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Stats and the Cy Young

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Stats are good. I’m not even referring just to the advanced statistical arguments that support Tim Lincecum’s Cy Young, either. It’s good that there is a record of events to which to refer while doing research. Old-timers can’t argue; wins, losses, and runs batted in are stats. They’re a record of events. The new school and old school might disagree with what stats are important – you say RBI, I say OBP, etc. – but there isn’t a baseball fan alive who claims that player evaluation is better without stats.

Stats are good because the human brain is a goofy little thing built to emphasize anecdotal information and subjective opinions because those are what helped our ancestors avoid tiger attacks and poisonous mushrooms long enough to have sex. Look it up. Since we don’t have to avoid tigers so much these days, we can afford to spend our time debating dippy trivialities like the Cy Young Award, and we aren’t limited by the anecdotal or the subjective.

So when someone writes that a player shouldn’t win the MVP or Cy Young, or get a Hall of Fame vote, because a player didn’t make the writer feel a certain way, it’s hard to take that opinion seriously. "He just didn’t scream ‘Hall of Fame’ to me." Don’t care. I don’t know what melody a true Hall of Fame career sings as it tap dances on your buttocks, and I daresay that shouldn’t be the final word on the subject. Give me evidence. Don’t give me feelings.

Otherwise, you get things like this:

One player hadn't faced Lincecum—"lucky break," he said—but he felt that Lincecum looked more hittable. "I'm still convinced that deception is a big part of what Lincecum does," another said, "and that unless there's a new wrinkle, people are starting to figure him out. He's still good, his [stuff] is still good, but comparing him to Wainwright? Wainwright was just a shutdown guy this year."

Looked more hittable. Lincecum looked more hittable. He wasn’t more hittable. He allowed fewer hits per nine innings than either Wainwright or Carpenter. But he looked more hittable. Right. Oh, and the hitters are starting to figure him out. You can tell because Lincecum allowed fewer baserunners than in 2008, a year in which he also won the Cy Young.

Also, Wainwright was just a shutdown guy this year. There’s no comparison. Other than the number of baserunners and runs allowed, that is. But those are just trivial details. Wainwright was just a shutdown guy this year. You can’t argue with that position because of the "just" that the unnamed player uses. It makes the statement unassailable. So when Lincecum had one of those complete game, 10+ strikeout outings, it wasn’t a shutdown performance because a player who didn’t hit against him says so.

Moving along from Carroll’s unnamed source, we shouldn’t forget, too, that Lincecum didn’t pitch well down the stretch. That's another popular mark against Lincecum. I mean, it isn’t as if he pitched well in a crucial divisional matchup late in the season against an opposing team’s ace. Wait, I remember that game. Hey, I guess that makes it an anecdote. And I remember thinking, hot damn, this guy is the best pitcher in the world right now. So I guess that's a feeling. Awesome. I can play this game too.

The difference between Lincecum, Carpenter, and Wainwright wasn’t that great. Reasonable arguments could have been made for all three. It wouldn’t have been a travesty if Carpenter or Wainwright had won – far from it. But I don’t want "Lincecum didn’t have the je ne sais quoi that I want from my ace" as the reasonable argument. I don’t want "Lincecum seemed like he wasn’t as good." I don’t want "Lincecum didn’t gut it out late in the season when the CHIPS WERE DOWN and the SEASON WAS ON THE LINE." Give me stats. Then we can debate what a pitcher’s win/loss total really means. But I can’t debate the mythology someone’s created about what’s important to the game of baseball. I can work with stats. Stats are good.