© 2009 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

11/19/09 7:07 PM ET

Close Cy call, but Lincecum prevails

Giants ace wins one of the closest races in modern era

ST. LOUIS -- With his second NL Cy Young Award, Tim Lincecum made some baseball history on Thursday, becoming just the 15th pitcher to win the award twice, joining a list populated by Hall of Famers and greats of the game. But the balloting that led to Lincecum winning the award was likewise historic.

The Giants right-hander became the second pitcher to win the Cy Young without receiving the most first-place votes. He also prevailed in one of the closest ballots in the history of the award.

The only other pitcher to win the Cy Young Award without the most first-place votes was Tom Glavine, who beat out Trevor Hoffman in 1998 despite two fewer firsts. Lincecum's six-point margin over Cardinals righty Chris Carpenter was the third-narrowest for an NL winner, behind Steve Bedrosian and Fernando Valenzuela. Bedrosian beat out Rick Sutcliffe by two points in 1987, and Valenzuela was three points ahead of Tom Seaver in 1981.

So how did it happen?

In short, Lincecum appeared on every ballot, and he appeared high on every ballot. Twenty-three of the 32 voters had him either first or second, and the other nine had him third. Carpenter, who came in second, was likewise in first or second on 23 ballots. However, he was left out entirely by two voters. The Cardinals' Adam Wainwright, who finished a close third, received consideration from every voter but had by far the most third-place votes as well as the most firsts. He picked up 12 firsts, five seconds and 15 thirds.

Tim Lincecum became the eighth pitcher to be named the Cy Young Award winner in consecutive seasons.
Pitcher League Years
Tim Lincecum NL 2008-09
Randy Johnson NL 1999-2002
Pedro Martinez AL 1999-2000
Roger Clemens AL 1986, 87, 1997-98
Greg Maddux NL 1992-95
Jim Palmer AL 1975-76
Denny McLain AL 1968-69*
Sandy Koufax MLB 1965-66
* In 1969, McLain shared the honor with Mike Cuellar.

"I just thought [Lincecum] was a little bit more dominant," said voter John Perrotto, based in Pittsburgh. "And I preface it by saying that it was a really tough call this year. There were clearly three guys that stood out above everyone else. There were a lot of ways you could have taken it, made a case for all three. But with the ERA and the strikeouts, I just thought he was a bit more dominant than Carpenter."

Perrotto's viewpoint represented quite a few voters. Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle, who covers Lincecum on a daily basis, had Carpenter and Lincecum 1-2, and mostly wrestled with which one to give his No. 1 vote. He ended up siding with Carpenter.

"I knew I was going to pick the three guys who appeared on my ballot," Schulman said via e-mail. "I thought by far they were the three best pitchers in the league. Although you could make a statistical case for any of the three, I quickly decided that Carpenter and Lincecum were the two best, despite Wainwright's high win total. I knew whichever I did not pick to win, Carpenter or Lincecum, would be second, leaving Wainwright third."

And that, in the end, seemed to be what cost Wainwright the award. Seemingly the favorite before the announcement, he simply finished third on too many ballots to be the winner. Before 1970, he would have won it -- in those days, there was only a first-place choice. But in the current day, he rated either first or third with most voters.

That's in large part because of the shape of the three pitchers' performances. Voters who valued what Carpenter did, would also be inclined to value what Lincecum did, and vice versa. The case for Wainwright was a different argument.

A look at the closest Cy Young Award finishes between three pitchers under the current voting format (since 1970).
Year Pitcher Votes Diff.*
1987 Steve Bedrosian, PHI 57 3
Rick Sutcliffe, CHC 55
Rick Reuschel, SF 54
2009 Tim Lincecum, SF 100 10
Chris Carpenter, STL 94
A. Wainwright, STL 90
1970 Jim Perry, MIN 55 10
Dave McNally, BAL 47
Sam McDowell, CLE 45
Mike Cuellar, BAL 44
1977 Sparky Lyle, NYY 56.5 10.5
Jim Palmer, BAL 48
Nolan Ryan, CAL 46
Dennis Leonard, KC 45
Difference in votes between the first- and third-place finishers.

Carpenter had the most impressive rate stats, leading the league in earned run average and winning percentage and leading the top three candidates in walks and hits per inning pitched. Wainwright lagged in the rate stats but led the league in wins and innings pitched, and was the only one of the three not to miss a start. Lincecum was close behind Carpenter in the rate stats and close behind Wainwright in the counting stats.

So those who valued the durability of Wainwright above the other two clearly put him first. Those who valued that slightly less ranked him behind both Lincecum and Carpenter.

Two writers -- Keith Law of ESPN.com and Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus -- left Carpenter off their ballots entirely. Both pointed to Carpenter's missed time as a significant factor in the decision. Law voted Lincecum first, calling it a "no-brainer" in a piece he wrote for ESPN, with the Braves' Javier Vazquez second and Wainwright third. Carroll had Wainwright first, Lincecum second and the D-backs' Dan Haren third.

Carroll said he gave great weight to Wainwright's durability and dependability. Wainwright was the only one of the top three candidates who did not miss a start, and he led the league in innings pitched and starts.

"For me ... all along, it was Wainwright and Lincecum for 1-2," said Carroll, who is based in Indianapolis. "And I thought that Lincecum missing those two starts was very literally the difference. And Carpenter's missed starts [factored in]. He was very, very good, don't get me wrong. If there had been a fourth place, I would have voted for him.

"I thought [Haren] did such a great job that he deserved kind of that tip-of-the-cap vote. But I thought Wainwright being out there and available every day has a value that I don't think people recognize."

Law may have cast the most controversial ballot, as the only voter to give a second-place vote to someone other than Lincecum, Carpenter or Wainwright. He used advanced pitching metrics such as FIP (fielding-independent pitching) and WAR (wins above replacement) to rank the pitchers Lincecum-Vazquez-Wainwright.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.