Nov 17, 2009, 11:45 AM EDT
Later today the Baseball Writers Association of America will announce their choice for AL Cy Young, but first here’s how my ballot would look:
1. Zack Greinke, Kansas City
2. Felix Hernandez, Seattle
3. Roy Halladay, Toronto
4. Justin Verlander, Detroit
5. CC Sabathia, New York
Zack Greinke was the best pitcher in the American League this season, but because some people misguidedly still focus on win-loss records to evaluate such things you can blame his Royals teammates when it’s not a unanimous vote.
Greinke’s league-leading 2.16 ERA is the AL’s lowest since Pedro Martinez in 2000, and over the past 20 years only Martinez and Roger Clemens have a better mark. Greinke also ranked among the league’s top three in opponents’ batting average, OPS against, strikeouts, strikeout-to-walk ratio, complete games, and shutouts while throwing 229 innings, so the fact that he was “only” 16-8 with little offensive, defensive, or bullpen support from a team that was 49-89 when he didn’t get the decision is hardly important.
Consider that in his losses and no-decisions Greinke went 0-8 in 17 starts despite posting a 3.34 ERA that would have ranked fourth in the league ahead of CC Sabathia at 3.37 and Justin Verlander at 3.45. He lost twice when giving up one run and got stuck with no-decisions six times when he allowed two or fewer runs, including once when he tossed seven shutout innings. Give him better teammates and Greinke wins 20 games, but that doesn’t change how well he pitched.
In many seasons Felix Hernandez’s performance would have been worthy of the award, because 239 innings of a 2.49 ERA is damn impressive. However, he allowed 17 more runs than Greinke in just nine more innings, and also benefited from a vastly superior defense and pitcher-friendly ballpark. Roy Halladay also had a Cy Young-caliber season with a 2.79 ERA in 239 innings, and then there’s a pretty clear gap between the Greinke-Hernandez-Halladay trio and the next tier that includes Verlander and Sabathia.
Or at least there should be. In terms of runs saved compared to a replacement-level pitcher–that is, the caliber of arms readily available at Triple-A–Greinke was worth 88 runs, followed by Hernandez at 75 and Halladay at 74. Verlander was fourth at 61, with Sabathia and Jon Lester tied for fifth at 55. When the actual ballots are revealed later today there’s no doubt that Verlander and Sabathia will claim plenty of top-three votes, but that has far more to do with their 19 wins than their actual pitching.
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