Although I'm all for patting baseball writers on the back -- since I am one, and I did vote for Greinke -- I think in the case of the NL Cy Young, my colleagues may have looked past victories, and still picked the wrong guy to make their point.
Let's start with the ol' FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching. FIP is a stat intended to quantify how well a pitcher performed based solely on the things in his control (strikeouts, walks and homers) without regard to the vagaries of the defense behind him.
FIP is a great stat when trying to project the future. If I were a scout or a GM, I'd be all over pitchers who had a good FIP.
However, when we're talking about the Cy Young, it's not about projecting the future. It's about evaluating what the pitcher actually did. And as far as evaluating what he did, an out is out is an out.
What really matters in pitching? Getting outs. Preventing runs.
Fortunately, we already have two excellent, garden-variety stats that tell us what we need to know about these things. As far as getting outs, opponents' on-base percentage is the ultimate measure. It's easier-to-calculate cousin is WHIP. As far as preventing runs, we've got ERA.
So let's look at our two NL Cy Young contenders: Tim Lincecum and Chris Carpenter. (Two? Yes. More on that later.)
Lincecum had a 2.48 ERA and a WHIP of 1.05, while Carpenter's numbers were 2.24 and 1.01. Looks to me like Carpenter did a better job than Lincecum at those two jobs: getting outs and preventing runs.
Now, the pro-Lincecum people are going to bring out his FIP. Lincecum's FIP of 2.34 was much better than Carpenter's 2.78. The reason for that is essentially that Lincecum had 10.42 strikeouts per nine innings, and Carpenter had just 6.73.
Lincecum is a power pitcher. He struck guys out. Carpenter is not. He let guys put the ball in play and his defense got the outs.
If I'm trying to project the future of both pitchers, or if I'm trying to decide which guy I'd like on my team for 2010 or beyond (ignoring their age, in this case), I'll take the guy with the strikeouts. Strikeouts are nice and clean and don't require any help from the defense.
But if I'm filling out a 2009 Cy Young ballot, I don't care about 2010 or projections. I care about what actually happened. What actually happened was that Carpenter got outs at a better rate than Lincecum. Just that more of them were boring grounders to the shortstop instead of big exciting punchouts. You can say that strikeouts are better than groundouts because you can't move a runner or score a run on a strikeout, but Carpenter still did a better job preventing runs, so it didn't matter.
Is it really fair to penalize a pitcher who did his job (got outs, prevented runs) because he didn't do it a certain way (with strikeouts)?
Not to me.
Let's look at another of the numbers that went against Carpenter: Innings pitched. Carpenter was hurt for a little over a month. He made four fewer starts and pitched 32 fewer innings than Lincecum.
If I'm judging the pitchers on their value to the team, that's a consideration. Those 32 innings Carpenter didn't pitch were pitched by guys much worse than him, and it hurt the Cardinals when he wasn't out there. That counts against his value, for sure. In an MVP race, Carpenter would definitely lose points for not being out there.
But the Cy Young isn't about "value." It's about performance. It's about how well a guy pitched. A pitcher should be evaluated for what he did when he was on the mound, not for what happened to his team when he wasn't. Penalizing Carpenter for a game Mitchell Boggs pitched is no better than penalizing Greinke because (pick your own Royals player) is lousy.
The only reason to consider innings is if one pitcher was so far short in innings that you could question whether his rate stats would have been sustainable if he'd pitched a full season. If a pitcher made five starts in April with a 1.20 ERA and then blew out his arm and missed the rest of the year, you couldn't assume that he'd have maintained that level over five more months. In Carpenter's case, though, he made 28 starts. I feel pretty confident that anything he could do over 28 starts he could also do over 32.
If you want to put a premium on "stuff" (read: strikeouts) or "value" (read: innings pitched), that's OK. That's just not my interpretation of what the Cy Young is. I don't think picking Lincecum is an egregious mistake. I just wouldn't have picked him.
Hey, you ask, what about Adam Wainwright? He's not even in this conversation because he was well behind Lincecum and Carpenter in my Big Two stats, ERA and WHIP. When it came to the fundamentals of the pitcher's job, getting outs and preventing runs, he simply wasn't as good as the other two.
What he was good at was sitting in the dugout while his team scored runs, or sitting in the dugout while his bullpen recorded saves. The fact that Wainwright still got the most first-place votes for the Cy Young shows that too many of my colleagues are still over-valuing victories.
We are moving in the right direction, but we're not there yet.