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November 19, 2009

Voting for Real

NL Cy Young

by Will Carroll

On Monday, I detailed how I went about voting for the NL Rookie of the Year. With Chris Coghlan something of a surprise winner and left off of my ballot, as I write this I'm curious to see how my Cy Young ballot comes out. Again, as I'm in an NL city (Cincinnati chapter), I vote for NL awards.

Starter          GS   IP    WHIP   K/9   WARP3  SNLVAR   SNWP
Chris Carpenter  28  192.2  1.01   6.7    8.5    8.0     .673
Dan Haren        33  229.1  1.00   8.8    9.8    6.7     .588
Jair Jurrjens    34  215    1.21   6.3    8.6    8.0     .608
Tim Lincecum     32  225.1  1.05  10.4    8.7    8.2     .638
Javier Vazquez   32  219.1  1.03   9.8    8.9    7.4     .608
Adam Wainwright  34  233    1.26   7.1    8.3    8.5     .630

As much as I agonized over the RotY ballot, my Cy Young ballot went quickly, mostly because I hadn't been informed that I was going to be voting for it. Jack O'Connell, the longtime secretary-treasurer of the BBWAA checked in with me about my ballot on the due date, giving me hours, not weeks to come to a decision. It wasn't hard for me. I wasn't flippant, but I knew who my votes were going to be. I made a quick check of the stat pages, a couple of calls to Joe Sheehan and John Perrotto, and then turned in my ballot. While all were close in value, my three picks weren't straight down the line. I felt that Dan Haren had been overlooked because of his team's performance, but that his performance for them was definitely worthy of recognition. I thought that the Cards had two quality contenders for the Cy Young, but that Chris Carpenter's time away for injury tipped the scales over to Adam Wainwright between the two of them, that despite the value arguments; consistency and availability are two traits that I don't think get measured well, but they have clear value for a pitcher.

So, that left a decision between Tim Lincecum, last year's winner, and Wainwright. I called three players and one scout, asking for their opinions. One player hadn't faced Lincecum-"lucky break," he said-but he felt that Lincecum looked more hittable. "I'm still convinced that deception is a big part of what Lincecum does," another said, "and that unless there's a new wrinkle, people are starting to figure him out. He's still good, his [stuff] is still good, but comparing him to Wainwright? Wainwright was just a shutdown guy this year."

The value of two extra starts might not seem like much, but in a year which featured only one close divisional race, perhaps that marginal value per start isn't as great in most years, but it's those starts that tipped my vote.

My final ballot for the NL Cy Young went Adam Wainwright, Tim Lincecum, and Dan Haren. I've second-guessed the Haren pick since turning it in, and maybe I didn't give Jair Jurrjens enough consideration, but that's a ballot I feel comfortable with. After turning in my ballot, I sat down with MLB.tv and watched each start for my three vote-getters, plus Jurrjens and Carpenter. The more I watch it, the more I feel like Wainwright and Lincecum are in a dead heat. Lincecum is more dominant, while Wainwright is the better pitcher. The subtle changes Wainwright makes from inning to inning and start to start are more visible in a burst-viewing of condensed games.

As far as a process for voting, Ring Lardner hardly imagined this way of doing it, and I'm not sure it's ideal, but in a season where I only saw one of these players live (Lincecum, in Cincinnati), I feel that I have to make the effort to see as much as possible.

That is at the heart of the criticism I've heard. There are infinite numbers, stats, and data sets out there with different ways to argue them. Saying which pitcher is the best is a lot like picking your favorite pie. I like apple pie, peach pie, cherry pie... there are probably hundreds of pies, and while you might like pumpkin pie, I don't, and that's okay. Trying to visualize the subtle differences between 120 starts of five pitchers is a Sisyphean task when you could just as easily come up with the same result by gut, by throwing darts, or by looking at a WARP leaderboard. Criticize the picks if you want, but in a year where the BBWAA opened up its voting to members they knew might think a little differently, I have to feel like it's a step forward. Now, again, about those Gold Gloves...

Related Content:  Adam Wainwright,  Jair Jurrjens

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