Friday, November 27, 2009

Tim Lincecum, the Cy Young, and the Changing Face of Baseball.

If anyone keeps up with this blog, they may notice that I have not posted anything about Tim Lincecum winning the Cy Young.  Why haven't I written anything about it?  A couple reasons, really.  First, I have just been genuinely busy.  The semester is wrapping up and I had things to do.  Second, everyone else was covering, and I was not sure what exactly I could say about the subject.  Finally, I wasn't really sure what the victory meant.  I was shocked, to be honest.

After thinking about it for a while, Tim Lincecum deserved to win the Cy Young.  Many around the baseball world are confused and angry about the subject.  One St. Louis writer (and a blatant homer) cried about how Lincecum won the Cy Young over Carpenter and Wainwright with having only 15 wins.  What?  How can that be?  Clearly, five years ago there was no way in heck that Lincecum could win the Cy Young with only 15 wins.  In fact, Lincecum is the fist NL pitcher to do so with only so few wins.

So why does Lincy deserve the award?

Simply put, wins mean nothing when determining the value of a pitcher.  Baseball fans, and especially baseball writers, need to learn this very basic fact.  Wins reflect more of how a specific pitcher performs on a specific team.  Let's imagine you had two pitchers of equal talent.  Pitcher A plays on a team with a great offense.  Pitcher B plays on a team with an anemic offense.  Pitcher A would have more wins than Pitcher B.  Yet, the pitchers are of the same quality.  Why, therefore, is it so ingrained in MLB-lore that we use win/loss as an indicator of a pitcher's worth?

Moving away from problematic statistics like wins, ERA, and RBI and focusing on more advanced statistics like FIP, K/9, K/BB, UZR and so on allow us to better evaluate a pitcher's value on his own rather than as a pitcher on a specific team.  If Lincecum played on the Los Angeles Dodgers (a terrible thought, I know) he undoubtedly would have more in the wins column.

Let's compare Lincecum, Adam Wainwright, and Chris Carpenter, the latter two who were also in the race for the Cy Young.  

Tim Lincecum 15-7, 2.48 ERA, 261 SO, 1.05 WHIP, 4 CG, 225 IP, 10 K/9, 3 B/9, and 2.34 FIP.

Adam Wainright 19-8, 2.63 ERA, 212 SO, 1.21 WHIP, 1 CG, 233 IP, 8 K/9, 2 B/9, and 3.11 FIP.

Chris Carpenter 17-4, 2.24 ERA, 144 SO,  1.01 WHIP, 3 CG, 192.2 IP, 6.73 K/9, 1.78 B/9, and 2.78 FIP.

Wainwright and Carpenter had more wins than Lincecum (although Wainwright also had more losses, which I rarely saw anything about in conservative baseball press).  What really stands out here about Linecum is how he, moreso than the other two pitchers, was able to completely dominate pitchers in the NL.  Evidenced by his SO rate, Lincecum was preventing batters from putting the ball in play at a significantly higher rate than either Wainright or Carpenter.  Lincecum's 261 SOs is significantly higher than Wainright's 212 and completely dominates Carpenter's 144.  This is also reflected in FIP (FIP reflects a pitcher's value while omitting the skill of the pitcher's team's defense).  Lincecum's FIP is much better than Carpenter's and Wainwright's.  Clearly, Lincecum was the best pitcher in the NL last year, something that would not be reflected if we looked at flawed statistic like W/L and ERA.

I am very happy to see baseball writers move in this direction.  The way we evaluate baseball players has significantly changed, for the better, over the past ten years.  It is good to see the professionals actually in the industry catching on to what baseball fans have known for decades.


  1. Yea I was really surprised to when Timmy won for the 2nd time in a row. Stat's wise he deserved it, but I didn't think he would win it based on the fact that he won it last year. It was a really hard 3 way battle between Wain, Carp, and Lince and any of them could of won it. If not Lincecum I figured Carpenter would of won it...


  2. Yeah, it was very surprising. I was shocked when I heard he won. It's a great thing he did though (although perhaps not for the Giants' money-wise!).