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Commentary: On Cy Young, the Law of numbers didn't add up

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 23, 2009 - Don't worry, folks.

Even with the fuzzy math of ESPN.com's Keith Law and other voters in the balloting for National League Most Valuable Player, Albert Pujols will prevail. I expect he will win unanimously, but there is the chance that someone out there will try to make a name for himself by recording a whacked-out first-place vote for Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley.

Many of us in St. Louis are still scratching our heads over how Tim Lincecum somehow managed to win his second consecutive Cy Young Award over the favored Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. When I first heard that one of the Cards' duo did not win, I thought it was the result of them splitting votes.

Then I saw that Law and some other knucklehead had left Carpenter completely off their respective ballots.

That's crazy.

Law used all kinds of crazy baseball-cyber statistical nonsense to explain himself. But it still didn't really add up to anything more than him picking the skinny kid from San Francisco because he wanted to. Lincecum pitched the most innings and had the most strikeouts. That's all Law needed to say, but he went into the convoluted world of stats that no one really pays any attention to - at least in the real world.

While I'm chastising Law, I should point out that there were times when several members of the St. Louis sports media contingent used "Law-like" statistical review to argue that Pujols should have won the MVP Award over Barry Bonds and later Ryan Howard.

The best arguments, respectively, for Carpenter and Wainwright are number of wins and earned run average. If you lead in one or both of those categories, and/or finish second in one, the Cy Young Award is usually yours. Law wrote that he doesn't consider number of wins to be relevant.

It didn't work out this year for Carpenter and Wainwright because of Law's philosophy and many local writers and commentaries were highly critical of the final tally.

Yet, when Pujols finished second in the MVP voting in past years and did not finish first in home runs or RBIs, people found the necessary statistics to back his candidacy.

"If you had nine Albert Pujols in your lineup you would score this many number of runs every game," was one that got repeated a lot.

Well, you don't have nine of anyone in a lineup so what is the point of that stat?

"Howard strikes out twice as many times as Pujols," was another.

Number of strikeouts has nothing to do with whether or not you should win the MVP trophy.

Just ask Babe Ruth (if you could) or Reggie Jackson. They struck out a lot, but their value was not tarnished in the least.

In other words, statistics are often used by those that are disappointed more so than those who take home the acclaim.

Personally, I think all voting for postseason awards should be done by players and managers. Many newspapers have banned their beat writers and columnists from voting. It seems like a good idea to me. Not only for conflict-of-interest reasons, but because the writers do a poor job.

But with all that being said, Pujols will win the NL MVP trophy. And somebody in Philadelphia will put together a statistical case for Utley.

It just goes with the territory. 

Alvin A. Reid is editor of the St. Louis Argus and a weekend host on the new ESPN 101.1 FM. His weekly Major League Baseball - St. Louis Cardinals column, which is now published on The Beacon website, was honored by the Missouri Press Association as Best Sports Column in 2004 and 1999. He is co-author of the book, "Whitey's Boys: A Celebration of the 1982 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals" and was a member of the inaugural staff of USA TODAY Baseball Weekly.

With this column, the baseball season ends. Spring training's not too far away, however.