That's Debatable: Who is the NL Cy Young?
Who should be the NL Cy Young award winner? [Brandon] Webb? [Tim] Lincecum? or CC [Sabathia]?
The case for WebbDespite two shockingly messy losses in the last week, Brandon Webb is still having a fabulous season. He's just about a lock to lead the league in wins. He could still wind up leading the league in innings pitched. He has a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Lincecum (3.14 to 3.00). And we have to be realistic about how voters have historically voted on this award. If we don't count years in which relief pitchers won, there have only been three years under the current voting system (implemented in 1970) that a pitcher lost a Cy Young in a season in which he had at least four more wins than the award-winner. One was 1999, when Randy Johnson (17-9, 2.48) beat Mike Hampton (22-4, 2.90) in a season in which the Unit (364 K's) made a run at Nolan Ryan's modern strikeout record. Another was 1984, the Rick Sutcliffe year, which I'll get to later. And the third was 1973, when Ron Bryant went 24-12 for the Giants but was considered so un-ace-like that he only finished third. (The winner, Tom Seaver, had 108 more strikeouts than Bryant and an ERA a run and a half lower.) So history tells us that as long as Webb straightens himself out, he's still likely to win this award.
The case for LincecumTim Lincecum has been getting way too little play in this debate for way too long, anyway. But Webb's mini-funk has helped bring Lincecum back into the conversation. And it's about time. True, Lincecum has four fewer wins (19 to 15). But how much of that is his fault? He's 15-3, with five blown saves and six CUS (?Criminally Unsupported Starts -- games in which he pitched at least six innings and his team scored one run or none while he was in the game). Webb has one blown save and only two CUS. So that accounts for your gap in wins, gang. Toss wins out of the discussion, and Lincecum looks as if he has clearly outpitched Webb by most standards. Lincecum leads in ERA by more than three-quarters of a run (2.43 to 3.19), leads in strikeouts by 50 (210 to 160) and tops the league in both categories. Lincecum also leads the NL in OPS allowed (.609), quality-start percentage (22 of 27, 81 percent) and strikeout ratio (10.2 per 9 IP). And unlike Sabathia, you may have noticed that he has been in the same league, on the same team, all season.
The case for SabathiaIf we had a Cy Young Since July 8 Award, CC Sabathia definitely would win that one. Since he first took the mound in Bud Selig's favorite metropolis, Sabathia leads the league in wins (9-0), ERA (1.43), innings pitched (88) and shutouts (three). He has also been a jolt of electricity for his franchise, and one of the great pennant-race acquisitions of all time. What he hasn't been, unfortunately, is a National Leaguer (or a Brewer) all year. So he can only win this award if the Rick Sutcliffe Principal applies. Sutcliffe is the only pitcher ever to change leagues in midseason and win a Cy Young. But in 1984, the year he won, he was traded on June 13 -- nearly a month earlier than Sabathia -- and had time to go 16-1. That gave him 20 wins for the full season, equal to the total of the winningest NL pitcher, Joaquin Andujar (20-14). Then again, if Sabathia goes 5-0 in September, that would make him 14-0 as a Brewer, 20-8 for the full season. The question is: Would that be enough?
The verdictLike everyone else who has watched Sabathia pitch, I'd love to figure out a way to give him some kind of award. But this is the "National League Cy Young," not the "Multi-League Cy Young" or the "Final 2 3/4-Months of the Year Cy Young." So I think this award should go to the pitcher who has outperformed all his National League competition for the entire season, not just the portion of the season in which Sabathia has been in his league. And if you look seriously at the big picture -- not just win totals or the last two months -- I believe that pitcher is Tim Lincecum. Care to disagree? That's what we're here for.
Every week, we'll give you the topic and then we'll have one of our writers stopping by to debate the issue with you. To suggest a topic for "That's Debatable," go here. Or check out the full archive.
Jayson Stark (2:01 PM)
OK, let the debate begin!
Ryan (San Diego, CA)
CC Sabathia has been a monster since coming to the Brewers, and he will be rewarded this offseason with a contract in excess of $100 million. But do you remember how awful he was to start the season? 6 starts, 32 IP's, 33:17 K:BB, and a 7.88 ERA. He was 1 - 4. Lincecum has been consistently FILTY all season! Not to mention that, outside of CC's complete game numbers (which can be explained by the Giants not wanting to push Lincecum's 24 yr old arm), he out-performs CC in every statistical categoy. K's 210 - 208 (the highest totals in MLB), ERA 2.43 - 2.82, QS% 0.81 (best in MLB) - 0.72. Let me sum it up like this: I am a blue-blooded, Giant hating, Dodger fan and I am still going to bat for Tim Lincecum!
Jayson Stark (2:04 PM)
Ryan, you've crystalized the argument against Sabathia. No matter which guy we choose, I think we have to use the whole season, not just the part of the season in which CC was in Milwaukee. And over the whole season, Lincecum has been more consistent and more dominating. He leads CC in ERA (four-tenths of a run), in strikeout ratio (by 1.3 per 9 IP) and quality starts (but only by 23-22). And he actually has more strikeouts and a better strikeout ratio since Sabathia arrived in the NL, too. So right now, I still think Lincecum is the favorite. In a month, if CC keeps this up, we can revisit it.
Brian Roy, Chandler AZ
It is a shame for CC but you are right. If Webb is Webb his next two starts you have to give it to him. My main question is - Can you evaluate Webb with strikeout focused stats... he WANTS the ball put in play...
Jayson Stark (2:06 PM)
You're right about that. I think voters should take all numbers into consideration, but the idea is also to put them in perspective. I don't think we can, or should, hold Webb's strikeout numbers against him. By the way, he has as many quality starts as Sabathia has for the season (counting Cleveland). Does that help or hurt Webb's case, though? Still haven't figured that out.
i agree with what you're saying and think lincecum would be a good choice but complaining about his team not putting up runs, that should make jeremy guthrie of the o's part of the discussion in the AL
Jayson Stark (2:08 PM)
Aaron, you're missing the point here. This isn't about which pitchers get the worst support. If we went by that, John Lannan would win the Cy Young. But as I said earlier, we have to take wins in their proper context. And Tim Lincecum has pitched better than Brandon Webb in every category except wins. But the blown saves and CUS numbers prove the win gap isn't his fault.
I think the only way CC can win the CY is for both Webb and Lincecum to have awful Spetembers (similar to CC's April, ironically) and him to have a ridiculous month like 5-0 1.00 ERA. That being said, I think Webb wins because the CY votes are too jaded by W-L and don't look at the numbers that matter.
Jayson Stark (2:10 PM)
I think you might be right. If Lincecum finishes 19-4, and Webb finishes 22-7, I don't think a guy who wins 13 games in half a season can, or should, win a full-season award. But I'm willing to leave that door open because of the Rick Sutcliffe precedent, depending on how Sabathia finishes. I think that's fair. We're talking about what we'd do or how we'd vote if the season ends today. But I feel very confident about predicting the season WON'T end today.
Chris (Manchester NH)
I am sorry but W-L and team W-L in games you pitch are the only important categories because the name of the game is winning. I do not care if Webb finishes with 4 or 5 more wins than anyone else in his league its simple he deserves it. you play the game to WIN not have good stats.
Jayson Stark (2:13 PM)
Chris, I completely agree that winning is the whole idea. But pitcher wins are no longer as meaningful and indicator of how a guy pitches, in an age in which pitchers don't finish games. Too many other pitchers pitch in these games now to say it's within the starting pitcher's control A) whether he gets the win or even B) how the game turns out. Now I believe in giving extra credit to guys like Sabathia and Webb who go deeper into games. But I think we live now in an era that's sophisticated enough where we should be looking at more than just wins. That's way too 1958-ish for me.
W-L is probably the LEAST important cat for determining effectiveness. In theory, a pitcher could go 0-20 with a 1.00 ERA, while another could go 20-0 with a 6.00 ERA. You tell me who the better pitcher there is?
Jayson Stark (2:14 PM)
I'd like to write a book on that guy who went 0-20, 1.00. But you're right. It is theoretically possible. So anybody looking just at the old W column isn't doing a thorough enough job of evaluating this race and these candidates.
CC (Milwaukee, WI)
Without CC, the I think it's very plausible to think the Brewers would be trailing the Cardinals and ever changing NL East leaders for the Wild-Card, not to mention how worn out their bullpen would have been without him. If he had not been putting up these kinds of numbers in the NL, I'd say no, but obviously you have to give CC not just serious, but VERY serious consideration for the Cy Young.
Jayson Stark (2:17 PM)
I recognize what CC has meant to the Brewers. But I'm not sure quite how to factor that. This is NOT the MVP award, in which intangibles like that have always been part of the equation. The Cy Young is a performance award. That means it's about who has pitched the best, period. Place in the standings shouldn't be part of the discussion, except tha if we're comparing a pitcher on a first-place team like Webb and a pitcher on a fourth-place team like the Giants, you should take into account how their teams influence their W-L record. In other words, CC's energizing effect really shouldn't be part of this analysis unless everything else is even.
Can someone provide the CUS and Blown Saves have gone against J. Santana? Just curious
Jayson Stark (2:21 PM)
You know, I was hoping someone would bring up Santana. Not sure anyone has noticed this, but he leads the entire sport in quality starts (with 23, one more than Lincecum). He has five blown saves, as many as Lincecum, and five CUS, one fewer than Lincecum. But in overall run support, he and Lincecum are very close. Santana is at 4.87 a game (64th in the big leagues), and Lincecum is at 4.81, right behind him at 68th.
Brandon (Decatur, IL)
While I like C.C. Sabathia, to give him the CY Young award for a half seasons work in comparison to Webb and Lincecum would be a joke. You can't compare him to Sutcliffe because there were no pitcher in baseball more dominant than he was that year. The NL pitcher with the most wins still had 14 losses. Webb and Lincecum have been the most dominant in the NL this year. Butmy pick is Tim Lincecum clearly because if he was with a better team, I could easily see him at 21-3 and not 15-3.
Jayson Stark (2:23 PM)
Brandon, this is very well stated.In 1984, there really wasn't another truly dominant starter in either league, with the possible exception of Dwight Gooden (who won 17 games and finished second, as a rookie). The AL Cy was won by a relief pitcher (Guillermo "Willie" Hernandez). So Sutcliffe had a better case, both for that reason and his earlier arrival in the NL, than Sabathia does now, in my mind.
Adam (Sacramento CA)
Bottom line is, the Giants are a different team when Lincecum is on the hill. He is 13-2 with a 2.62 ERA in 22 starts following team losses this season. That's what a Cy Young pitcher does for his club. Lincecum has inspired a whole group of mediocre hitters/defenders to play at a whole different level.
Jayson Stark (2:26 PM)
Hey, I thought we weren't going to use W-L records in this debate. You almost sucked me in there, Adam. Well, consider this W-L stat. The Giants are 19-8 when Lincecum pitches, 40-70 when anybody else pitches. That means they play like a 114-win team when Lincecum is out there, and like a 59-win team when anybody else pitches (including Matt Cain). I think we just proved your point.
Sabathia (Austin, TX)
People are acting like Sabathia was injured and only pitched half the reason. Wrong. Do you realize over his last 14 starts with Cleveland he had a 2.16 ERA and 2 shutouts?? The guy has been dominant since April 16.
Jayson Stark (2:28 PM)
That's the part of this that's tough to get a handle on: Do we consider what Sabathia did in the AL when we make our picks? If we don't, then we'd have to justify giving him an award based on less than half a season's work. If we do, then I need to remind you that the season didn't begin on April 17. It began March 31. So we have to include CC's two 9-run clunkers, too. Sorry. That's how this works.
Ramo - Buffalo, NY
A month ago, this was Webb's award to lose. And guess what? He's lost it. Stark is right on, Lincecum should win it. Like Cliff Lee, he has posted the best numbers despite playing on a weak team. But here's the caveat: CC should win MVP. Why is no one discussing that option? Who has been more valuable to their team?
Jayson Stark (2:29 PM)
I think that's well put. There was a better argument for Lincecum two weeks ago than most people were making. But because their other numbers were closer then and Webb was 19-4, this was his award to lose. I don't think he's lost it yet. But he definitely gave up the right to call himself the favorite.
Jayson Stark (2:31 PM)
Now as for that MVP talk, that's not what we're here for. But I'll touch on it. CC has had a monstrous effect on his team and, therefore, on the season. Nevertheless, are you sure that he's even the MVP of his own team? Ryan Braun has a pretty compelling argument for that, it seems to me. And he has played in 126 games this year. CC has played in 11 games as a Brewer -- 11. Awfully tough to justify that MVP vote when you think about it that way.
Ben (Stanford, CA)
Are you saying that if a pitcher switches leagues mid-season, he can't qualify for either Cy Young? A guy can go 10-0 with 150 K's for each half of the season, switching leagues halfway, and he gets no award for it just because there's a guy in each league with 12 wins, 160 K's, and a similar ERA?
Jayson Stark (2:33 PM)
The way the rules are structured now, they're stacked against that guy. And that raises an interesting issue: MLB has done everything it could do in recent years to dissolve the distinction between the two leagues. But for some reason, it won't do that with stats. So in MLB's eyes, Sabathia's season started all over the day he got traded. Makes no sense to me. Does anybody out there think that's still logical?
Eau Claire, WI
Just to fan the flames, what would putting a no-hitter onto one of their records add to this discussion?
Jayson Stark (2:35 PM)
It would be a very small element in the conversation, I think, especially if you're comparing it to a tainted one-hitter. Is that your point -- that if MLB gives him credit for his retroactive no-hitter, it would help his case? I don't see it, Mr. Eau Claire.
Kevin Kelly (Syracuse NY)
Don't get me wrong, Lincecum is incredible and his pitching is a jaw dropper (look at his stats) but as for a NL Cy Young award, i believe an award like that can only be won so far is if the pitcher is helping the team to the playoffs. As of now it will either be Sabathia or Webb. They are both helping out and giving high hopes to bring there team to a playoff but out of those two great pitchers, it can only be determined who helps the team go to the playoffs. Someday, Lincecum will have his shot and he deserves it.
Jayson Stark (2:36 PM)
Kevin, I'm sorry, but I disagree. I tried to make this point earlier, but let me make it a different way. This is not the Most Valuable Pitcher award. It's about which pitcher pitched the best. If it's close, you might factor in the pressure on one pitcher versus the other. But other than that, that's not the way this award has been defined traditionally.
louis (austin tx)
Speaking of Cliff Lee, if CC does win the N.L. Cy young award winner,then Cleveland would have to be the first team to finish the season with a losing record after starting the season with the two eventual Cy Young winners. Cleveland could be the AL favorite right now if only their offense didn't collapse
Jayson Stark (2:37 PM)
Why do you think so many people were picking the Indians to win this spring, Louis? That kind of sums it up. Meanwhile, great note!
I think sabermetric guys have gone too far in de-valuing wins. If you're bullpen is blowing games for you, finish it yourself. If the offense is having a bad day, you need to pick them up. Wins shouldn't be the end all stat, but it shouldn't be discounted like has become fashionable.
Jayson Stark (2:39 PM)
I think that's a fair point, Matt. To use the example made earlier, if a pitcher went 0-20, with a 1.00 ERA, I wouldn't vote for him for the Cy Young. But there's a big difference between that extreme and a guy who is 15-3 with lousy run support and bullpen support. I don't want to eliminate wins from the conversation. I just believe in keeping them in perspective. Isn't that reasonable?
Dave (Denver, CO)
and if you want to factor pressure into it - usually people perform better under some pressure - what pressure does lincecum have? How easy would it be for him to go out there and just slack off - it's harder for him to go otu there and throw in games that don't mean anything (to SF) compared to the brewers looking up at the cubs.
Jayson Stark (2:42 PM)
You know, Dave. That's a valid point. But there IS pressure on a guy who is pitching for what one scout called "the worst offensive club in the game." How many games does Tim Lincecum go out there knowing that he can't afford to give up a run? OK, it's not the same as playoff pressure. But this isn't spring training. He's doing this in real games that count, against teams that are trying to win.
Thomas Arnold (Santa Barbara, CA)
First of all, baseball people like to say that the MVP is for positon players, because pitchers have the Cy Young. So, shouldn't the Cy Young be the Most Valuable Pitcher? Secondly, why no love for Ryan Dempster? Not saying he should win it, but to not even be in the discussion?
Jayson Stark (2:44 PM)
You can argue that that's what the award SHOULD be, but that isn't what it's been. I've voted for both, read the voting instructions for both, and they're two different awards with different sets of criteria. That's just reality. And I'm glad you brought up Ryan Dempster. I spent a lot of last week's chat pointing out how great he's been. He's not 1-2 on this ballot, but he ought to be considered for that 3-hole. Absolutely. In fact, this is a good excuse to talk about some other candidates, because you guys have been bringing up plenty of them.
Dan Haren (Arizona)
Brandon Webb isn't even the best pitcher on his team. There's a guy whose name rhymes with "An Haren" who has more quality starts, a lower WHIP, and more strikeouts. He's much more consistent than Webb, never has those 1 inning 6 run games, and the D-Backs know it too because they inked Haren to a long-term contract and took Webb's off the table. Smart move by them. Winner is Lincecum.
Jayson Stark (2:46 PM)
We got into this debate a couple of weeks ago when Webb was pitching better than he is now. And I made the point then that other teams consider Brandon Webb to be Arizona's ace, not Haren. I agree that he's had a great year. But Webb actually had more quality starts and a lower ERA. And Haren has allowed four runs or more in four of his last six starts. So he hasn't been that much steadier than Webb, even lately.
Dave (Phoenix, AZ)
If CUS and Blown Saves become a topic of discussion, you'll have to throw Sheets into the mix...
Jayson Stark (2:48 PM)
Sure, let me give Ben Sheets' numbers in both. Yesterday was his fourth blown save, although the others were early. And he has six CUS (one more than Lincecum). But he's just at 17 quality starts, so that's five fewer than Lincecum and four fewer than CC and Webb.
What about Volquez? 16-5 for the Reds, more Ks and better ERA then Webb, most dominant pitcher in all of baseball during the first half
Jayson Stark (2:50 PM)
He's another guy who needs to be considered for that third spot on the ballot. But he was a different pitcher for his first 15 starts than he's been for his last 12. Give me a second and I'll figure that out for you.
Jayson Stark (2:52 PM)
OK, here's our answer: Volquez had a 1.71 ERA over his first 15 starts (and 12 quality starts). Since then, he has a 4.90 ERA (eighth-worst in the league among pitchers with 65 innings), and just six quality starts in his last 12 starts.
I think Cole Hamels deserves a little recognition. In my opinion he has been as consistent as these 3 even though his win total doesnt show that. Out of his 8 losses, I'd say in about 5 of them he has given up 3 runs or fewer. So why not Hamels?
Jayson Stark (2:54 PM)
Hamels is another guy whose W-L record doesn't reflect how well he's pitched. He's leading the league in WHIP and innings pitched. But he's had 11 starts where the Phillies scored two runs, one or none for him while he's been in the game.
Steeno - Jacksonville, FL
Considering the fact that the AL Cy Young is down to a 2 man race(Lee and Krod), what about taking a look at the body of work Brad Lidge has put together? He's anchored arguably the best bullpen in baseball with the WORST starting pitching of any playoff contender.
Jayson Stark (2:55 PM)
I think you can argue that Brad Lidge has been more dominating than KRod, save totals aside. So if you're going to consider KRod for the AL Cy, you should absolutely think about Lidge for the NL Cy, even though I wouldn't rank him above the top two.
Devin (Tacoma, WA)
Even though I'm a Lincecum fant, one thing to consider is the quality of opponents; Lincecum and Webb pitch a lot of games against TERRIBLE NL West hitters. Johan and CC are in tough divisions pitching very well.
Jayson Stark (2:55 PM)
This is something we should absolutely consider. Again, give me a second, and I'll let you know the W-L record of all four against teams over .500.
Jayson Stark (2:58 PM)
Lincecum is 6-2. Webb is only 4-2. CC is 2-0 as a Brewer (2-2 as an Indian). Santana is 6-3. I apologize for using won-lost records, but it was the only stat I could figure out in a hurry.
Jayson Stark (2:58 PM)
Wow. This flew by. Let's take one more.
Roy Oswalt for post-ASB Cy?
Jayson Stark (3:01 PM)
Good name, but if they gave a post-all-star Cy, CC would win that. Oswalt actually doesn't crack the NL ERA leader board after the break. Here's how that looks: CC 1.43, Rich Harden (1.50, Brett Myers 1.78, Santana 2.30 and Lincecum 2.33. For those interested, Oswalt is next at 2.56 and Webb is at 2.80.
Jayson Stark (3:01 PM)
Thanks to everybody who made this one of the best chats of the year. Sorry we ran out of time. We could have kept going for the rest of the month! And who knows? Maybe we will. Just not via a chatfest. See you all next week in Debate Land.
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