FanPost

Webby and us against the world

One aspect of pitcher value that shoe and I didnt get into in our recent Cy Young discussion is the notion of schedule strength. I became aware of this back in 2006 when Webby and Chris Carpenter sported similar big ticket stats coming down the stretch; I dont remember the exact numbers (so I'll make them up here), but it turned out Carpenter enjoyed an astonishly easy schedule through no fault of his own - something like 3 of 30 starts were against teams over .500. Each time I redefined comparative schedule "strength", Webb came out looking better and better.

There's no perfect or "right" way to look at this. No matter how you define "strength", some cutoffs will be arbitrary. That's why I encourage anyone interested to eyeball the gamelogs themselves and get a feel for each candidate's competition. The first time I looked at the 2008 CYA candidate game logs, for each pitcher I tallied the number of opposing teams I thought were "good". Nothing more scientific than that. The second time, I determined which opponents average more than 5 runs per game in which venues, and tallied how many starts each pitcher had in those run-rich circumstances. What became clear, via both methods, was that Johann Santana and Tim Lincecum have pitched against decidedly tougher lineups than have Ryan Dempster or Brandon Webb.

For example,Lincecum had two starts against the Cubs and three at Coors. Brandon started once in Denver and never faced the league's best team. Santana pitched at Philly three times, against the Cubs once and a home/away pair v the Yankees.

This doesnt say much about W/L record, unless one controls for opposing starters - and I havent done that. But I do think it speaks to run prevention (ie ERA, ERA+) rather forcefully, especially considering Lincecum and Santana rank 1-2  in ERA+ prior to this consideration. It just makes their effectiveness stand out even more, in my mind.

Will any of this influence the CYA vote? Of course not. That will come down to the usual stuff. Wins, ERA, Win%, strikeouts. What's hurting Lincecum politically, in concert with his latest flameout, is the emergence of Santana. Their ERAs are almost identical now. Team records (21-12) in their respective starts are identical. Johann's pitched a few more innings. All of a sudden, at least statistically, Tim Lincecum isnt as unique as he was a week or two ago, and the brightest, shiniest object left in the room, fair or not, seems to be Brandon Webb's 22 wins.

Do I think Brandon is "undeserving" of the Cy Young award. No, but there are three other guys (Lincecum, Santana, Dempster) who've pitched as well and maybe  better, who basically dont have the wins to "certify" that with voters. 

Brandon's been underrated his whole career, for several reasons. The home ballpark. The lousy teams. The market. His pitching style and personal demeanor. And all that stuff, those obstacles to recognition if you will, endear him to us all the more. Will any of those factors magically disappear if he wins a second CYA? I doubt it. But it will mark the end of an era - the era when Brandon was underappreciated in a cumulative, cosmic sense, that seemed unjust to those who've admired him all along.

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