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Why Tim Lincecum will be your 2009 NL Cy Young winner
- Updated: October 24, 2009
After a year in which Cardinals starting pitchers Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright dominated the headlines, pitched their team to a division title and were expected to fight for some off-season hardware, it was the Giants’ Tim Lincecum who picked up the first post-season win amongst the trio.
When the Sporting News named Lincecum the 2009 NL Pitcher of the Year on Thursday it came as a bit of a surprise. Many thought that Carpenter was hands down the best pitcher in the National League, thus having the Cy Young award locked up.
The SN award doesn’t mean Lincecum is now the favorite to win a second consecutive Cy – for one, the two awards are voted on by different entities. The Baseball Writers Association of America vote for the Cy Young, while the SN is decided by the 30 major league general managers.
Still, there is a strong correlation between the SN Pitcher of the Year and the Cy Young.
Since 2000, the American League pitcher named pitcher of the year by TSN went on to win the AL Cy Young in each of the past nine seasons.
However, in the NL only four of the last nine SN winners went on to a Cy Young trophy. The exceptions coming in 2006 when Arizona’s Brandon Webb, who won the Cy Young after Carpenter won the SN. In ’04 Roger Clemens beat out TSN winner Jason Schmidt for the NL Cy. And between 2000-2002 Randy Johnson won three straight Cy Young’s while Tom Glavine was voted TSN’s choice for best pitcher in 2000 and Curt Schilling was their pick in ’01 and ’02.
With that, Thursday’s announcement, while surprising to some, is an indication that baseball is transitioning into the 21st century of statistical evaluation, valuing win-loss records with less importance. As proponents of Sabermetrics have been pointing out for some time, a pitcher’s win total is more reflective of the strength of his bullpen, the potency of his lineup and other variables out of his control.
After a thorough (and what I hope was an objective evaluation), the case for Lincecum winning his second Cy Young in just his second full season is a strong one.
Lincecum had more strikeouts, complete games and shutouts than did Carpenter. Opponents hit for a lower average (.209 to .223) and had a lower slugging percentage against the Giant right-hander (though, it was a negligible difference between his .271 clip and Carpenter’s .272).
Surprisingly, in terms of run support, Carpenter wasn’t overwhelmingly supported by his team. St. Louis only provided him with 0.545 runs per inning pitched (IP), while the Giants gave Lincecum only slightly less, 0.510 runs per IP. But, consider Lincecum pitched considerably more innings than Carpenter yet was only rewarded with 10 more runs of support.
Carpenter won more games while giving up nearly a quarter of a run less per nine innings than Lincecum (2.24 to 2.48, respectively). He also gave up seven homers to Lincecum’s 10, both low figures compared to their total innings pitched – particularly impressive for Lincecum considering he is a fastball pitcher (55.8% of his pitches thrown were fastballs).
Both aces had microscopic WHIPS – Capenter 1.01, Lincecum 1.05. Each allowed fewer hits than innings pitched, with Carpenter surrendering .809 hits per IP to Lincecum’s .745 hits per IP.
The numbers across the board are closer than I had guessed they would be. But when you factor in the two teams each pitcher played for Lincecum’s accomplishments become more impressive.
Carpenter played with presumably the 2009 NL MVP, Albert Pujols, had statistically a better team around him and pitched in the NL Central against arguably weaker opponents – the Pirates, Brewers, Astros and Reds who all finished below .500.
Lincecum on the other hand did his damage, by in whole, while facing teams in the West that included two 90-win, playoff teams – the Dodgers and Rockies. He also played for statistically one of the game’s worst offenses.
When pure ‘stuff’ is factored in, the argument swings more in Linceum’s favor. The 25 year old right hander again dominated opponents for a second straight season and the feat of not only repeating his 2008 campaign but improving upon it should be considered.
Batters swung at more than a quarter of Lincecum’s pitches thrown out of the strike zone. They only swung at 61.5% of pitches in the zone – which speaks to the deception of his pitches. In fact, batters only got swings off at 44.4% of all of Lincecum‘s pitches and only made contact on three quarters of those swings (33% of total pitches). Lincecum also dominated while going right after hitters, throwing a majority of his pitches (50.2%) inside the strike zone. Additionally, 6.2% of the 168 hits Lincecum allowed never even left the infield.
Most strikingly, perhaps, Lincecum gave up two or fewer runs in 21 of his 32 starts, and one or fewer runs in 13 starts – yet he only won 10 of those 13 outings. To accent the point of the amount of pressure on Lincecum thanks to the Giants’ hapless offense, in only five starts Lincecum allowed more than three earned runs, going 0-3 in those starts. Essentially Linceum knew he had to be perfect every time he took the ball – and he nearly was.
Both pitchers had remarkable years, but considering Lincecum’s heavy lead in innings pitches, strike outs, hits per inning allowed, opponents’ batting average and slugging percentage, he gets the edge and should become the first ever pitcher to win a Cy Young in each of his first two full seasons.
BABIP – Batting avg. on balls hit in play.
LOB% – Percentage of base runners left on base without scoring.
RS – Run support.
LD% – Percentage of hits that were line drives.
O-Swing% – Percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone.
Z-Swing% – Percentage of pitches a batter swings at inside the strike zone.
Swing% – Total percentage of pitches a batter swings at.
O-Contact% – Percentage of times a batter makes contact with the ball when swinging at pitches thrown outside the strike zone.
Z-Contact% – Percentage of times a batter makes contact with the ball when swinging at pitches thrown inside the strike zone.
Contact% – Total percentage of contact made when swinging at all pitches.
Zone% – Percentage of pitches seen inside the strike zone.
F-Strike% - First pitch strike percentage.
(Italics indicate an advantage for Lincecum in a certain category).
It should be explained that Adam Wainwright, though he led the league in wins with 19 wins, was eliminated from this CY young comparison for a number of reasons. Wainwright had an opponents’ batting average of .263 (only 10 points below the league average). He had a WHIP of 1.21, allowed 17 homers, an opponent’s slugging percentage of .349, and gave up 309 total bases – 73 more than Tim Lincecum and 95 more than Chris Carpenter. Wainwright had a fantastic year but, as the numbers bear out, he was a cut below Carpenter and Lincecum.