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2009 National League Cy Young Analysis
Tim Lincecum Redux?

by Richard Van Zandt, BaseballEvolution.com
November 6, 2009

"People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring." - Rogers Hornsby


Another wonderful season of baseball is in the books, leaving us with yet another long winter of staring out the window and waiting for spring. It’s also that time of year to renew the annual debate over individual post-season honors. As I did last season, I have delved into the issue
of who deserves to be awarded the coveted Cy Young trophy in the National League. And as was the case last year, I cannot deny my obvious bias. Tim Lincecum, if you didn’t already know, is my favorite player is the game. Biased or not, and after some intensive and in-depth crunching of the numbers of all the league’s top pitchers, I have come to the conclusion that Timmy has been, for the second consecutive year, the best pitcher overall in the senior circuit.

People who know me know that I tend to be a bit meticulous when I set my mind to something, and in attempting to prove that Lincecum deserves the award without appearing as biased as I truly am, I felt it was best to expand on my efforts from last year. So whereas last season I compared the top candidates in over 40 different statistical categories, this year I narrowed the initial field of twelve down to six by comparing candidates over no fewer than a hundred different pitching categories.

These ranged from the obvious (basic stuff such as ERA, WHIP, and wins), to the more in-depth (for instance hit, walk and strikeout ratios, opposition batting average, etc.), some Sabermetric stuff (PWS, PRC, WAR, and FIP among others), and even a few I made up during the course of my research.

Eliminated right off the bat and comprising the lower half of the leagues’ top ten pitchers were, in descending order of rank and starting with #10, Wandy Rodriguez, Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Cain and Jair Jurrjens.

After that, the top six were compared again, with the resulting conclusion being that the cream had clearly risen to the top. Setting the top two pitchers aside, I re-compared the other four in order to rank spots 3 through 6. That left Josh Johnson, settling in comfortably as the sixth best pitcher in the NL this year, out of the running.


From there, a more detailed analysis was necessary, so I looked even deeper, comparing home and road splits, first and second half splits, and even noting how well each did separately in their wins, losses and no-decisions. The effects of run support and defense were, of course, also considered until finally I had come to some firm conclusions.

Lincecum’s primary competitors for the award, and the rest of the best in 2009 were: Dan Haren of the D-Backs (the major league leader in WHIP), Javier Vazquez (Atlanta’s ace), and a pair of Cards (Adam Wainwright - who led the league in wins, and Chris Carpenter - ERA leader and Comeback Player of the Year).

Here’s how my top five National League pitchers for 2009 shake out.

5) Dan Haren – 14-10, 3.14 ERA/1.00 WHIP/.224 BAA – 5.87 K/BB

Haren led the majors in both WHIP and opponent’s on-base percentage (.260), and the NL in strikeout-to-walk ratio. And he likely would have won at least a few more than 14 games had his team been able to score more than just 13 runs in the 10 games he lost. It was his poor second half that distinguished him from the others, and that cost him any shot at the Cy. After posting a 2.01 ERA and 0.81 WHIP prior to the break, those marks rose to 4.62 and 1.26 in the second half of the year. Arizona’s opponents found him much easier to hit after the All-Star game as well, posting a .267 batting average against him after the break as opposed to just .189 before.

Adjusted W-L Record

Subtract Vazquez’ two cheap wins from his actual win total and add five for wins that were lost by his bullpen to come up with a new win total. Then subtract his four tough losses from his loss total and add in any losses he was saved from incurring – in Vazquez’ case, zero – to come up with a new loss total

4) Javier Vazquez – 15-10, 2.87 ERA/1.03 WHIP/.223 BAA – 238 K, 44 BB

The third and fourth spots were really the hardest for me to rank, but ultimately I felt comfortable slotting Vazquez in at number 4. Vazquez, however, should not take this as a slight as he had a fantastic season for the Braves, and could have won a few more games had his bullpen been a little bit better for him. Using an informal formula I created, we can speculate that with a little better luck, Vazquez’ actual W-L record could have been 18-6. His WHIP ranked third best in the NL and his strikeout total was second. His ERA was the eighth best overall in the major leagues.

3) Adam Wainwright – 19-8, 2.63 ERA/1.21 WHIP/.244 BAA – 233.0 IP, 212 K

As Brandon Webb found out last year, leading the league in wins ain’t all its cracked up to be. Due to on-field factors like pitch counts, the prevalence of bullpen specialization, and the demise of the complete game, as well as on-paper factors such as a greater focus on in-depth pitching statistics and an increased spotlight on the effects of defense and run support, pitcher wins have become increasingly devalued over the past two decades.

In terms of run support and defense, Wainwright benefited generously in both cases, receiving a whopping 7.07 runs of support per game, while both his Defense Independent ERA (DIPS – 3.22) and Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP – 3.16) values were roughly half a run higher than his actual ERA.

On the other hand, in addition to leading the league in wins and innings pitched, Wainwright recorded both the fourth lowest ERA and ERA+ in the league, was fourth in strikeouts, and earned 21.10 Win Shares, good for second in the league. A good deal of his success was likely due to how well he pitched with runners on base (.218 BAA, 18 DP) and in scoring position (.209 overall, including .194 w/2 outs). Additionally his 25 quality starts on the year ranked second in the NL, with six of those coming in games he got hung with the loss. In his eight losses, St. Louis averaged just 2.25 R/G while his ERA in those games was a respectable 3.60.

Wainwright did an excellent job all season long for the Cardinals and should be commended for giving them a shot to win nearly every time out. However, in a head-to-head statistical comparison with both Carpenter and Lincecum he was soundly trounced, much as Webb was last year when compared to Lincecum and Johan Santana. For his 2009 contributions, the talented Wainwright deserves hearty congratulations on a job very well done and my hypothetical third place vote, but no Cy Young Award…yet.

2) Chris Carpenter – 17-4, 2.24 ERA/1.01 WHIP/.226 BAA – 185 ERA+, 23 DP


After throwing just 21.1 innings over the previous two seasons combined, Carpenter came back in 2009 to lead the league in both ERA and ERA+ as well as Runs Prevented, while also leading the majors in run average and winning percentage. He also had lower BB/9, BR/9 and WHIP ratios than Lincecum had, as well as fourteen additional rally killing double plays balls. He was also much more adept at controlling the running game, allowing only 2 stolen bases in just 6 total attempts for the year, compared to 20 stolen bags in 25 attempts against Timmy, although Carpenter also benefited from having Yadier Molina behind the dish rather than Yadier’s brother Bengie (41% CS for Yadier compared to the elder Molina’s 23%).

It was a truly fantastic season for Carp, perhaps no better exemplified by examining more closely his wins, losses and no-decisions. He was absolutely fantastic in his 17 wins, posting a 1.55 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP, while those marks rose only marginally to 1.57 and 1.04 in his seven no-decisions. True, he was blistered in his 4 losses (6.84 ERA/1.32 WHIP), but this merely serves to highlight how rarely he pitched poorly this season, or rather, how often he pitched exceedingly well. And he was strong down the stretch for the playoff bound Cardinals, posting a 2.06 ERA after the All-Star game, down from 2.47 prior to the break.

There is no disputing Carp’s legitimacy as a Cy Young candidate. He had fantastic numbers across the board. I think, in fact, that he stacks up better against Timmy than Santana did last season. Indeed it’s not that Chris Carpenter doesn’t deserve the Cy Young, it’s that Tim Lincecum simply deserves it more.

1) Tim Lincecum – 15-7, 2.48 ERA/1.05 WHIP/.206 BAA – 261 K, 173 ERA+

Single Season Strikeout Leaders
Giants Franchise History

1. Mickey Welch – 345 – 1884

2. Amos Rusie – 341 – 1890

3. Amos Rusie – 337 – 1891

4. Tim Keefe – 335 – 1888

5. Tim Keefe – 297 – 1886

6. Amos Rusie – 288 – 1892

7. Mickey Welch – 272 – 1886

8. Christy Mathewson – 267 – 1903

9. Tim Lincecum – 265 – 2008

10. Tim Lincecum – 261 – 2009

11. Christy Mathewson – 259 – 1908

After winning the 2008 Cy Young Award in his first full major league season, Lincecum, in a lot of ways, was even better this year. He lowered his ERA, WHIP, and opponents' batting average while allowing 14 fewer hits and issuing 16 fewer walks in only 1 2/3 fewer innings. He also led the senior circuit in complete games and shutouts. With his league-leading strikeout total, Lincecum joined legendary Giant Christy Mathewson as the only Giants pitchers since 1900 to record as many as two seasons with at least 250 strikeouts.

All told, Lincecum led the NL in at least 13 different significant pitching categories (min 180 IP), including Sabermetric measures such as pitching win shares, VORP, WAR, RAR, and pitching runs created. And he led the major leagues in seven other categories, including opponents' batting average, slugging percentage, and on-base plus slugging.

Among issues outside of a pitchers’ control, the most obvious, run support, was a non-issue with only .01 runs of support per game separating the pair (Lincecum was 24th out of 33 in the NL and Carpenter 23rd). On the other hand, measures such as DER, DIPS, and FIP indicate that Carpenter enjoyed better defensive support than Lincecum did. Additionally, Lincecum was more impacted by the performance of his bullpen. He left 17 base runners to the pen, eight of which scored, as opposed to one of just two runners that were bequeathed to relievers by Carpenter.

Using my method of adjusting W-L records, we can speculate that Lincecum could have had an 18-4 record while Carpenter could just as easily have ended up 16-5. And it’s hard to ignore the fact that Lincecum pitched over 30 more innings than Carpenter, having made four extra starts.

To really magnify the difference between the two pitchers, however, it is best to look at the numbers side by side. Take a look at these 51 key pitching categories to get a clearer sense of which of the two was the leagues best in 2009. Note how Lincecum especially dominated in statistics related to how poorly opposing batters did while facing him (for instance BAA, H/9, K/9 and XBH%, among others).

Lincecum

Carpenter


 

Lincecum

Carpenter


 

Lincecum

Carpenter

W

15

17

WHIP

1.05

1.01

BAA

.206

.226

L

7

4

BR/9

9.67

9.39

OBP

.271

.272

W%

.682

.810

H/9

6.71

7.29

SLG

.290

.310

IP

225.1

192.2

*OH/9

5.27

5.98

OPS

.561

.582

H

168

156

BB/9

2.72

1.78

ISO

.084

.084

BB

68

38

SO/9

10.42

6.73

BA/risp

.226

.254

SO

261

144

HR/9

0.40

0.33

2O, risp

.233

.264

HR

10

7

K/BB

3.84

3.79

Men On

.218

.266

CG

4

3

XBH%

4.97

5.33

P WS

22.47

20.85

SHO

2

1

DP

9

23

PRC

138

127

QS

26

22

DP/G

0.28

0.82

RP

44.3

46.9

QS%

81%

79%

TB

236

214

WAR

8.3

5.7

ERA

2.48

2.24

TB/PA

.261

.285

RAR

71.7

50.8

RA

2.76

2.29

SO%

28.84

19.20

VORP

69.8

68.7

ERA+

173

185

BB%

7.51

5.07

WARP1

6.6

7.6

FIP

2.37

2.81

IP/GS

7.04

6.88

Ave GS

63.9

62.1

DIPS

2.48

2.93

P/GS

107.47

95.32

RS

5.83

5.84

Led National League Led Major Leagues All Stat Leaders Minimum 180 IP

*Outfield Hits Per Nine Innings Pitched – excludes all infield and bunt hits and home runs

Cheap Wins: Wins in non-quality starts Tough Losses: Losses in quality starts

Statistical Sources: Baseball-Reference.com, TheHardballTimes.com, Fangraphs.com, BaseballProspectus.com, BillJamesOnline.com, ESPN.com

The bottom line here is that in a head-to-head statistical comparison, Lincecum beats Carpenter, not because Carpenter didn’t pitch extremely well, but because Lincecum pitched that much better. The only question is whether or not voters can get past Timmy’s 15 wins, which would represent the lowest total ever for a Cy Young winning starting pitcher in a non-strike season. But if they look deeper inside the numbers, they’ll see clearly that Tim Lincecum was the very best pitcher in the National League for the second consecutive year.



Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Richard resides in San Francisco, California and can be reached at richard@baseballevolution.com.

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