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Zack Greinke Wins AL Cy Young Award, No Longer Stands Alone

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Zack Greinke Wins AL Cy Young Award, No Longer Stands Alone
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The final votes are tallied, and Zack Greinke is your overwhelming winner for the American League Cy Young award. 

The baby-faced right-hander from powerhouse Apopka High School in Orlando received 25 first place votes and finished well ahead of runner up Felix Hernandez. 

Overcoming his off the field personal issues, the 26-year old sprinted out of the gates to a herculean April start and never looked back.He notched a victory in all of his first six decisions while allowing just two earned runs over a 45-inning span.

Similar to the way he ripped through the start of the season, he finished out the year by mounting a 5-0 record in his last eight starts with a 1.29 ERA during that stretch.

But before I get into too much depth about Greinke, I want to address the other pitchers who were in the running to take the honor.

In my opinion, the race was whittled from five potential candidates down to two exemplary youths.

Sure, C.C. Sabathia won 19 games and left everything he had on the field with the World Champion New York Yankees.

And yes, Justin Verlander won 17 games for the Detroit Tigers while leading the league in strikeouts.

Even Roy Halladay, somewhat forgotten after his non-action at the trading deadline, put together 17 wins and a sub-3.00 ERA.

Yet we can’t always assume that the top Cy Young candidates only come from the big name pitchers, and the voters certainly gave the award to the right pitcher in 2009 by selecting Greinke over these outstanding talents. 

Additionally, we must overlook the shortage of wins for Greinke because wins cannot be taken at face value ever since of the specialization of the bullpen and the preposterous new era that has seen the emergence of the “Joba rules.”

By this I mean that pitchers are not given the opportunity to win games without the aid of their relievers, and that clearly subjects the win total of a starting pitcher to be altered drastically by others on the staff.

Maybe the starter is rewarded with a 2008 Brad Lidge closing out games and gaining more wins, or perhaps they have the 2009 Lidge which results in losing a number of games they were once in position to win.

It’s almost comical to subject your staff ace and his record to be tarnished through the usage of routinely lesser arms to secure what could be a hard earned victory.

Just take a look at the numbers surrounding the win-loss records from 2009 and you can’t deny the spectacular season put up in the Pacific Northwest by Hernandez or the awe-inspiring campaign turned in by Greinke on an awful Kansas City Royals team.

Halladay, Verlander, and Sabathia all had very good seasons, but their efforts were overshadowed by the two new kids on the block in the Cy Young voting. 

If I had to place the top five candidates, they would go in the following order.   

 

 

IP

CG

ERA

ERA+

Record

SO/BB

Runs/Gm

BQR*

Greinke

229.1

6

2.16

204

16-8

242/51

3.8

4

Hernandez

238.2

2

2.49

174

19-5

217/71

4.4

9

Halladay

239

9

2.79

155

17-10

208/35

5.2

0

Verlander

240

3

3.45

133

19-9

269/63

6.0

14

Sabathia

230

2

3.37

127

19-8

197/67

4.9

18

*Bequeathed runners (runners left on base when pitcher exited game

 

As far as I’m concerned, even the large hadron collider couldn’t split atoms small enough to indicate the differentiation between Greinke and Hernandez on the field.

The 23-year old Hernandez was absolutely dazzling in his own right, and his 2009 performance was certainly Cy Young worthy had it not been for such a remarkable effort from Greinke.

King Felix finally earned the crown that was bestowed on him as a teenager in the Emerald City, decimating hitters on the road and putting up a 1.99 ERA away from Safeco Field.

Hernandez also allowed a miniscule two runs or fewer in 23 of his 34 starts this season.

Still, the Midas touch that King Felix possessed can’t quite compete with the pace-setting numbers that Greinke amassed.

A telling statistic that gives much better depth to the basic win-loss record is the number of wins lost and the number of losses saved by the bullpen.

Using this stat to adjust wins and losses, it brings Greinke closer to Hernandez in the wins column and almost balances the losses.

Greinke had three wins lost and one loss saved, while Hernandez had two wins lost and eight losses saved. Those eight saved losses were the second-highest mark in the league.

If we adjust the win-loss record of each player for wins lost and wins saved, Greinke becomes 19-9 while Hernandez moves to 21-12.

When thinking about Greinke accumulating just 16 wins, keep in mind that during his nine no decisions Greinke had a 2.35 ERA. Amidst those no decisions, he lost two games when giving up only one run and saw two shutouts go to waste when the Royals blew his top-shelf efforts.

Greinke also had a silly 18 starts in which he allowed one run or fewer. Most pitchers don’t get that many quality starts in a year, let alone that many outings of such dominating quality.

Look no further than 2006, when the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Brandon Webb went 16-8 for a 76-win team but still took home the Cy Young hardware.

Webb even had a higher ERA (3.10) and fewer strikeouts (178) than Greinke did in 2009. If you think that Webb just had better control than Zach, think again, because Webb walked just one fewer hitter (50) in his award-winning season.

Not only that, but he also got 5.21 runs per start, almost one-and-a-half runs greater than Greinke who received a measly 3.8 runs per start this season.

Webb’s 152 ERA+ also led the league in 2006—so did Greinke in 2009, yet his mark was an astonishing 204.

The bottom line is that you can’t penalize him for playing on a losing team and the amount of havoc he wrought on the league is undeniable.

You could crunch numbers until the cows come home and no matter how you contort the stat lines, Greinke was the best pitcher in the junior circuit this season. 

When you add in the factors of Greinke overcoming social anxiety disorder in 2006, this becomes an enthralling personal interest story with a storybook ending. 

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