NL Cy Young 2011

There are a number of pitchers who, if blessed by the baseball gods, could very well win the NL Cy Young this year. However, I would bet on the fact that it’s one of three guys named Timmy, Doc, or Cliff.

Wins are seemingly becoming less and less important in Cy Young voting, though not unimportant. In recent years we’ve seen win totals as low as 13 (Hernandez), 15 (Lincecum) and 16 (Greinke) take home the Cy Young award. Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay are likely to get more run support than Tim Lincecum, possibly leading to more wins, but I don’t think that will hurt Timmy’s bid as much as in the past. That being said, Lincecum will likely have to outpitch Lee and Halladay to make up for his lack of run support.

ERA is still one of the huge components in Cy Young voting, so check out the ERA numbers for the top (current) NL pitchers over the last three seasons:

Pitcher ERA FIP xFIP
Halladay 2.68 3.04 2.97
Wainwright 2.68 3.16 3.35
Timmy 2.83 2.69 3.00
Santana 2.85 3.59 3.91
Lee 2.98 2.85 3.41

Wainwright is going to miss the entire 2011 season, and Santana isn’t likely to return until late June according to Sporting News, effectively eliminating both from the Cy Young discussion. That leaves us with our three horses. So who has the advantage?

Halladay’s numbers look the best at first glance, beating out the other two in both ERA and xFIP (a mostly ballpark-neutral predictive measure of ERA). This includes two full seasons pitching in the AL East, the league’s best offensive division.

Lee, seemingly a distant third, has pitched more than 2 of his last 3 seasons in the AL, but had his best season in terms of peripherals just last year when he posted an unprecedented K/BB rate of 10.28. A repeat performance in the NL this season could produce even better results in the ERA column. However, his new home ballpark (Citizen’s Bank) is known for giving up homeruns, and being a flyball pitcher this could hurt him more than Halladay.

Timmy has always maintained low homerun numbers. This makes sense since, unlike Citizen’s bank, AT&T Park helps pitchers out in the longball department, specifically righties like Lincecum and teammate Matt Cain. The Giant’s home park decreases homeruns to left-handed batters by a staggering 18%, so there’s no reason to believe that Lincecum’s homeruns per flyball would regress back to league averages. He’s the only true power pitcher of the trio, striking out more than a batter per inning each of the last three seasons.

Assuming each pitcher hits his personal average in innings pitched over the last three seasons (with some regression—they can’t stay healthy forever), here are some reasonable statistics to expect from these three guys, factoring in ballpark and team defense.

Starts IP SO BB ERA W
Timmy 31 220 250 75 2.98 15
Lee 31 220 200 25 3.35 17
Halladay 32 235 200 30 3.34 17

Why such an advantage to Timmy in ERA? Ballpark and defense. I already explained his advantage in home ballpark, but the Giants defense was also best in the entire MLB last season according to Fangraph’s UZR/150, while the Phillies ranked a league-average 15th. With the numbers above (I admit, shaky predictions at best), I could see the BWAA awarding Lincecum his third Cy Young Award with his lower ERA and strikeout numbers.

Of course it might shake out nothing like this. In any case, if you’re betting on someone, it might as well be one of these three guys. And if you like short guys with high THC levels who drop F-bombs on TV, then go with my fantasy team’s ace, Tim Lincecum.

Wildcards

Zach Greinke and Josh Johnson are two pitchers who have a lot of potential to join this list. This is Greinke’s first NL home, and that generally tends to help pitchers’ numbers. Johnson put up CY Young caliber stuff last season for 180 innings, then sat the rest of the year out. Injuries have always been a concern, but if he can get to 220 innings for the first time in his career, he’s got a shot.

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