Friday, November 20, 2009

Wow, Baseball Writers really are smarter than Members of Congress, at least this year

Tim Lincecum, or as my pal, Giants Superfan and former Savannah Sand Gnats' play-by-play man Mike Passanisi calls him "Jesus's Son", won his second straight National League Cy Young Award yesterday. As much as it pains me not to mock Mike with my continued claim that someday Tim's windup will cause his arm to spontaneously combust, the Baseball Writers Ass. of America nailed this one, just as they did in giving the A.L. Cy to K.C.'s Zack Greinke.

The entire city of St. Louis and wherever you can find some expatriate Cardinals' fans disagree with me. Their thoughts are echoed by St. Louis Times-Dispatch writer Jeff Gordon, who presumably has not been dumped by 3 former Miss NASCARs:

Chris Carpenter was the best starting pitcher in the National League. When he pitched, he was the toughest starter to hit. That is why he won the league’s earned-run average title.

Adam Wainwright built the best season -– from start to finish -- so he deserved the NL’s Cy Young Award this season....

...“Usually the guy with the most first-place votes wins,” observed Post-Dispatch baseball writer Rick Hummel, who seem baffled by the outcome.

Let's examine Mr. Gordon's arguments. First, how can Chris Carpenter be the best pitcher in the National League if Adam Wainwright had "the best season"? And are either of these claims true? We shall see. All phrases in quotes are from Mr. Gordon's column.

"Chris Carpenter was the best starting pitcher in the National League. When he pitched, he was the toughest starter to hit."


Opponents Batting Average:
Lincecum .206
Carpenter .226

"That is why he (Carpenter) won the league’s earned-run average title."
The actual reason Carpenter won the ERA title is he had a better defense behind him that Lincecum. I know, you think ERA is supposed to be independent of defense, hence the term 'earned runs.' But you know and I know there are an enormous number of errors that go down as hits in the official score book. Some statistical gurus created a stat called FIP (Fielding Independent Percentage), which measures how well a pitcher pitched based on things that pitchers can only control (home runs allowed, strikeouts, walks, hit-by-pitches, etc.)

Lincecum 2.34
Carpenter 2.78

"Personally, I was in the Wainwright camp. He went the distance for the Cardinals last season. He was their horse. He shouldered large pitch counts and worked deep into games"

Indeed, Adam had the most pitches of any pitcher in the National League, but they don't hand out BBQ contest awards by virtue of "the butt with the most sauce." And I don't think Adam looks anything like John Elway, so the horse comment was completely unnecessary.

"Wainwright won the most games in the NL, 19. Winning games is the whole point of playing, so that statistic should carry great weight."

When Albert Pujols wins the N.L. MVP award, maybe I can get his good friend Bobby Deen (Paula's boy) to tell him "You know you wouldn't have done diddly squat with the bat without Adam Wainwright. You think hitting and defense actually wins games? You must think my Momma hates butter."

"When Carpenter pitched, he was even better than Wainwright. But he started six fewer games and worked 40 1/3 fewer innings. Lincecum pitched at Carpenter’s pace, with many more strikeouts, over the long haul. But he faded, going 1-3 with a 3.50 ERA in September. "

Never mind that this is as ludicrous as saying Wainwright doesn't deserve the Cy because he had a 3.82 ERA in June. Mr. Gordon also conveniently omits Lincecum's last regular season start...IN which he gave up only two earned runs in seven innings. In fact, Lincecum had only one bad start in September/October, Sept. 20 against the Dodgers (4 innings, 5 earned runs). In his other four starts, Tim went seven innings in each and gave up no more than two earned runs. But in Mr. Gordon's world, he faded because he 'lost' three starts. Dang it, Tim, you should have known the Giants had no hitting outside of a cute and pudgy third baseman, so if you don't pitch shutout ball every time out, you stink! Carpenter also had only one bad start down the stretch, Sept. 13 against the Braves (6 IP, 7 ER), but he went 3-1 in Sept./Oct., I'm sure because of his grit and determination, his poise, his class, and his New Hampshire roots.

"Wainwright went wire to wire for his team. He battled through all the usual aches and pains. He is the one pitcher that Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan would consistently push through the late innings."

Average Innings Per Start:
Lincecum 7.04
Carpenter 6.88
Wainwright 6.85

Complete Games:
Lincecum 4
Carpenter 3
Wainwright 1

Guess there were two pitchers the Cards' manager and pitching coach pushed, one more than another.

"When a pitcher leads the league in innings pitched, that large workload will take a toll in the efficiency numbers (ERA, WHIP, batting average against) that sportswriters use to analyze pitcher. And yet Adam’s efficiency numbers held up pretty well, all considering."

So did Zack Greinke, who pitched just four fewer innings than Wainwright with a ERA almost a half-run lower (2.16 to Wainwright's 2.63). Or Felix Hernandez, who pitched 5 2/3 MORE innings than Adam with a 2.49 ERA, like Greinke in the better-hitting American League. Lincecum, missing a couple of starts due to an actual injury rather than the mysterious "aches and pains" that Dr. Gordon says Toughman Adam pitched through, only pitched eight fewer innings than Wainwright with a better ERA, almost 50 more strikeouts, and almost 50 FEWER hits allowed.

Mr. Gordon would have made just as good an argument by saying Wainwright should have won because he is a manly 6'7", as opposed to Lincecum's 5'11" (at least when his hair is dry). But I can see why the Jeff Gordon's of the world are upset. Awards voting is changing for the better, with voters finally taking a close look at statistics that actually measure a pitcher's performance as opposed to numbers that are out of a pitcher's control, and Gordon is peeved because it cost his guys a Cy that one of them probably would have easily won just a few years ago. Instead, the big trophy went to the guy who actually earned it. What a concept! As's Rob Neyer points out, if that concept had been around 22 years ago, Mr. Gordon and St. Louisians would have been ecstatic because Ozzie Smith would have won the 1987 MVP Award he deserved. Instead, Andre Dawson of the Cubs won simply because he had the most homers and RBI.

We'll find out soon if the voters have made similar progress when it comes to evaluating the MVP's.

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