COMMENTARY | Cy Young voting isn't always fair, as Adam Wainwright and his 2009 season can attest. It's quirky, often rooted in curious statistical preferences, and often controversial -- but that's not to say it's wholly unpredictable.
The useful MLB Stats page at ESPN.com includes a simple and intriguing feature called the Cy Predictor. For those of you interested in such things, the full description and formulaic breakdown is available below the player rankings, but in a nutshell it's "a method, based on past results, [used] to predict Cy Young balloting." Remember, it doesn't necessarily predict who should win the award, only who is likely to win based on previous voting trends and patterns.
So far, the predictor's accuracy is uncanny.
Since 2006, the Cy Predictor has correctly picked 10 of the 14 Cy Young award winners in both the American and National Leagues. It's picked at least one winner correctly every year for the past seven seasons -- except for one.
In 2009, the predictor narrowly missed the American League Cy Young award winner when it picked Felix Hernandez to finish one spot ahead of the eventual winner, Zack Grienke. But the real controversy developed in the National League when predicted winner Adam Wainwright was narrowly out-voted in favor of Tim Lincecum, predicted to finish fourth by the eerily-accurate Cy Predictor.
The near-miss has followed Wainwright ever since, but 2013 may be turning into the culmination of a four-year quest for revenge. His current 2013 ranking by the National League Cy Predictor: No. 1, more than 10 points ahead of the nearest contender.
By the Numbers
Wainwright's stingy 2.18 ERA is good enough for fourth place in the National League among starting pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched (IP). The three pitchers ahead of him -- Clayton Kershaw (1.88), Jordan Zimmerman (2.00), and Matt Harvey (2.04) -- have all thrown fewer innings than Adam's 103 IP. Only Zimmerman matches Wainwright's three complete games.
And only the nine wins posted by Zimmerman and Patrick Corbin threatens Wainwright's league-leading 10 among Cy Young contenders. Harvey and Kershaw are each stuck on five.
Of course, the value of individual starting pitcher wins is highly debatable, and heavily influenced by factors outside of the pitcher's control (like team offensive ability). But it nonetheless remains a point of consideration for voters, especially when Waino's win total is double that of many other contenders.
But as impressive as his 10 wins may be, it's Wainwright's dominance in the strike zone that has everyone talking.
Among qualified starting pitchers, Wainwright's 97 strikeouts is, once again, good enough for fourth place behind Jeff Samardzija (104), Harvey (102) and A.J. Burnett (99). That total alone places him among the elite strikeout pitchers in the National League, but it only tells half the story of the right-hander's superior command. His 9 walks leads of Major League Baseball among starting pitchers with at least 60 IP. Even Waino's WHIP of 1.01 (9th in the NL among qualified starters) seems to be well-balanced by the 12 double plays he's forced hitters to ground into -- a total only bested by Mike Leake's 13 in Cincinnati and further evidence of Adam's ability to command pitches down in the zone.
Combined, those totals produce a super-human 10.78 strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB), easily the best ratio among all qualified starters in all of baseball. Hisashi Iwakuma's 6.21 K/BB and Dan Haren's 5.90 K/BB round out a distant top three.
Stats + Intangibles = Cy Young Award
If Cy Young voting was based solely on statistics, assuming we could all agree on which statistics, the award winners in each league over the last seven years may differ dramatically. But the reality of the process means certain intangibles -- some reasonable and others simply "time-honored" -- play a clear role in the decision process for most voters. In that arena, Wainwright again excels.
As the unquestioned leader and self-identified "shepherd" of a staff that has included as many as four rookie starting pitchers, Waino's veteran presence, work ethic and competitive drive is the clear compass for the game's best rotation. That leadership role on a team currently sporting MLB's best record makes him perhaps the most visible and recognizable starting pitcher in the National League, and it might be enough to give him an edge with Cy Young voters.
And let's not forget the ace up his sleeve.
It wasn't too long ago that Adam Wainwright was known as the pitcher who should've won the Cy Young in 2009. That "should've won it" factor, combined with other intangibles and his statistical dominance, may be just what Wainwright finally needs to convince voters the NL Cy Young award is his to lose in 2013.
Kevin Reynolds is the author of Stl Cards 'N Stuff and host of The State of the Nation Address podcast at Stl Cards 'N Stuff. He's been writing and podcasting about the St. Louis Cardinals since 2007 and can be found chatting about baseball on Twitter (@deckacards).
- Sports & Recreation
- Adam Wainwright
- Cy Young
- National League