Keith Law and the NL Cy Young Vote

Joe ReganCorrespondent INovember 28, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO - AUGUST 28:  Tim Lincecum #55 of the San Francisco Giants celebrates in the 8th inning against the Colorado Rockies during a Major League Baseball game at AT&T Park on August 28, 2009 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
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.

Zack Greinke won the AL Cy Young over CC Sabathiain fact, Sabathia wasn't even No. 2—Joe Mauer won the AL MVP over Mark Teixeira and all was right in the world.

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

Was this the right choice? Well, that's up to you.

The independent pitching statistics favored LincecumFIP, 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 shortstop of Brendan Ryan's quality really matters to you. It obviously helps.

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 it finds 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 Baseball Writers' Association of America, he already had a contentious relationship with many within the ranks and was indeed denied admission to the BBWAA in his first time trying (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-place vote, Javier Vazquez. Vazquez quietly had an awesome season in Atlanta, finally seeming to put his peripherals together.

This reasoning was not enough to appease the critics, and while most of the BBWAA has either not commented or applauded Law's rational yet unconventional thinking, many fans, radio hosts and the like have lambasted the man, who's seemingly become the new Billy Beane for many.

However, there are many reasons why this hatred and backlash at Law are 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. 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 from Steve Kornacki of MLive.com. Make no mistake, Verlander was great in 2009. He struck guys out and was almost able to keep his team's head above water as the offense faltered.

However, Vasquez had a 2.87 ERA. People screamed foul over him 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 endwhich 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?

This was a typical "old guard" ballot. Nine of 10 players were on playoff teamsincluding Matt Holliday, who accumulated half as many wins above replacement (WAR) in his time in St. Louis as total ballot appearances, Ryan Zimmerman, Prince Fielder and Adrian Gonzalez.

Chase Utley finished eighth in NL MVP voting despite being second in WAR among position players—and that does not include non-stolen base baserunning, which almost pulls Utley even with Albert Pujols. Andre Ethier and his 3.0 WAR finished sixth.

My personal favorite is having the audacity to call Ryan Howard underrated. Howard, the man who won the 2006 NL MVP for nothing but home runs.

Pujols led in OBP, SLG, had about the same base-out runs added (RE24) and is a better fielder than Howard. Yes, there were all close, but Pujols' team made the playoffs, so it is not even like the voters decided based on that.

Howard, the man who slept through half of 2008 and almost won the MVP despite being nowhere near the most valuable players on his own team. Howard's good, but if you are a general manager, do you take Utley or Howard first? If you take Howard, you may be criminally insane.

Voters have historically cast 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—it's unclear if it's officialof SI.com's Jon Heyman below:

  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 of the Year. 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 players 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 Law knows what he is doing?

Unless otherwise noted, statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.