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Tim Lincecum
Diminutive RHP Tim Lincecum won the NL Cy Young Award.
Brad Mangin/Getty Images

To be sure, there were plenty of sizable obstacles standing in the path of 5-foot-11, 170-pound Tim Lincecum's pursuit of the NL Cy Young award this season. There was his team's punchless offense that scored fewer runs than all but one team in baseball. There was a deep reservoir of worthy candidates of every variety, from past winners like Brandon Webb and Johan Santana to a historic mid-season pickup in CC Sabathia to a perfect closer in Brad Lidge. And of course, there is one simple fact that has often spelled the end of a pitcher's Cy Young candidacy: Tim Lincecum did not win 20 games this season, and someone else in his league did.

There was a time, not so long ago, where the criteria for the Cy Young award seemed to begin and end with that most popular entry in a pitcher's statistical column. But as statistics have evolved, becoming more detailed and offering greater insight into player performance, it turns out voters have allowed their thinking to expand as well. From the time the first Cy Young award was handed out in 1956 through the 2003 season, only five times did a starting pitcher win the Cy Young without winning 20 games in a full season, yet it has happened four times in the five years since then.

Making Lincecum's triumph all the more surprising is that Arizona's Webb won 22 games, meaning there was a four-win gap between the league leader and the Cy Young winner. Excluding the five years that the NL Cy was won by a relief pitcher, there has only been one season with a bigger gap between the league leader and the Cy Young winner (1999, when Randy Johnson won 17 games but took the Cy ahead of 22-win Mike Hampton).

There are too many factors beyond a pitcher's control that determine his win total, yet Lincecum left little doubt that he was the best pitcher in the league this season, leading the league in strikeouts (265), batting average against (.221) and fewest hits per nine innings (7.22) while ranking second in ERA and quality starts.

And, of course, he finished second in wins. But in the only category that anyone will remember -- 2008 National League Cy Young Award winner -- Lincecum finished in the only position that matters: first.

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