 3-1, and 2-0 in his first three starts, before finally being on the correct side of a 2-0 win.
Recently, however, his team's offense has picked up lately. In four of Haren's last seven starts, the Diamondbacks have scored eight or more runs.
Lincecum was bailed out on opening day, and has suffered 3-2 and 2-0 no-decisions. But overall, Tim has deserved both losses, allowing three and four runs in them. The Giants have been on an offensive surge lately, scoring ten, nine, and nine runs in Lincecum's last three starts.
Neither Lincecum nor Haren have needed the recent runs, however. Lincecum has allowed three runs (and Haren only two) in his last three starts.
Haren is considered to have five "tough losses" compared to just one for Lincecum.
Complete Games: Even
Both pitcher are tied for the N.L. lead with three complete games, have allowed three runs combined in them.
Shutouts: Lincecum +1
Lincecum has two shutouts, both of which being complete games. Haren answered back with one of his own in his last pre-Break start, which ironically was completely forgotten by most non-Arizona fans due to Jonathan Sanchez's no-hitter.
Opponent Batting Average: Haren -.26
Haren really shines in this category, as well as all opponent averages, because he simply doesn't allow base-runners. Lincecum is respectably tied for fourth.
Opponent On-Base Percentage: Haren -.51
Here again, Haren's incredibly low walk totals contribute to a great stat. Although Lincecum is tied for second in the N.L. in OOBP, it's a distant second, nearly twice the gap that Haren enjoys in opponent's batting average.
Batting Average On Balls In Play (BABIP): Haren -.63
Haren's stats are somewhat deceiving since the formula doesn't take into account home runs. But any pitcher that has such a low batting average against him will have a low BABIP).
The statistic also favors Haren because a strikeout is not a ball in play, although a walk doesn't count as an at-bat.
Ground Ball to Fly Ball Ratio: Lincecum +.17
Lincecum gets more ground-ball outs, which is telling, since Giant's park is somewhat forgiving to fly-ball pitchers.
Haren, however, has induced eight double plays to Lincecum's five. In addition, Dan has only given up one sac fly, whereas four have occurred against Lincecum.
Total Bases Allowed: Lincecum -10
By taking walks out of the equation, Lincecum comes out on top despite Haren's lower opponent average. In other words, Lincecum allows more hits, but they do less damage on average because fewer of them are extra-base hits.
While Lincecum has given up one more double and one more triple than Haren, the real difference appears in the home run totals. Tim has given up only four, while Dan has allowed twelve.
Indeed, Lincecum's HR-per-Fly Ball percentage is less than four percent, whereas Haren's is around 9.5%.
Opponent OPS: Haren -.33
While Lincecum's total-base advantage leads to a lower opponent slugging percentage, Haren's on-base percentage is enough to overcome Tim's lead.
Defense-Independent ERA: Lincecum -.57
Lincecum leads the league in this category, whereas Haren is fourth. Home Runs and strikeouts are major plays that occur without a fielder, so Lincecum is able to overcome the walks deficit.
Component Era: Haren -.59
Any statistic that heavily weights walks and hits allowed will favor Haren. Although giving up a home run is heavily penalized, Haren is nowhere near the bottom of the league in home runs allowed. Lincecum's higher WHIP does him in.
Caught Stealing Percent: Haren +.02
Both Haren and Lincecum are bad at holding runners on, with Haren allowing nine steals to every runner thrown out. Lincecum ratio is twelve to one.
So in the end, both pitchers have their strengths. Haren allows fewer baserunners, but also gives up home runs. Lincecum allows runners to get to first, but doesn't allow extra-base hits. What, then, accounts for the discrepancy in ERA?
Lincecum's Win Probability Added is still well above average at 2.67. However, it is well below his Cy Young season figure of 4.73, and less than the 2.77 that Haren is posting at the break.
In addition, Lincecum's clutch rating is .27, far below his 1.05 total for 2008. Haren's rating is .38, slightly higher. This may not seem like a large difference, and it isn't, but with Haren and Lincecum separated by only a few earned runs, a clutch hit by an opponent can make a difference. Appropriately, Haren's Left-on-Base Percentage (84.3) is quite a bit higher than Lincecum's 76.1 percent.
Haren is having a career year, while most of Lincecum's numbers are slightly lower than his magical 2008 season. At the half-way mark, Haren seems to have the edge, thanks to his stinginess in allowing baserunners.
Will Haren's propensity for giving up home runs be his downfall?
Will Lincecum lower his total and catch Haren in WHIP and other key categories?
For Giants fans, a healthy, dominant Lincecum who improves with every season is all anyone can ask for.
If Tim helps get the franchise back to the playoffs, he will have had a successful season, regardless of whether or not he completes his historic repeat Cy Young bid.