Nearly 30 years ago, nattily attired baseball writer John Lowe, now of the Detroit Free Press, invented a statistic known as quality starts, given to starting pitchers who last at least six innings and allow three or fewer earned runs. It caught on and has been used for decades by agents to gain raises for pitchers.
Nearly five minutes ago, I invented a statistic known as stupendous starts, given to starting pitchers who last at least eight innings and allow one or zero earned runs.
The quality-starts tally helps in evaluating middle- to back-of-the-rotation pitchers. Stupendous starts numbers spice up conversations about elite pitchers, which this time of year center on Cy Young Award worthiness.
The American League Cy Young race shapes up as a deep and interesting one.
With strong finishes, Scott Feldman of the Texas Rangers, Josh Beckett of the Boston Red Sox and Jered Weaver of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim — not to be confused with the Kansas Jayhawks of Lawrence — could work their way into contention, but for now it’s a five-horse race. Feldman (16-4, 3.46 earned-run average) lacks innings (1622⁄3) and has just one stupendous start. Weaver (3.79) and Beckett (3.87) don’t have Cy Young-caliber ERAs.
The five candidates worth examining with a few weeks left in the season, listed in alphabetical order: 1. Zack Greinke (Royals), 2. Roy Halladay (Toronto Blue Jays), 3. Felix Hernandez (Seattle Mariners), 4. C.C. Sabathia (New York Yankees), 5. Justin Verlander (Detroit Tigers).
They all have pitched between 199 innings and 2061⁄3 innings, so nobody has the edge in the workhorse category, leaving win-loss record, ERA and stupendous starts as the key comparison categories.
Greinke’s 2.22 ERA blows away the field. Hernandez (2.61) ranks second, Halladay (3.03) third, Verlander (3.24) fourth and Sabathia (3.40) fifth.
Greinke, Halladay and Hernandez share the lead with eight stupendous starts. Verlander has six, Sabathia two.
Greinke (13-8) has the fewest wins. Sabathia and Verlander have the most wins (16), Hernandez the best winning percentage (.737). But to penalize Greinke for not winning more often would be to blame him for Royals’ ownership repeatedly bringing a roll of quarters to a high-stakes poker game and expecting to compete. Greinke gets little support from a defense that turns groundballs into hits and errors, less from a bullpen that can’t hold leads, even less from a lineup loaded with bottom-of-the-order bats.
Comparing Greinke’s winning percentage to that of fellow members of the Royals’ pitching staff better measures his dominance. Greinke has a .619 winning percentage, the rest of the staff a .342 mark, a difference of .272. Only Hernandez (.737-.483=.254 difference) comes close. Sabathia has a .696 winning percentage, the rest of the staff .636.
A lot can happen in the final 31⁄2 weeks of the season to alter the race, but at the moment, any objective look at it would have to rank Greinke with an ever-so-slight edge on Hernandez, a bigger lead on Halladay and Verlander, a huge lead on Sabathia. If Greinke pitches for the ’62 Mets, then Sabathia works for the ’27 Yankees. Swap teams and Greinke would be running away with the award, Sabathia not in contention.