Thursday, November 19, 2009
Digging into Cy balloting
Let's dig into the Cy Young balloting, shall we?
Two voters, Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus and Keith Law of ESPN.com, did not include Chris Carpenter on their ballots. Carroll had Wainwright in the top spot, Tim Lincecum second and Arizona's Dan Haren third. Law voted for Lincecum, Atlanta's Javier Vazquez and Wainwright in third. Those were the only votes in any position for Haren and Vazquez.
The six-point gap between Lincecum and Carpenter is tied for the third-closest in the NL since the ballot expanded to three pitchers in 1970. The 10-point margin from first to third is the second closest for the NL ballot.
Lincecum, who had a $650,000 salary and could be headed for a big raise if he goes to arbitration before next season, did not have any bonus provision for winning the award. Carpenter receives $100,000 for finishing second, Wainwright $100,000 for winding up third and Vazquez $70,000 for being voted fourth.
Obviously, $70,000 is not a great deal of money to Vazquez. Just as obviously, Law cost the Atlanta Braves $70,000.
Also obviously, neither Carroll nor Law alone cost Carpenter or Wainwright anything.
There were 32 voters, each asked to list their top three candidates. A first choice gets five points, a second choice three points, a third choice one point. If you retabulate the voting results, but without Carroll, the results are exactly the same: Lincecum-Carpenter-Wainwright. If you retabulate without Law, again the same: Lincecum-Carpenter-Wainwright. Unless the voting is exceptionally close, even closer than this time, one voter cannot change the results.
That said, it's true that the two non-traditional -- that is, non-newspaper -- voters did essentially swing the results. If you refigure the voting without Carroll and Law, Carpenter wins:
1. Carpenter (94)
2. Lincecum (92)
3. Wainwright (84)
With, by the way, nobody else figuring in the voting. Aside from Carroll and Law, every ballot was filled with only three names.*
*St. Louis writer Jeff Gordon argues that Wainwright got "jobbed." And further, "Carpenter was left off two ballots, with Javier Vasquez and Danny Haren presumably getting some local love. If Carpenter made those two ballots, he could have won the award. So you can expect those two voters to face heavy questioning in the days ahead."
Will and Keith may face heavy questioning, but Gordon's math here is wrong. Even if both had listed Carpenter third on their ballots, he still would have finished four points behind Lincecum.
On the other hand, purely in terms of performance -- rather than precedent -- it's very difficult to make the case that a vote for Vazquez or Haren is somehow crazy. Vazquez's ERA was little different from Wainwright's, but he was one of only two National Leaguers with a strikeout-to-walk ratio higher than 5-to-1.
The other was Haren, who led the league in that category.
I'm not going to run through every basic statistic (and yes, K/BB is a basic statistic), nor will I run through every advanced metric. I will say that according to FanGraphs, the most valuable pitcher in the league was Lincecum, the second most valuable was Vazquez, and the third most valuable was Haren.
Which isn't necessarily how I would have voted. Value-wise -- as theoretically measured by dollars -- there's virtually no difference between Haren, Wainwright, Carpenter, or (gulp) Ubaldo Jimenez and Josh Johnson. My point is that among the five candidates who wound up on at least one voter's ballot, only Lincecum's fundamental performance truly stands out.
There's something to be said for Conventional Wisdom. In this case, the Conventional Wisdom was unanimous: the three best pitchers in the league were Lincecum, Carpenter, and Wainwright. But in a field as traditionally conservative as award voting, isn't it healthy to allow room for just a bit of unconventional wisdom, too?
Carroll and Law didn't do anything crazy. They looked at the same numbers available to everyone else, and came up with slightly different answers. They should not be reviled for this. They should instead be applauded. And yes, even in St. Louis, where a bit more unconventional wisdom in 1987 would have given Ozzie Smith the MVP Award he deserved.