Saturday, October 10, 2009

Outsmarting the experts and why I would vote Chris Carpenter for the Cy Young Award

This is the second (in a yet to be determined amount of columns) where I use logic and reason to outsmart Joe Morgan. This time, instead of taking a broad brush the focus is going to be on the NL Cy Young Race. During his chat last Tuesday, the following question was posed:

Steve (Middletown, CT)

Who is your NL CY Young winner?

Joe Morgan
(11:17 AM)

I would give it to Wainwright, but there are a lot of people that believe that Carpenter deserves it. Wainwright pitched more innings, he was there the whole year. Carpenter had the injury. Wainwright led the league in wins and had more innings than Lincecum and Carpenter. ERA and strikeouts don't impress me as much as wins do. The name of the game is to win.

Admittedly, the Cy Young Award race is close and all 3 of the pitchers mentioned (Wainwright, Lincecum and Carpenter) have pretty strong cases. The problem I have is the way he reaches his conclusion.....i'll breakdown the segments and then mention why I would vote for Carpenter

a) Wainwright pitched more innings, he was there the whole year

Fair enough. Wainwright did lead the NL in innings pitched but didn't necessarily leave his Cy Young competition in the dust. Wainwright had 233, Lincecum 225 1/3 and Carpenter 192 2/3, all three have a long body of work and pitched more than enough innings to contend for the lead in rate statistics (ERA, SO/9, WHIP, etc.)

Using innings pitched for Cy Young Criteria isn't the best logic. For example, Bronson Arroyo was 4th in innings pitched with 220 1/3, but it would be absolutely absurd to vote for him and his 15-13 3.84 era 115 ERA+ season for a Cy Young Award over a more deserving candidate such as Carpenter on this basis.

b) Carpenter had the injury

Alright, he was injured but he only missed about a month. Granted this doesn't help his case but it isn't an automatic dis-qualifier. Still, Carpenter was very dominant and was healthy in the June/July part of the season when the NL Central was close and needed him to step up (which he did). Also, Lincecum only gets a passing mention here and he didn't even lose time to injury.

c) Wainwright led the league in Wins

That's nice...the Cy Young Award is around for the purpose of recognizing the best pitcher. While being a superior pitcher generally leads to more wins, that is not always the case. On a theoretical basis, pitcher A pitches 5 innings gives up 6 runs, leaves with a 10-6 lead which his bullpen holds on to and gets the win. Pitcher B pitches a gem throws 8 shutout innings but gets no run support and gets a no-decision or loss. Is pitcher A a better pitcher because he got the win? no.........while this is one start and a small sample size it does illustrate that having more wins doesn't make one a better pitcher

In a world where wins was used as the criterion for Cy Young voting....a league average pitcher like Jorge de la Rosa 16-9 4.38 era 103 ERA+ would be in this Cy Young discussion while Tim Lincecum's much better 15-win season would be ignored....obviously most people see through the absurdity of the win-total statistic and thankfully no one is dumb enough to vouch for de la Rosa winning a Cy Young for this reason.

To further demonstrate the absurdity of win-loss totals, i'll use my Brewers as an example. Braden Looper (1/2 of the two-headed monster i've named Jaden Loopan) led the Brewers in wins with 14. Was he the best Brewers pitcher this year? Would anyone be dumb enough to argue this? No and I really hope not. Looper gave up a ridiculous amount of home runs but also had a ridiculous amount of run support.

In comparison, Yovani Gallardo had a much better season, was the ace of the staff and ended up with a record of 13-12. Anyone with half a brain would realize that Gallardo is a much better pitcher than Looper and the differences in win-loss records had a lot more to do with one pitcher getting much better run support than anything else........a vote based on win totals could lead to a Looper-esque pitcher being backed for Cy Young Award and that is a scary notion.

d) ERA and Strikeouts don't impress me as much as wins do

Since I just finished a very long-winded rant about the weakness of the win stati'll focus on the ERA part of the argument. Since I don't necessarily hold high batter strikeouts against a player if they are productive hitters otherwise (i.e. Adam Dunn/Mark Reynolds) i'm going to divert my argument towards the ERA side.

While ERA isn't a perfect stat, it does a much better job of measuring pitching effectiveness than wins. It does cut pitchers some slack in some cases such as if they give up a big hit after an error for example but there are worse stats (Wins)....but it gives a reasonable portrayal of how good or bad a pitcher is

Carpenter 2.24

Lincecum 2.48

Wainwright 2.62

Also, even though he hasn't been in the Cy Young discussion at all (due to bad luck in W-L column) i'd like to recognize Jair Jurrgens for having an excellent season and having a better ERA than Wainwright.....he had to work much more for his 14-win season than Braden Looper and Carl Pavano had to work for theirs.

Personally, I depend more on the ERA+ statistic as a better metric and to give context to where these pitchers rank within the league (Carpenter 185+, Lincecum 173+, Wainwright 158 ERA+) wrap around to the initial argument, why do I mention these numbers.....well because the object of the Cy Young Award is to recognize the best pitcher and the ERA stats are able to give us a quick and dirty measurement of who pitched better, pitcher A, pitcher B or pitcher C

e) If I had a Vote for the Cy Young Award I would vote in this order and because:

1) Chris Carpenter-By every measurable metric, he has the most well-rounded and dominant body of work....the missed starts weaken his case but it only makes the race closer....but not cost him the award

2) Tim Lincecum- Lincecum is a beast, a freak of nature (in a good way) and one of the most exciting players to watch. If the season had ended in August I may have been swayed to place him #1. However he has two flaws in his body of work which drop him to second. First, he didn't quite measure up statistically to Carpenter. Second, even if he did what he did with the season on the line would have been used as a tie-breaker that he would have lost. He had a bad month (by his standards) a 3.38 era in September and most importantly got rocked in a crucial game against LA on the 20th 5 ER in 4 innings when the Giants were playing for their playoff lives. Carpenter on the other hand, was unbeatable in July (when St. Louis was fighting for NL Central Supremacy) and in August (when they were pulling away).

3) Adam Wainwright- I know it may sound like i'm being critical of him in this article. But he had an amazing season and a strong breakout year. Carpenter's and Lincecum's seasons were just better.

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