Lincecum v. Carpenwright: Who has the Best Starting PItcher Duo in the National League

The battle for the Cy Young award has been described as being between two St. Louis Cardinal teammates, Chris Carpenter (16-4, 2.45) and Adam Wainright (18-7, 2.59).  Carpenter seems to be having a slightly better season, but if Wainright wins 20 or more games, he may well emerge as the slight favorite.

While the question of which Cardinal will win the Cy Young award is interesting, it is a strange debate given that the best one-two pitching punch in the NL does not belong to the Cardinals.  That title belongs to San Francisco Giants teammates Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. The combined win loss totals, Lincecain 27-10 and Carpenwright 34-11, clearly favor the Cardinal tandem, but this speaks more to the disparities in the Cardinal and Giant offenses, than the superiority of the two Cardinal pitchers.  The Cardinals have averaged 4.53 runs per game while the Giants average only four.

Other numbers, particularly when the two sets of teammates are combined, tell a different story.  The Giant aces have pitched 26 more innings (403.2 to 377.2) while giving up only four more earned runs (110-106), striking out 88 more batters (395-307), but walking 35 more (127-92) and giving up more home runs (29-22).  The two tandems have almost identical WHIPs, 1.11 for Carpenwright and 1.10 for Lincecain and ERAs,2.53 for Carpenwright, and 2.45 for Lincecain.  Lincecain, has slightly better numbers in these key indicators while pitching a few more innings.

The Cardinal pitchers have benefited not only from a better offense behind them, but from pitching in a more pitcher friendly park.  The park factor for Busch Stadium in St. Louis has been 98 this year, compared to 103 for AT & T park in San Francisco.  This means that the Cardinals have played in a park that slightly favors pitchers, while the Giants play in a part that slightly favors hitter, although this is not obvious from looking at the Giants’ offense.

It seems something of a paradox that the Cy Young award may come down to a close vote between two teammates even though another team in the league has a better top two starting pitchers.  The explanation to this paradox is simple.  Through the first 140 or so games of the year, Tim Lincecum has been the best pitcher in the NL; and if he continues to pitch this way does not win the Cy Young award this year, the voters will have made a mistake.

Among these four aces, Lincecum has more strikeouts, complete games and shutouts and a lower ERA, while pitching the second most innings, Wainwright is first.  Lincecum is also second, to Carpenter, in fewest walks plus hits over nine innings.  Carpenter and Wainwright would both be respectable Cy Young choices, and together with an Albert Pujols led Cardinal offense could help the Cardinals play well into October, but the best NL pitcher, and the best top of the rotation so far in 2009, have both been in San Francisco.