The three-horse race for the National League Cy Young Award is officially over.
The votes haven't been cast or tallied yet as the Major League Baseball season still has some leg in it, but Chris Carpenter, Tim Lincecum, and Adam Wainwright have all finished their respective bodies of work. Carp and Lincecum put a little extra flourish on their campaigns while Wainwright took a bit of a tumble.
In fairness to the St. Louis Cardinals' No. 2, the totality of the slide wasn't his fault. Unfortunately, that very fact makes the Redbird bullpen's fantastic explosion a double whammy.
Not only did it cost Wainwright the magical 20th win, but it also evidenced the ridiculous nature of arguing the win as a substantive metric for proving a starting pitcher's true value. In the modern game of baseball, run support and an effective 'pen are almost as critical to a win because starting pitchers no longer see much of the seventh inning—forget about the eighth or ninth.
Roy Halladay threw the most complete games this year, and he tossed nine in 32 trips to the bump.
Zack Greinke (with one start left) and Cliff Lee both finished six contests and nobody else registered more than four unless either Matt Cain or Josh Beckett twirls a gem on Saturday. Furthermore, the average starting pitcher in today's game doesn't give his team six innings.
Yet there are still some clinging to the once-hallowed win as a mark of supreme distinction. Well, for those people, Kyle McClellan's abysmal performance must hurt Waino's body of work since it prevented that last, key win.
Sounds stupid, doesn't it?
Regardless of where you stand on wins, losses, and the evolution of major league starting pitching, there is no doubt the 2009 NL Cy Young will be one of the closest votes in recent memory. Much has been made over what a cluttered mess it's become—and rightly so.
As the dust begins to settle, the final picture looks remarkably similar for all three:
Carpenter—17-4, 2.24 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 28 GS, 192 2/3 IP, 3 CG, 1 SHO, 144 K, 38 BB, 7.3 H/9, 6.7 K/9, .226 BAA, .581 OPSA, 4.3 RS/IP, 6.9 IP/GS
Lincecum—15-7, 2.48 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 32 GS, 225 1/3 IP, 4 CG, 2 SHO, 261 K, 68 BB, 6.7 H/9, 10.4 K/9, .206 BAA, .561 OPSA, 4.6 RS/IP, 7.0 IP/GS
Wainwright—19-8, 2.63 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 34 GS, 233 IP, 1 CG, 0 SHO, 212 K, 66 BB, 8.3 H/9, 8.2 K/9, .244 BAA, .646 OPSA, 5.2 RS/IP, 6.9 IP/GS
Now, I don't really see why anyone needs to go beyond the above. To my eyes, it looks like Tim Lincecum is the obvious choice after you narrow it down to the San Francisco Giants' ace and the one belonging to the Cards.
I really don't see the argument for Wainwright, as phenomenal as his 2009 has been.
The 6'7" right-hander trails one or both of the other front-runners in almost everything particularly meaningful except games started and innings pitched. Wainwright gets points in my book for taking his full complement of turns as well as leading the NL in frames, but, even here, the big fella loses a bit of luster since Lincecum actually carried the heaviest burden on a per-start basis.
Yes, Wainwright also has two more wins than Carpenter and four more than Lincecum. He's also hit fewer batters...what's your point?
As for the Ken Rosenthals of the world who want to point out he's got the best earned run average since the All-Star break (something that's no longer true), I say, again, what's your point?
That's a neat little tidbit, but last time I checked the Cy Young was an award based on a full year's performance. Not how the chucker did in night games or home games or against a certain team—nope, it's given based on the whole enchilada.
Since Wainwright's ERA is still the highest of the trio, the good second half split also emphasizes his first half split was particularly bad relative to the other two. Oh, and there's the little matter of the first half of the season paradoxically being longer.
Consequently, I don't understand how you overlook Lincecum's often considerable leads over Wainwright in ERA, WHIP, complete games, shutouts, strikeouts, hits per nine innings, strikeouts per nine innings, batting average against, on-base-plus-slugging percentage against, and weaker run support.
These are all better indicators of an individual pitcher's strength, and Lincecum leads in more categories, but, nonetheless, I've seen a growing trend toward Wainwright in recent weeks. All because of a handful of wins and extra innings, which defies common sense and baseball intellect.
As I said above, reason dictates the choice ultimately boils down to Carpenter or Lincecum.
Here, the choice is a little dicier, but the Freak still has the edge.
As shocking as it is to see that Carp actually got fewer runs per innings pitched than Tiny Tim despite St. Louis' far more robust offense, it's not enough to tip the scales back in the Redbird's favor. But it certainly bears mentioning along with his very slight lead in WHIP, substantial lead in ERA (24 points), and 30 fewer walks.
Once more, though, the bulk of the categorical superlatives are on the Franchise's side of the seesaw.
Lincecum's got the Cardinal No. 1 by over 100 whiffs, over 35 innings pitched (as compared to the negligible 7.2 frames by which Timmy trails Wainwright), 20 points in batting average against, 20 points in on-base-plus-slugging percentage against, one complete game, and one shutout. Additionally, the diminutive dominator surrenders fewer hits per nine innings and fans more splinters per nine.
These are simply the statistical comparisons, mind you.
If, by some perversion of logic, you still saw a dead heat between the triumvirate after digesting the cold numbers, the intangible department argues for Lincecum just as loudly.
Both Carp and Waino have compelling undercurrents—No. 1 is about two years removed from the dreaded Tommy John surgery while No. 2 is blossoming as a starter less than three years after closing for the World Champions. Both cobbled together some of their best work as the club sprinted to yet another NL Central Division title, i.e. they answered the bell when rung the loudest.
None of the above is a small accomplishment and none should be dismissed casually.
Luckily for the Freak, he can match them story for story.
Lincecum is the defending NL Cy Young and—whether you agree with the degree of difficulty attached to repeating—it certainly deserves some measure of appreciation. Two consecutive years baffling professional hitters in the modern era cannot be overstated.
There's always Tiny Tim's size.
At a stout 5'11" and 175 pounds soaking wet, the kid is almost literally playing David to the technologically enhanced Goliaths that rumble around the Show. Only he's using pearls instead of stones, and pride is the only casualty.
Or the Freak's age—at 25 years old, he's the youngest of the three stallions by almost three years (although you could argue this one just as firmly for Carp at 34).
Finally, the Franchise is very much the...franchise.
While Carpenter and Wainwright have been able to draft off each other for most of the year, Matt Cain (Lincecum's running mate) tripped up in his first August start and slid to the finish line in a prolonged face plant. Jonathan Sanchez, Barry Zito, and Brad Penny fired some extraordinary innings to help with the slack, but Lincecum was the only "ace" left to carry the burden of the hottest crosshairs.
Not only that, no matter how stellar the two aces are, Albert Pujols will always be the reigning royalty under the Gateway Arch. "Prince Albert" is arguably the best player in the Bigs; there's no denying he's the best player on the Cardinals.
It can be said with equal conviction that mantle is worn by the Franchise in San Francisco. Pablo Sandoval looks poised to challenge for the belt in 2010, but Little Money's got some work to do.
When you put all the pieces together, the result seems rather obvious—Tim Lincecum is the National League Cy Young winner. Again.
He posted the strongest statistical year, and he did it under more duress. Though neither margin is wide, both are significant.
The only question is whether the voters will notice.