Inside the last two weeks of the season, and there is no clear front-runner for the National League Cy Young award. There are, however, basically two main contenders: the Cardinals' Chris Carpenter, and Brandon Webb of the Diamondbacks, and their performances in the final 2-3 starts will possibly determine the outcome at the end of the season. But, with both men starting for their team tonight, thought it might be fun to put the cases for each pitcher. In Carpenter's corner, I'm pleased to welcome Larry from Viva El Birdos, while (at the risk of mixing my metaphors!) I will be taking the stand for Webb. And may the best man win!
Why Carpenter should win the Cy Young
There remain only two serious candidates for the NL Cy Young Award: Carpenter and Webb. It's a pretty close call, and either one would make a deserving honoree. But if the award is supposed to honor the league's "best" pitcher then Carpenter should get it, for this reason: He's demonstrably the NL's "best" by a broad range of yardsticks. Here are the categories in which Carpenter and Webb rank 1st among all NL pitchers:
That's 13.5 bests for Carpenter, 3.5 for Webb. Note how disparate are the measurements by which Carpenter outdoes all comers. Doesn't matter whether you judge via raw stats (era, WHIP, shutouts, opp OPS, etc etc), advanced sabermetrics (VORP, Win Shares, SNLVAR), or gadgety tools (avg game score, pitching runs created) --- Carpenter keeps coming out at the top of the heap. Last season, when he won the Cy in a much tougher field, Carpenter didn't lead the league in anything -- he simply excelled across the board, ranking near the top in all the important categories. He has improved upon that broad-based superiority this season, hogging the lead on so many lists that there aren't many left for his competitors to fight over.
Moreover, in most categories where neither Webb nor Carpenter leads the league, Carpenter ranks ahead of Webb. Strikeouts: Carpenter's 7th in the league (173), Webb 13th (163). K/BB ratio: Carp 2d (4.22), Webb 7th (3.47). Opponents' batting average: Carpenter 4th (.226), Webb 11th (.248).
If Carpenter's candidacy has a weakness, it's the home-road split Jim alludes to below. But once you start parsing data, all sorts of interpretations become possible. The split that jumps out at me is not the home-road but rather the month-by-month:
Whereas Carpenter has been consistently good, Webb has been periodically shaky -- and his cold spells have hurt his team. In jJune the Dbacks lost all 5 of Webb's starts as they tumbled from first to last in the NL West. In August, when Webb again faltered, the Dbacks fell from 1 game back in both the divisional and wild-card races to complete noncontention. Webb pitched his worst games when his team needed him most.
Carpenter has done just the opposite, singlehandedly holding the disintegrating Cardinal rotation together -- the very definition of an ace pitcher. Nothing speaks to that quality more than Carpenter's MLB-leading total in (pitchers only) Win Expectancy Added: He has contributed to team wins more profusely than any pitcher in baseball. For that alone, he merits strong consideration for the award; the rest of Carpenter's bests merely confirm his place at the head of the class.
Why Webb should win the Cy Young
Chris Carpenter is a good starting pitcher: no question there, any team would love to have him. But the NL's best? No. Even putting home-team bias aside, I believe Webb is the superior arm: Carpenter's statistics are skewed by a combination of factors, including his home ballpark and woeful quality of opposition.
Yes, Carpenter's ERA is marginally better. But he has pitched fewer innings, and as Webb gets an extra start down the stretch, that gap will likely widen. This must be taken into account (otherwise, this year's winner is Matt Smith of the Phillies: 6.1 IP, 0 ER). On a per-start basis, Webb has lasted longer, going deeper into games than Carpenter; with each man having 30 outings, he has more complete games and quality starts than Carpenter. We should also note that in defense-independent ERA, Webb is ahead, 3.29 to 3.40. Simply put, he's been less "lucky" than Carpenter, as far as what happens when hitters put balls in play: give them the same players behind them, and Webb is superior.
Another huge difference is the parks in which they pitch half their games. In 2006, Chase Field has been insanely hitter-friendly. It has the 3rd-highest park factor in baseball; Busch Stadium, in contrast, ranks 24th. And Carpenter is truly a "Busch baby". Away from home, he struggles: ERA triples, from 1.46 to 4.52, with no complete games, and only 5 quality starts out of 14 on the road. In contrast, Webb's road ERA is a very respectable 3.35, more than a run better.
Then there's the quality of the opponents each has faced. The NL Central is the worst division in baseball this year: only St. Louis is above .500, and overall, the division is 64 games below. Going 5-1 with a 1.77 ERA in eight games against the Cubs and Pirates - the worst teams in the league - pads Carpenter's statistics significantly, and proves very little. Amazingly, only two of his thirty starts have been against teams with a record currently better than .500*, and he got whacked around for eleven earned runs in twelve innings by them. In contrast, tonight's start will be the twelfth time Webb has pitched against .500-plus opposition this year.
Despite this, Webb still has more wins than Carpenter: yes, a meaningless statistic, but pitching is all about keeping the opposition down, and giving your team the opportunity to win. No pitcher has been better than Brandon Webb at that this year, and combined with the factors discussed above, that's why he's the most worthy winner of the 2006 National League Cy Young award. Webb was already the victim of one robbery, when the 2004 Rookie of the Year went to Dontrelle Willis; hopefully, this year he'll get his just rewards and be acknowledged as the best, rather than someone who's, at best, average on the road, and hasn't proved his mettle against decent teams.
* = Philadelphia, April 3 (5 IP, 4 ER) and Detroit, June 23 (7 IP, 7 ER).
On form so far, who should win the 2006 NL Cy Young
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