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NL Cy Young: Lincecum, Carpenter, Wainwright all have a great case

Sorry Jim Tracy. Apologies, Mike Scioscia. Don't take it personally, Ron Washington. But with all due respect to those three men and the other leading contenders for the Manager of the Year awards that will be announced on Wednesday, does anyone really care? That honor serves merely as the undercard to what will be the heavyweight bout of this year's awards season: the National League Cy Young race. None of the other pieces of hardware that will be handed out this offseason will be as strongly debated, and none have a roster of contenders that combines the star of the Giants' Tim Lincecum, the reigning Cy Young winner; the Cardinals' Chris Carpenter, the 2005 winner; and his St. Louis teammate, Adam Wainwright.

Among them, those three led the league in almost every major statistical category, including wins (Wainwright), winning percentage (Carpenter), innings pitched (Wainwright), complete games (Lincecum, tied with teammate Matt Cain), strikeouts (Lincecum), ERA (Carpenter), opponents' OPS (Lincecum) and quality starts (Lincecum).

Any of the three would make a deserving winner, but barring a tie (which has only happened once in the history of the Cy Young, and never in the National League), only one will take home the hardware. Who has the edge?

Key stats: 15-7, 2.48 ERA, 4 CG, 261 strikeouts.

Why he'll win: His wins total is underwhelming, but the AL Cy Young went to Kansas City's 16-game winner Zack Greinke on Tuesday, which only offered further proof that victories are no longer the determinative factor in these votes. A far better measure are Lincecum's other stats, which are fantastic. Lincecum ranked first by wide margins in fielding independent pitching (2.38, to Javier Vazquez's 2.80) and K/9 (10.42, well in front of second-place finisher Yovani Gallardo's 9.89), second in ERA (2.48), hits per nine (6.71), opponents' batting average (.206) and opponents slugging (.290), third in opponents on-base percentage (.271) and HR/9 (0.399), fourth in WHIP (1.047) and seventh in K/BB (3.84/1).

Why he won't: The anti-wins argument would carry more weight if, like Greinke, Lincecum had clear edges in a category such as ERA, or if he had finished his season strongly. Instead, he went just 3-4 with a 3.15 ERA over his last 10 starts, leaving voters with a less-than-inspiring conclusion to an otherwise stellar season as both he and his team faded. The fact that the Giants didn't get to the postseason while the Cardinals did shouldn't have been held against him in voters' eyes, but it probably was.

Key stats: 19-8, 2.63 ERA, 233.0 IP, 212 strikeouts.

Why he'll win: Wainwright led the league in wins -- for a playoff team, no less, a combination that historically goes a long way with voters. Eighteen times a pitcher has led the NL in wins while pitching for a playoff team and gone on to win the Cy Young award. Wainwright also made an impressive run to the finish line. In the first three months of the season he was 8-5 with a 3.51 ERA, but over the final three months he went 11-3 with a 1.90 ERA. Just as Lincecum was beginning to taper off in early August, Wainwright turned it on, losing just once over his final 11 starts as the Cardinals ran away with the NL Central.

Why he won't: The best thing he has going for him is wins, and a closer look at his splits reveals just how misleading that figure can be. When pitching in St. Louis in 2009, Wainwright went just 7-7 despite posting a 2.05 ERA, 1.083 WHIP and 8.5 K/9. On the road he had far worse numbers -- a 3.39 ERA, 1.376 WHIP and 7.8 K/9 -- yet managed a much better record, winning 12 of 13 decisions. Nor is leading the league in wins for a club that reaches the postseason as historically significant as it used to be. Twelve of the first 15 times it happened in the NL, that pitcher won the Cy Young. But since then there have been more than twice as many pitchers who pulled that double without taking home the hardware (13) than those who did (six). It may also be telling that Cardinals manager Tony La Russa had a choice of either Wainwright or Carpenter to start Game 1 of the NL Division Series against the Dodgers, and chose Carpenter.

Key stats: 17-4, 2.24 ERA, 3 CG, 144 strikeouts.

Why he'll win: He led the league in winning percentage, ERA, adjusted ERA and fewest HR/9, was second in WHIP and wins and finished in the top 10 in complete games (third), fewest BB/9 (third), fewest hits/9 (fourth), shutouts (sixth), K/BB ratio (eighth). He was spectacular down the stretch, going 12-1 after the Fourth of July with a 2.14 ERA in 122 innings pitched, and provided a much-needed boost to the Cards after he came off the disabled list. When he took the mound for that start on July 5, St. Louis was tied for first in the NL Central. He pitched them into first place that day (they would never be out of first the rest of the season) and when the Cubs rallied to catch them a month later, it was Carpenter who once again broke the deadlock and moved them ahead for good.

Why he won't: Just like his teammate's, Carpenter's case rests largely on having won a significant -- and traditional -- statistical category while pitching his team into the playoffs. Unlike Wainwright, his non-traditional stats compare much more favorably with Lincecum's and boost his candidacy, yet he still finished behind The Freak in most of those categories (NL rank in parentheses):

BB/9: Carpenter 1.78 (third), Lincecum 2.72 (22nd).K/BB: Lincecum 3.84 (seventh), Carpenter 3.79 (eighth).Opponents' average: Lincecum .206 (second), Carpenter .226 (eighth).Opponents' on-base: Lincecum .271 (third), Carpenter .272 (fifth).Opponents' slugging: Lincecum .290 (second), Carpenter .310 (third).Fielding independent pitching: Lincecum 2.38 (first), Carpenter 2.82 (fifth).

Each of the three has a compelling case, but it seems likely that in the end Wainwright will miss out on his chance for a first Cy Young, while either Carpenter or Lincecum will win his second. The award was likely decided by which pitcher was better down the stretch, in which case Carpenter can start readying his acceptance speech.

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