Archive for Thursday, September 10, 2009

Cy guy?

Kansas City’s Zack Greinke front-runner in closely contested race

Royals' starting pitcher Zack Greinke.

Royals' starting pitcher Zack Greinke.

September 10, 2009


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.


cato_the_elder 8 years, 8 months ago

Tom, thanks for another clever and insightful article - and thanks also for your reference to the '27 Yankees, the greatest professional baseball team ever.

zettapixel 8 years, 8 months ago

When is Greinke going to go pitch for a real team?

DennisAnderson 8 years, 8 months ago

Great pitchers win games no matter what their offense produces. These days, 13 wins isn't bad no matter what who the pitcher is. But look at what Steve Carlton did in 1972, winning 27 games for a team that won only 59 total. That's someone who deserves the Cy Young. Greinke is having a great season, but I don't think it's a Cy Young season.

flashedred 8 years, 8 months ago

Fortunately for Zach this year's Cy Young winner will compete against 2009 pitchers, not 1972. My vote is with #23 for 2009!

llama726 8 years, 8 months ago

Dennis, Greinke is the best pitcher in the A.L.

Wins mean nothing. The Royals are garbage offensively AND defensively. His ERA suffers from that. It's absolutely a Cy Young season, the award should go to the best pitcher in the league, and that's Greinke, hands down.

ku_tailg8 8 years, 8 months ago

This most definitely is a Cy Young season for Zack. I would like to see the stat on the run support each pitcher receives per 9 innings. Lets not forget this too, Zack doesn't get to pitch against the Royals to pad his stats like everyone else in the AL does.

Ricky_Vaughn 8 years, 8 months ago

Wins are very circumstantial. Put Zack on any other team except the Nationals and he'd probably have 20 wins already. It's not Zack's fault the boys in blue are so bad this year (imagine how bad they'd be without him shudder). I think Zack deserves it for being the most dominant pitcher in the AL by a fairly wide margin.

I think the last time somebody won 27 games was 1972, and probably with a 4-man rotation rather than the 5 or 6 you see in today's game. If we're going on that logic, nobody should win the Cy Young. After all, Cy Young used to win 30-50 games a year routinely and pitch anywhere from 300-500+ innings. Nobody does that anymore.

I can do without the Yankee references too. I get enough of that crap on ESPN.

Royals 8 years, 8 months ago

Go Zack.

If I had a vote he'd be my top pick.

kugrad2009 8 years, 8 months ago

Dennis, you obviously don't follow baseball a whole lot. Greinke's ERA is a whole point better than Verlander or Sabathia, who have three more wins than him. I don't know where you are drawing this conclusion from, but I'm just glad you don't have a final vote for the CY Young.

Ryan Wood 8 years, 8 months ago

I watched Zack Greinke pitch in Anaheim on May 9th. He pitched the complete game, gave up four hits, struck out five...and lost 1-0.

The Steve Carlton argument is interesting, but I can't think of one single reason why Zack Greinke didn't get the job done that night in Anaheim. The Royals' offense that night made it 100 percent impossible for him to win the game. In Carlton's 27 wins, his team scored at least one run in every single one of them. In fact, Carlton didn't lose a single 1-0 game that whole season.

Greinke's run support is the worst in the major leagues, and the worst among the Cy candidates by a country mile. In the categories that Greinke has any sort of control over, he's the clear-cut winner of this award. If he's denied it because of win-loss record, with all the evidence out there, it's because of an old-school approach to voting that would be embarrassing and unjust.

A 2.22 ERA in the American League. C'mon, this isn't that hard.

jaywalker 8 years, 8 months ago

I believe he's more than deserving with his numbers, but I don't believe he'll win.

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