NL Cy Young Award goes to Lincecum
Right-hander only second Giants pitcher to claim honor
SAN FRANCISCO -- Isolating a peak performance among Tim Lincecum's 34 appearances in 2008 was impossible."You can pick out gem after gem after gem," Giants right fielder Randy Winn said. Lincecum's crown jewel arrived Tuesday. The Giants right-hander received the National League's Cy Young Award, emblematic of the league's best pitcher, in voting conducted by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Lincecum received 23 of 32 first-place votes, seven second-place votes and one third-place vote for 137 points, which were assigned on a 5-3-1 basis. He outdistanced Arizona's Brandon Webb (73 points), the New York Mets' Johan Santana (55), Philadelphia's Brad Lidge (10), Milwaukee's CC Sabathia (9) and the Chicago Cubs' Ryan Dempster (4). "In Obama-like fashion, it wasn't close," Giants general manager Brian Sabean said. The comfortable margin surprised Lincecum.
"I thought it would be a lot closer. I was thinking more along the lines of Sabathia or Johan or Webb," he said, noting that those three are previous Cy Young winners.Giants left-hander Jack Taschner suggested that Lincecum's efforts spoke loudly: "We're a West Coast team, and East Coast reporters are probably in bed by the time we get into the third or fourth inning. But that's really all you need to see [of Lincecum]." Lincecum became only the second Giant to capture the Cy Young, joining 1967 winner Mike McCormick, and the first second-year player to earn the distinction since right-handers Dwight Gooden of the Mets and Bret Saberhagen of Kansas City secured the 1985 awards in their respective leagues. "As I told Timmy earlier today, 'You'll always be remembered as the winner of the Cy Young,'" McCormick said. "That's the way I'm identified; that's the way I'm introduced."
|2008 NL Cy Young Award Voting|
|Tim Lincecum, SF||23||7||1||137|
|Brandon Webb, ARI||4||15||8||73|
|Johan Santana, NYM||4||8||11||55|
|Brad Lidge, PHI||1||7||10|
|CC Sabathia, MIL||1||1||1||9|
|Ryan Dempster, CHC||4||4|
At 24, Lincecum already has earned a place in Giants lore alongside Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry, San Francisco's Hall of Fame right-handers. Marichal somehow never received a Cy Young first-place vote in his six 20-win seasons, and Perry twice won the award after leaving the Giants.Lincecum deserved to exult in his triumph, so he did. He received the election news Tuesday morning at his San Francisco home while watching NFL highlights on ESPN. "When I was told, I really said 'Really?' I was more shocked than anything," Lincecum said. But his emotions took over once the phone call ended. "'Whoo-hoo!' I literally yelled a couple of times," he said. After Lincecum calmed down, he had plenty of people to recognize, which he did during a pair of afternoon news conferences. He congratulated the other Cy Young contenders and thanked teammates, the Giants organization and coaches, Bay Area fans and BBWAA electors. Lincecum saved most of his gratitude for the man who directly influenced his development: Chris, his father. "He's definitely been the biggest help for me throughout my life [while] making transitions through high school to college, college to the Minors, and Minors to here," Lincecum said.
Tim Lincecum became just the 12th pitcher to win the Cy Young Award while pitching for a team with a sub-.500 record.
|1997||Roger Clemens||Blue Jays||76-86||21-7|
|1996||Pat Hentgen||Blue Jays||74-88||20-10|
|1987||Roger Clemens||Red Sox||78-84||20-9|
|* Bedrosian had 40 saves in 1987. Sutter had 37 saves in 1979.|
Despite Lincecum's sustained excellence, he faced formidable competition for the award. Santana's 2.53 ERA led the NL, Webb's 22 victories paced the league, Sabathia performed in otherworldly fashion after being traded from Cleveland (11-2, 1.65 ERA) and Lidge converted all 41 of his save opportunities.But none of them matched Lincecum's overall dominance. He compiled a league-best .783 winning percentage with his 18-5 record and amassed 265 strikeouts to become the first Giant in baseball's modern era (since 1900) to earn that distinction. Against Lincecum, opponents hit .221 overall and .167 with runners in scoring position while averaging 7.22 hits per nine innings -- all league lows. And his 2.62 ERA was the NL's second best. Lincecum acknowledged that among all his glittering statistics, those strikeouts shine the most.
"It's one of those things that kind of get me fired up," he said.Lincecum's game-by-game progression defined consistency. His 26 quality starts ranked second in the league, two behind Santana. Never did he lose consecutive starts; only once did he allow four or more earned runs in back-to-back outings. As the Giants lurched to a fourth-place, 72-90 finish in the West, Lincecum rescued them from a harsher fate by posting a 14-3 mark with a 2.79 ERA in 25 games following losses. That led to another measure of just how singular Lincecum's season was. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the .339 difference between his winning percentage and San Francisco's was the seventh-largest in Major League history among pitchers with at least 15 victories. He also became only the 12th Cy Young winner for a team with a below-.500 record. As Lincecum built these credentials, his downplaying of Cy Young chatter remained as steady as his performance.
"I said this many times, my dad always taught me not to get too excited about the good things or the bad things," he said. "I wasn't going to get worked up over things I had no control over. It's not like I didn't care, but I wasn't going to put any added pressure on myself."Lincecum cemented his Cy Young candidacy with a strong finish. He struck out 10 or more batters in six of his last 13 starts and yielded two or fewer runs in all but three of them. He pitched his two complete games, including a four-hit shutout at San Diego, in September. And in the season finale against Los Angeles, he recorded his first nine outs on strikeouts, becoming the first hurler to accomplish that feat since the Mets' Sid Fernandez on July 30, 1986.
Webb won 11 of his last 14 decisions. But while Lincecum surged, the D-backs ace dropped three starts in a row between Aug. 26-Sept. 6, allowing 19 earned runs in 13 2/3 innings.Lincecum's triumph was a matter of style as well as substance. Despite his 5-foot-11, 170-pound physique, his long-striding, mechanically precise delivery enabled him to exceed 95 mph with his fastball routinely. He complemented his heat with a curveball, a slider and a changeup that proved to be perhaps his best pitch as the year lengthened. "That's the thing that helped me out the most, to get more ground balls and strikeouts," Lincecum said of his changeup, explaining that finding a comfortable grip for the pitch gave him the command he lacked as a rookie. In his first full Major League season -- he made his Giants debut on May 6, 2007 -- Lincecum became one of the game's most charismatic performers. The native of Bellevue, Wash., was named to the NL All-Star team, appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated and won two pre-Cy Young elections as the league's top pitcher involving player voting (Players Choice and The Sporting News). On Monday, he also received the Bullet Rogan Award from the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum as NL Pitcher of the Year. Each achievement silenced the skeptics a little more. Maybe Lincecum wasn't too small to thrive, as they claimed. Maybe his remarkable pitching motion wouldn't tax his arm after all. "People have been doubting me my whole life, so it's nothing new," he said. "If they want to doubt it, let them watch and see what the end result is."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.