SAN FRANCISCO -- Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum are virtually guaranteed to finish far behind the leaders in the National League Cy Young Award balloting, which will be announced Thursday. That's despite Cain's and Lincecum's efforts in the regular season, when the Giants right-handers compared favorably with the league's top candidates for baseball's most coveted pitching honor. In the Cy Young vote conducted by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, Cain (12-11) and Lincecum (13-14) have no chance against the likes of Los Angeles left-hander Clayton Kershaw (21-5), Philadelphia's Roy Halladay (19-6) and Cliff Lee (17-8) and Arizona's Ian Kennedy (21-4).
Cain is destined to be overlooked despite sustaining his best season, by many measures, since he reached the Major Leagues in August 2005. Opponents hit .217 off Cain, the league's third-lowest figure. Among the top Cy Young contenders, only Kershaw, who led the NL with a .207 figure, was more efficient. Cain outperformed all of the NL's Cy Young candidates in preventing the long ball. He yielded nine home runs, fewest in the Majors among pitchers who worked at least 200 innings. His per-nine-inning average of 0.37 homers allowed ranked second among NL pitchers behind Pittsburgh's Charlie Morton (0.31). Many experts deride the value of a "quality start," since the criteria (three or fewer earned runs allowed in at least six innings) don't define pitching excellence. Nevertheless, Cain's 26 quality starts topped the NL, ranked third in the Majors and reflected the consistency he maintained. Modern metrics also conveyed Cain's quality. He ranked fifth among NL starters in FIP (fielding independent pitching, which measures a pitcher's performance by considering factors under his control, including strikeouts, walks, hit by pitches and home runs) and WAR (wins above replacement, which demonstrates a player's contribution beyond what a reserve or replacement-level performer would provide). Halladay, Kershaw and Lee ranked 1-2-3 in both categories, as calculated by fangraphs.com. Interestingly, Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner ranked fourth on each list. As was the case with all Giants starters, poor run support besmirched Cain's win-loss record. He received one run or fewer in 14 of 33 starts and two runs or less 21 times. His per-game average of 3.61 was the NL's ninth-lowest. When the Giants managed to score at least three runs behind him, Cain went 9-1. Cain's effectiveness was nothing new. According to statistician Bill Chuck, Cain, Halladay, Lee and Angels right-hander Jered Weaver are the only starters to finish each of the last two seasons with a WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) of 1.1 or below. Lincecum didn't match the standards he set in 2008 and '09, when he became the fourth pitcher to win the Cy Young in back-to-back seasons. But had he been backed by better offense, he inevitably would have recorded a better win-loss mark, which in turn might have made him a more serious Cy Young candidate. It bears repeating that Lincecum received the Major Leagues' lowest run support, an average of 2.94 per outing that also happened to be the third-lowest figure for any starting pitcher since 2000. That offset Lincecum's 2.74 ERA, which was the NL's fifth-best. The Giants scored no runs behind Lincecum in 10 of his 33 starts, one or less in 16 of his outings and two runs or fewer in 21. Of his 14 defeats, 11 occurred when San Francisco scored one run or less behind him. The numbers suggest that one more run here or there would have made a huge difference for Lincecum, who was 12-3 when he received two runs or more. Lincecum usually shrugged off his teammates' zeroes and put up his own. He and Lee each logged a NL-best 15 starts in which they worked at least seven innings and permitted one run or fewer (footnote: Lincecum failed to register a victory in six of those games). Lincecum tied for third in the league in strikeouts and ranked fourth in opponents' batting average. Thriving under duress, Lincecum held opponents to a .115 average (11-for-96), second-best in the NL, with runners in scoring position and two outs.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.