When scouts overreact to an athlete’s struggles

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum delivers a pitch to the St. Louis Cardinals in the second inning at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on August 21, 2010.   UPI/Bill Greenblatt Photo via Newscom

Baseball scouts have long been waiting for Tim Lincecum to fall apart.

He’s too small.

His delivery is going to lead to problems down the road.

His hair is too long. (This one I actually agree with.)

I swear, every time his velocity drops from one pitch to the next, someone starts hammering away on their keyboard predicting that Lincecum’s arm is going to disintegrate on the mound one day.

There’s no question that the 26-year-old two-time Cy Young winner has struggled this season. I’ve written about his struggles here at The Scores Report, so I’m not going to make light of the fact that he went 0-5 in the month of August with a 7.82 ERA.

But I almost fell out of my chair when I read a recent column by FOX Sports.com’s Ken Rosenthal, who spoke to a scout that had this to say about Lincecum’s future:

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Giants’ Lincecum wins second straight NL Cy Young

For the second straight year, San Francisco Giants’ ace Tim Lincecum was named the National League Cy Young award winner, earning 11 of 32 first-place votes. He just edged out Cardinals’ ace Chris Carpenter, who earned nine first-place votes and Carpenter’s teammate Adam Wainwright, who earned 12 first-place votes but only had 90 points (compared Lincecum’s 100 and Carpenter’s 94).

Lincecum led the NL with 261 strikeouts and also finished with four complete games and two shutouts. His 15-7 record wasn’t dazzling compred to Carpenter’s (17-4) or Wainwright’s (19-8), but he finished with a 2.48 ERA and the Giants didn’t have near the offense the Cardinals did.

Some St. Louis fans may complain about Lincecum winning this award and they certainly would have a case considering how good Carpenter and Wainwright were. (If either Carpenter or Wainwright won the award, it would be hard to debate they didn’t deserve it as well and it’s no wonder the voting was so close this year.) But if you watched Lincecum throughout the season, there wasn’t a more dominating pitcher in the National League.

On most nights, Giants’ pitchers were lucky if the offense scrapped together three runs. Every inning the pressure was on Lincecum and company to keep the runs to an absolute minimum and that’s exactly what he did. He was phenomenal.

No pitcher has ever won the Cy Young with only 15 victories. That means voters looked past the number of wins Lincecum had and saw what this kid did beyond the stat sheet. And while his recent bust for marijuana was unfortunate, it doesn’t taint what “The Freak” accomplished this season.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

The Numerology of the Cy Young Award

Calling all stat-heads! Fire Ned Colletti Now has just done an in-depth piece on the 2008 NL Cy Young Award. They detail who should win the honor using statistical analysis, but they justify their reasoning along the way. If you’ve every been confused by how terms such as WHIP, VORP, and FIP actually factor into this type of decision making, give it a read.

Tim LincecumAs far as what I will measure the pitchers by, I feel that the most important statistics are ERA, WHIP, and VORP. ERA’s importance is even recognized by the most staunch traditionalists. It measures the pitcher’s primary reason for being out there: to prevent runs from scoring. WHIP is a “new” statistic by mainstream standards, but when explained, I think traditionalists would agree it makes sense as well. It’s a statistic that revolves around a pitcher’s control and ability to limit hits. Less baserunners is obviously a good thing for the pitcher. VORP is where things get cloudy for a lot of baseball writers. It’s one of those magical and mystical statistics that seems to daze and confuse them. I think it’s valuable because it shows, in the scope of total contribution, how effective a pitcher has been at preventing runs from scoring. If you don’t already understand, you’ll see what I mean later on.

One thing you’ll notice is that I don’t mention wins anywhere. Yes, I am one of those guys who thinks that it is a worthless statistic as far as measuring the worth of a pitcher’s performance. If you disagree, feel free to tell me about it. However, please do so by explaining why Livan Hernandez (13-11, 6.05 ERA) is a better pitcher than Jake Peavy (10-11, 2.85 ERA) in 2008. Thanks. I await your input, John Kruk.

All year, my gut instinct has been that Tim Lincecum should win the NL Cy Young. However, history has shown that players on struggling teams usually don’t win either the Cy Young or MVP. These are the same statistics used by the Baseball Writer’s Association of America, so it’s interesting to see someone break down why Lincecum is the best pitcher in the league. At 23 years-old, this kid is going to be in high demand after his five years with the Giants.

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