Sportswriters don’t vote for Cy Young based on popular opinion; baseball universe explodes

Keith Law didn’t vote for Chris Carpenter. Will Carroll didn’t either. Of course, according to the baseball fans on Twitter, both are saber-morons who are ruining the game. Hysteria indeed. A few interesting tweets/comments:

Jon Heyman (@SI_JonHeyman): “i dont mean to pick on the voters. but how do 2 of them leave chris carpenter off the ballot entirely? #dumbsportswriters”

Joe and Evan (popular NY talk show hosts, @JoeandEvan): “Plain and simple Linceum should NOT have won Cy Young…disgrace that ESPN’s Keith Law left Carpenter off ballot.”

Matthew Pouliot (NBC Sports): “Now get a load of this: the Cardinals were 68-60 when Wainwright didn’t pitch. The Braves were 68-62 when Vazquez didn’t pitch. So, the Cards were 23-11 in Wainwright’s starts, while the Braves were 18-14 when Vazquez pitched. That’s the real world for you.”

Man, Heyman really gave it to them with that “dumb” comment. Here are the stats, just so we all know what’s up:


1. Lincecum
2. Vazquez
3. Carpenter


1. Vazquez
2. Lincecum
3. Haren…
7. Caprenter


1. Lincecum
2. Vazquez
3. Haren…
6. Carpenter

It isn’t crazy at all to not include Carpenter from the list. In fact, if Chris Carpenter pitched for a crappy NL West team and didn’t win a whole bunch of games while missing the playoffs, nobody would be making such a big deal about this.

Rob Neyer sums up this situation nicely:

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.

But what we may see from this is a whole bunch of backlash not just for these two intelligent/honest writers, but for the saber community as as an entity. It’s the whole, “We left you nerds alone when you were just blogging ‘n such, but now that you’re voting with us, you better back off.” I hope I’m wrong. I hope that this commentary is at least isolated to the mid-afternoon sports radio shows and message boards. However, I get the eery suspicion that we haven’t heard the last of it.

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  1. kranky kritter said...

    This always happens when there isn’t a clear cut guy who separated himself from the field….folks focus on minutiae and bitch about marginally different opinions. The fact is that sabremetrics doesn’t not free us from idiosyncratic and subjective opinions affecting voting results. especially when the voting is done with lengthy ballots awarding points.

    There was no especially deserving guy, there were several who deserved serious consideration. There was only one award. Lincecum won. That he won the Cy Young just does NOT mean, in this case, that he had a demonstrably better season than the other guys.

  2. Nick Steiner said...

    That he won the Cy Young just does NOT mean, in this case, that he had a demonstrably better season than the other guys.

    No, that his numbers (pitcher wins excluded) were by far the best of any NL pitcher, means that he had a demonstrably better season than the other guys.

    Going by FIP WAR, he was the best. Going by ERA WAR he was the best, ditto with tRA WAR.  Simply put, Lincecum had the best combination of innings pitched and performance.  It really doesn’t even matter what kind of performance metric you use, Lincecum still comes out way on top.

  3. Chuck Brownson said...

    I couldn’t have said it any better than Nick did speaking, like Nick, as a Cards fan who would’ve been happy to see either Carp or Wainwright win it.  The bottom line is that Lincecum had a better season than either of the 2 Cards did.  Moreover, Vazquez and Haren also had outstanding seasons despite their teams’ flaws and lack of recognition and should have, at the very least, been part of the discussion.

  4. Guy said...

    Nick:  A pitchers’ BABIP reflects his talent, fielding, and luck, with luck being the largest factor.  I don’t see why pitchers shouldn’t be credited with their luck, both good and bad (and of course their talent).  And it’s not clear Carp was even that lucky this year—his BABIP since resurrecting his career in StL are:  .286, .284, .282, and .272.

    Metrics like FIP also strip away GDPs (Carpenter had about twice as many as Lincecum) and pitching well with runners on base, both of which can be real skills.

  5. ecp said...

    I have to admit that I haven’t read many of the articles about this as yet, and maybe this has been pointed out already, but I have to say this:  Even had Law and Carroll put Carpenter on their ballots it’s questionable he would have won.  If he had been on the ballots in place of Vazquez and Haren, and in the exact same placements as Vazquez and Haren, Carpenter would only have received four more points – and that would still have been two fewer than Lincecum.

  6. Guy said...

    Nick, I think you overstate your case a bit.  Carpenter allowed 2.29 R/G vs. 2.76 for Lincecum.  That’s a big spread.  If you assume the Cards got replacement level pitching (5.50 R/G) for the 33 fewer innings Carpenter delivered, it’s a wash.  Carpenter delivered equivalent value.

    I can’t see giving much if any weight to FIP for this purpose (and WAR is just FIP).  In an effort to remove the impact of fielding, it strips out a huge amount that was in fact the pitcher’s responsibility (whether or not it’s a repeatable skill).  And since SF had a much better team UZR than StL, I don’t see any reason to assume Carpenter had an edge there.

  7. Nick Steiner said...

    Good point about RA Guy.  I did an “official” WAR calculation using RA, and the difference is nonexistent.  I did overstate my point there.

    However, despite the Giants having a better fielding rating than the Cardinals, Carpenter appears to have benefited much more from his defense than Lincecum on the basis of a BABIP .25 points lower.

  8. Zach Sanders said...

    Best thing about this whole situation, is that Heyman retracted a bit when he found out Carroll was one of the voters.

    From Heyman’s twitter: “@injuryexpert thanks for taking it so well. i didnt realize you were the other guy. i do like what you do. i owe you.”

  9. ccmoo said...

    “if Chris Carpenter pitched for a crappy NL West team and didn’t win a whole bunch of games while missing the playoffs, nobody would be making such a big deal about this.”

    seems like if Chris Carpenter pitched for a NL West team with crappy defense, he would’ve made Law’s and Carroll’s ballots based on their explanation of the stats. that’s what’s wrong to me.

    Am i wrong? explain to me if so, because I’m iffy on FIP/WAR.

  10. Nick Steiner said...

    Guy, it takes about a half a career for stats like BABIP and Strand Rate to say anything meaningful about a pitcher’s skill in those areas.  Besides, I’m reluctant to give full credit for BABIP and stranding runners given the amount of luck and defense involved.   

    Still when you have two players who are equal in RA WAR, and there is a 2.5 difference in FIP WAR and roughly the same in tRA WAR (which will give some credit for ground balls and double plays), there is really no question of who was more valuable.

  11. Peter said...

    Good take, Pat.  The Pouliot article really made my blood boil.  I usually like his stuff, but that one was complete garbage.  It’s like he wants to encourage ignorance.

  12. Greg Simons said...

    Very interesting debate here that brings two things to mind for me.

    First, Pat states, “Here are the stats…” implying that these numbers are the end-all and be-all of the discussion, while Nick cites some other numbers.  Yes, these numbers tell a more complete story than wins and simple ERA, but obviously none tell the whole story, since there are about a half-dozen cited here – and plenty of others that weren’t mentioned.

    I’m with kranky kritter, there was no obviously superior candidate.  Any of the top three vote-getters would have been acceptable winners to me.  And, of course, if Carpenter or Wainwright had won, there would be people complaining about that on all sides, too.

    Second, the ballot should be extended to at least five spots.  Limiting it to three is ridiculous, especially considering MVP has 10 spots.

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