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More Thoughts On The Cy Young

Posted on November 20, 2009 at 9:24 AM
Filed Under: St. Louis Cardinals
If you've not seen them, my selections for the Cardinal Bloggers Awards are below.  The votes are coming in from across the blogosphere and we should have some results maybe this weekend.

I briefly touched on it yesterday, but I want to talk a little more about the aftermath of the Cy Young voting.  Apologies if there is some more than usual rambling, but there are some half-formed thoughts in my head that I want to try to get out and see if they make any sense.

As expected, there are some irate people in Cardinal Nation that one or the other of the two pitchers did not win the award.  Some of the arguments or thoughts expressed, though, have some merit.

Obviously, I'm not hear to argue that advanced statistical measures shouldn't be used to make these selections.  These things enhance our knowledge of the game and allow us not to be deceived by our eyes completely or to be terribly biased one way or another.  Sabermetrics is here to stay and it's a good thing.

That said, there's got to be some room for not only the traditional stats but also for the circumstances and qualitative factors that surround the game.  Wins aren't the be-all and end-all, obviously, especially when you recognize in what situations some pitchers get a win.  ERA can be deceptive.  However, if a guy has a lot of wins and a good ERA, that needs to be factored in.  He helped his team win, for the most part.  That has to have some sort of cache.

The sabermetricians have their own biases.  For example, the biggest knock on Chris Carpenter was the fact he missed a few games.  Like Mike says, though, when did IP become the standard?  Carpenter was as dominant, if not more so, in slightly fewer innings.  There could be an argument that he was more worthy due to that, with the thought that with the same amount of innings, he'd have much better counting stats.  However, in a close race like this, I can see that being a slight mark against him.

I know that Keith Law and Will Carroll have gotten a lot of grief, even after they've explained their votes.  For the most part, they don't deserve the barrage.  However, sabermetricians (and I know this is a broad generalization, so I apologize to those that it doesn't fit) tend to want to be the smartest guy in the room and will brook little empathy for those that don't fit the profile.  From the look of his ballot, Law just took the top three in WAR and went on with his day, not worrying about anything that wasn't in the numbers there on the paper.

Now, I don't know a lot about WAR and VORP and FIP, though I have a general sense of them.  They are effective tools, I won't deny that.  I'm sure Pip will correct me, but with WAR, couldn't a pitcher have a dominant first half of the season, get hurt in August, and still lead the league in that?  I don't think it's a cumulative-type stat, though I easily could be mistaken.  Assuming that's correct, though, if Lincecum had been hurt and not pitched in September but still was the leader in WAR and FIP, does he still get the award?  Even though the Giants really needed him down the stretch as they tried to make the playoffs?

If the sabermetrician says, "That's possible, but it wouldn't have happened.  They wouldn't have given it to him in that situation," then when do external factors come into play?  That seemed to be to be the one chink in Lincecum's argument.  When the Giants were pushing the Rockies, coming within a couple of games of the wild card spot, they really needed him.  Yet in the second half, he went 1-3 with a 3.60 ERA.  Still good, but it was the absolute worst time for him to slump.  Wainwright went 3-1 with a 3.18 and a crazy 40/7 K/BB ratio, including throwing 130 pitches in the divisional clincher.  If only Kyle McClellan could have held #20 for him.....

(Interesting stat I just found looking through ESPN's sabermetric rankings.  Carpenter had a .256 average on balls in play.  Lincecum, .276.  Wainwright?  .290.  Not sure if that means anything, though it would seem to me that Wainwright's numbers were less reliant on luck than maybe the other two, but just by a hair.)

Pip makes an interesting argument that now strikeouts are more important to voters than wins.  It's true that strikeouts give a better read on a pitcher, he has more control over that than wins or some other things.  But what about the teams like St. Louis that are philosophically focused on getting the ground ball?  Should they be punished for basically doing their job?

Again, I'm not saying Lincecum is a bad choice.  By a lot of accounts, he was the best pitcher in the NL.  I'm not really complaining about anything, but I do think that there's got to be some sort of blend between strictly numbers and strictly scouting and traditional measures.  There's good in both of them.  I just wish they'd figured this out years ago, so maybe Ozzie Smith would have won in '87.

I guess the argument comes from how you perceive the Cy.  We've had this argument with the MVP for years, but is the Cy for the overall best statistical pitcher or the pitcher that helped his team the most?  Usually those are one and the same, but not so much this year.  Which is probably why we're going to be talking about this for a while.

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Just FYI, WAR has a playing time component (in the case of pitchers, clearly IP) to it. For reference, according to Fangraphs, Carp and AW had about the same WAR despite Carps better rate stats (FIP, ERA, whatever) because AW had the edge in innings.

Thanks. The rough definition I looked up didn't seem to show that, but I admittedly may have overlooked it. Thought there should be!

I'm sympathetic to the "Should groundball pitchers be punished for basically doing their job?" argument. However, that's an a priori argument that assumes that their approach is correct. In some way, such as in the aggregate, perhaps it is. But as far as an individual pitcher's contribution -- what he alone is able to do -- fielding-independent stats tell us more about the pitcher himself. If we are rewarding individual accomplishments, as it seems the Cy Young does, team philosophies are irrelevant. They're reflected, however, in a team's success.

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