Wainwright belongs in Cy Young discussion

I surveyed 12 scouts and executives Wednesday, asking them to offer their selections for the National League Cy Young Award.

Six picked Chris Carpenter of the Cardinals. Six picked Tim Lincecum of the Giants.

No one chose Adam Wainwright. And I was a little surprised by that.

Now, I fully expect Carpenter or Lincecum to win the award. Carpenter leads the league with a 2.16 ERA. Lincecum is next at 2.34.

Both have won it before — Carpenter in 2005, Lincecum last year. Both deserve to win it again. After all, both have ERAs that are lower than when they first received the honor.

Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine are the only pitchers to win multiple NL Cy Young awards over the past 25 years. Some two months from now, in all likelihood, Carpenter or Lincecum will join them. And it would be very difficult to argue against their membership in such an exclusive club.

Wainwright can’t match their status as former Cy Young winners. He’s not widely perceived as a No. 1 starter, in the same way that Carpenter and Lincecum are. Wainwright is having a career year — the most polite way of saying that he hasn’t been quite this good ever before.

I’m not among the baseball writers voting for this year’s NL Cy Young Award. But if I were, I would consider three simple facts before marking my ballot for Carpenter or Lincecum.

1) Wainwright leads the league with 18 wins, after earning his latest victory with seven shutout innings in Milwaukee on Wednesday afternoon.

2) Wainwright leads the league with 205 innings. (Carpenter is third on the Cardinals at 166 2/3 because of time spent on the disabled list.)

3) Wainwright hasn’t missed a start this season because of injury; Carpenter and Lincecum have.

Still, Wainwright is up against the perception that he isn’t as dominant as Carpenter and Lincecum. And in all fairness, that perception is probably correct.

According to one American League executive, Wainwright “does pretty much everything Carpenter does from a performance standpoint — but just doesn’t do it quite as well.”

“Carpenter,” one National League scout observed, “just has a presence about him.”

All true. But at the risk of oversimplifying this, I’m under the impression that major league teams want their starting pitchers to (a) win ballgames, (b) log a lot of innings, (c) stay healthy, and (d) position their clubs for the postseason.

To this point in the season, Adam Wainwright has done that better than anyone else in the National League.

Does that make him the Cy Young Award winner?

Not necessarily.

Does that make him a stronger candidate than you might think, when coupled with his 2.59 ERA?


“The other guys are more dominant, with lower ERAs, but wins are important,” a second NL scout said of Wainwright. “When guys stick around and win, there’s a reason.”

Barring a shift over the final weeks, I see four serious contenders for the award — Carpenter, 34, and Wainwright, 28, from St. Louis; Lincecum, 25, and fellow right-hander Matt Cain, 24, from San Francisco. They account for the NL’s four lowest ERAs.

It doesn’t appear that either team is hyping one of its pitchers over the other. There wouldn’t be much value in doing that, anyway, since we’re talking about an electorate of sportswriters, not fans at large.

St. Louis leads the NL with 84 victories; rather than marketing two Cy Young candidates, Cardinals spokesman Brian Bartow said, “the focus has remained on the team and its overall success.”

It’s a similar story in by the Bay.

“It used to be that we were celebrating the home run with Barry Bonds,” said Staci Slaughter, the Giants senior vice president of communications. “Now, we’re celebrating the strikeout.”

Wainwright isn’t going to get much support from statistically-minded voters. Lincecum has the better strikeout rate. Carpenter and Lincecum have allowed fewer walks and hits per inning (WHIP). Wainwright has received better run support than all other serious contenders for the honor, which has had a favorable effect on his win total.

For what it’s worth, Carpenter has the more compelling backstory, too. Arm surgeries limited him to only four major league starts — with no victories — between the 2006 World Series and beginning of this regular season. Then a strained rib-cage muscle forced him to miss another month earlier this year.

Now, he’s back among baseball’s elite starters with a 16-3 record. He hasn’t lost since June 30. He hasn’t walked more than three batters in a start this year. His most recent outing, on Monday in Milwaukee, was a one-hit shutout.

Apparently, he gets better as the year goes on — just like he usually gets better as his starts go on.

Carpenter is the Cardinals’ unquestioned ace, the guy they want to pitch Game 1 of any postseason series. They are about to make their first playoff appearance since 2006. Not coincidentally, that’s the last time Carpenter was healthy.

So, yes, if I were a manager who needed to win one game, I’d want Carpenter on the mound.

And if I were a manager who needed one strikeout, I’d want Lincecum on the mound.

But if I were trying to decide which National League pitcher has had the best 2009 season, well, I might not pick either one.