The Fall Of The Republic: NL Cy Young Voting Shows BBWAA's Incompetence

Lewie PollisSenior Analyst IIINovember 20, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 08:  Pitcher Adam Wainwright #50 of the St. Louis Cardinals reacts on the mound against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game Two of the NLDS during the 2009 MLB Playoffs at Dodger Stadium on October 8, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

From Plato to Voltaire, the Republic has been the government of choice for intellectuals for millennia.

Dismissive of people’s ability to rule themselves, yet similarly wary of totalitarianism, they champion a government run exclusively by the most enlightened members of society.

As in any democratic system, the health of the Republic hinges on the electorate’s ability to keep itself informed and think logically. If the voters—however many or few—become incapable of comprehensively analyzing issues or are blinded by irrationality, the whole system goes down the toilet.

Of course, I speak not of Congress (though the shoe certainly fits), but of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. When the results for the NL Cy Young Award were released yesterday, the tallies revealed that the BBWAA voters are criminally incapable of performing their duties.

My problem is not so much with the winner (though the best man did not win), but with third-place finisher Adam Wainwright.

While he ended up with only the bronze, Wainwright actually got more first-place votes (12) than winner Tim Lincecum (11) or runner-up Chris Carpenter (nine). Seventeen out of 32 voters picked Wainwright ahead of at least one of his main competitors.

Why is that such a big deal? Wainwright had a breakout season in 2009, and undeniably emerged as one of the best pitchers in the game.

It’s a problem because those 17 voters implicitly declared that wins are the most important statistic in the game.

It doesn’t take a sabermetrician to see that wins is an incredibly stupid way to measure pitching. And yet, the pitchers’ records played an enormous factor in how the Cy Young voting turned out.

While Wainwright’s 19 victories paced the rest of the National League, he ranked behind Lincecum and Carpenter in just about every other category.

ERA. WHIP. K/BB ratio. Complete Games. Shutouts. Quality Start percentage. Home runs allowed. Opponents’ batting average, OBP, SLG, and OPS. Defense-Independent ERA. Win Percentage Added. Wins Above Replacement.

All are categories in which Wainwright finished behind Lincecum and Carpenter—not to mention other pitchers throughout the league. And all, according to a majority of voters in the BBWAA, are less important than wins.

This isn’t the All-Star Game, not just anyone can vote. These are (supposedly) 32 of the brightest baseball analysts and writers in the country. Any one of them could sneeze into a piece of paper and more people would read their snot than will see this article.

But are these people really credible judges of players’ skill? Given the voters’ apparent inability to determine which statistics are actually useful, how can anyone say that these results—or any other BBWAA decisions—are accurate assessments of the best players in the game?

The Republic has clearly failed us. With the media just as enamored with arbitrary numbers as the voters, who can right the ship?

The first answer to pop into your head will probably be Major League Baseball itself. Unfortunately, they won’t be of much help.

As it happens, MLB is even more infatuated with wins than the BBWAA. A preview article published hours before the results were announced offered a comically foolish assessment of who deserved to win.

While Carpenter (the rightful winner) was named as one of the front-runners, his primary opponent was supposedly Wainwright. Lincecum was pushed to the second tier.

In the third tier (“Darkhorses”), things got even more interesting. While Javier Vazquez (2.87 ERA, 238 strikeouts) was an understandable choice, the other name made my jaw drop. The last potential candidate listed was not Dan Haren, or Josh Johnson, or Matt Cain.

It was Jorge De La Rosa.

Yes, De La Rosa. With a 1.38 WHIP and 4.0 BB/9 rate to go along with his 4.38 ERA (“solid,” MLB.com said), his numbers don’t exactly scream “Cy Young.”

But none of that mattered, because he had 16 wins.

Doesn’t anyone else see a problem with this? As Will Ferrell’s Jacobim Mugatu from Zoolander once exclaimed, “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!”

Is this the baseball traditionalists’ extreme counterattack to the sabermetric revolution? Or is it possible that these people, who spend their lives working with, discussing, and thinking about baseball, genuinely have no concept of statistical accuracy?

I’m not saying that Wainwright should have been cut out of the discussion. If I were a voter, I would probably have listed him on my ballot.

But I simply cannot comprehend why anyone—let alone people who eat, sleep, and breathe baseball—would put him higher than third place.

May the Republic rest in peace.