N.L Cy Young: Who to Choose?

With the regular season finally over, it’s time to start thinking about who should be the recipient of the National League Cy Young award. A month ago, I thought Chris Carpenter was a shoe in to win for the second straight year, but over the past month, the landscape has significantly changed.

Roy Oswalt won 6 of his last 8 starts to put himself in contention while Brandon Webb righted the ship with a strong September posting a 2.43 ERA including two complete games. Then of course there are the relievers, who aren’t typically in Cy Young talks, but would the Padres be in the playoffs without Trevor Hoffman, or the Dodgers without Takashi Saito? Maybe you could even throw the Mets’ Billy Wagner into the discussion.

Just looking at the three starting pitcher candidates of Carpenter, Oswalt and Webb, they had freakishly similar seasons:

Name             W   L    Inn  ShO  CG   ERA   SO  BB  WHIP   WPA
Chris Carpenter  15  8  221.2    3   5  3.09  184  43  1.07  3.38
Roy Oswalt       15  8  220.2    0   2  2.98  166  38  1.17  4.15
Brandon Webb     16  8  235.0    3   5  3.10  178  50  1.13  3.69

How do you choose between these three? Webb has the most innings and wins. Oswalt has the best ERA and Win Probability Added (WPA). Carpenter has the most strikeouts and the best WHIP. May as flip a coin (a three sided coin). Their offenses all gave them about the same amount of run support too, so you can’t even say one of them should have more wins.

If I had a vote, my personal preference of the three would lean towards Oswalt. If you take away his one relief appearance, his WPA jumps to 4.43, which is nearly one win more than either Webb or Carpenter. Also, he’s coming off back to back 20 win seasons which were certainly Cy Young worthy, but just slightly worse than the eventual winners.

But what about those relievers? Their seasons were pretty similar too:

Name             W   L   SV   BS    Inn    ERA   SO   BB  WHIP   WPA    LI
Takashi Saito    6   2   24    2    78.1  2.07  107   23  0.91  4.09  1.50
Trevor Hoffman   0   2   46    5    63.0  2.14   50   13  0.97  4.04  2.08
Billy Wagner     3   2   40    5    72.1  2.24   94   21  1.11  3.85  1.88

This is also a tough group of pitchers to pick a winner from. Even though Saito had about 20 less saves than Hoffman or Wagner, he still managed to top them both in WPA, not to mention his 107 strikeouts are pretty off the charts. Hoffman was used in the most difficult situations of the three, according to his Leverage Index (LI) and he did lead the majors in saves. Wagner falls a bit short of both Hoffman and Saito, but he still had a stellar season, though probably not Cy Young worthy.

If I had to choose one I’d go with Hoffman since he’s pitched in more pressure packed situations than any of the three and he’s been nothing but stellar all season long. Saito should probably take home the NL Rookie of the Year award, but that’s an entirely different discussion.

So for me at least, it comes down to either Oswalt or Hoffman and I’m seriously torn between the two of them. I really think Oswalt will (and should) win a Cy Young award eventually, but I’d really love to see Hoffman win now, especially in a year where there’s no clear cut starting pitcher. Capturing the career lead in saves, leading his team to the playoffs, and winning the Cy Young award, all in the twilight of his career, sure would make a feel good story.



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David Appelman is the creator of FanGraphs.


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