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The Cy Young Award Year is Possible for Two Cardinal Pitchers in 2009

by Mark Ashby Vaughan

The Cardinal pitching staff this year has two serious candidates for the Cy Young award. Of course, those candidates are Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright.

Carpenter has been excellent this year, but has lost quite a few starts due to his rib cage injury which occurred while he was batting. As a result, he trails in innings pitched by roughly 34 to league leader Tim Lincecum. That will hurt his chances. However, the award winner is normally chosen based on a number of key statistics. Those being wins, winning percentage, Earned Run Average (ERA), innings pitched and strikeouts. Another component is pitching on a winning team.

There have been just four pitchers in Major League Baseball (MLB) history who have won both the Cy Young award and the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award in the same year; Don Newcombe in ’56, Sandy Koufax in ’63, Bob Gibson and Denny McLain, both in ’68.

To win both awards requires that the pitcher blow away their pitching competition while also being essential to their team’s success in the same year. For instance, in 1963 Sandy Koufax posted a 25-5 record with a brilliant 1.88 ERA and 306 strikeouts. His team, the Dodgers, also won the National League pennant, going on to win the World Series with a 4-0 sweep of the New York Yankees. Sandy won two of those games with a 1.50 ERA while striking out 23 batters in 18 innings.

Since the Cy Young award was first introduced in ’56, the award was a solitary award between the National and American league’s pitchers until ’67. That makes Sandy’s accomplishment all the more remarkable.

In ’68, Gibson won both awards because of his utterly unbelievable 1.12 ERA and the 13 shutouts he threw, while McLain won both by being a 31 game winner with a 1.96 ERA that year. Quite remarkably, both Gibson’s Cardinals and McLain’s Detroit Tigers faced each other in the World Series that year with the Tigers prevailing over the Cardinals in 7 games.

While it is highly doubtful that either Carpenter or Wainwright would win both awards this year, they are in a very good position to win the Cy Young. Tim Lincecum (last year’s winner) and Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants are also strong contenders.

As of the writing of this article (9/7/09), Lincecum has a league leading 233 strikeouts and 200 innings pitched. His 13-5 record, however, is not all that impressive in spite of his 2.34 ERA. Cain has a 2.51 ERA with a 13-4 record.

Carpenter leads both Lincecum and Cain in wins with 15. With just 3 losses, Chris leads both pitchers in winning percentage as well. While Chris trails both in innings pitched and strikeouts, he has bettered both with a 2.28 ERA.

Carpenter’s strongest competition probably comes from his teammate Wainwright. Adam leads the league in wins with 17, but his 7 losses and 2.68 ERA do not stand up to Carpenter’s winning percentage nor ERA.

The winner is going to be decided over the remainder of the season since there isn’t a clear cut leader between the four candidates at this point. It isn’t likely that Carpenter can win 20 games this year because he most likely has just 4 more starts during the regular season. If he can peel off 4 more wins, though, that would leave him with a very impressive 19-3 record. If he can maintain his league leading ERA, too, he is the likely winner in spite of trailing the other contenders in innings pitched and strikeouts.

Wainwright has 4 or 5 more regular season starts. He is capable of ending up with a 21-8 or 22-7 record this year. If he wins 22 games, then he is the more likely winner because he will have exceeded Carpenter in wins, innings pitched and strikeouts while also leading the league in wins.

Anything can happen between now and the end of the year. If both Carpenter and Wainwright should falter while Lincecum and Cain excel, then the Cy Young could end up going to one of the west coast competitors.

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