Can Zack Greinke Win the Cy Young?

September 19, 2009

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Zack Greinke of the Kansas City Royals is having a great season.  After teasing us with his potential the last few years, he has turned the corner and blossomed into a bona fide, unquestioned ace.  He leads baseball with a 2.14 ERA.  Batters are hitting just .231 against him, with an anemic OPS of .612.  He is second in the American league with 224 strikeouts (in 210 1/3 innings).  He has walked just 44 batters – resulting in a spectacular strikeout : walk ratio of 5:1.  He has also done a nice job of keeping the ball in the park, allowing just 11 home runs this year.

Every pitcher has some bumps in the road during the course of the season.  It is very difficult to spot Greinke’s speed bumps this year.  There are really only  two games that would qualify as “bad” – an August 3rd matchup with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in which Greinke gave up ten hits and three walks in five innings and a June 5th game against the Blue Jays in which he gave up seven runs (five earned) and nine hits.  There are only two other games in which he gave up more than three earned runs (including a game in which he allowed three homers, but just four runs).  In Greinke’s other 26 starts, he has allowed three or fewer runs.  Greinke also goes deep into games.  He has pitched at least six innings in 26 of his starts, including nine games in which he has pitched eight or more innings.

In short, when Greinke goes to the mound, the Royals can be very confident that he’s going to go six or more innings and allow three or fewer runs.  This means that Greinke puts them in a strong position to win every time he pitches.

What, then, is the problem?

The problem is the fact that the Royals are not winning.  They have the worst record in the American League, with just 59 wins and 87 losses.  The lack of run support has dragged Greinke’s numbers down.  He has just 14 wins and 8 losses, while also racking up no-decisions in many games during which he has pitched great.  After roaring out to a 10-3 start by June 28, he didn’t pick up his 11th win until August 8th.  During his six start winless stretch, he posted a 3.65 ERA with 48 strikeouts in 37 innings pitched – great numbers that should have resulted in a much better record than 0-4.  On a team such as the Yankees, Greinke would likely already have 20 wins in the bank, and would be clearing a spot on his mantle for the inevitable Cy Young award.

Greinke’s win total leaves him three behind AL leader CC Sabathia of the Yankees, although Sabathia has an ERA more than a run higher than Greinke’s.  If Sabathia reaches 20 wins, will the Cy Young voters (sports writers) hand him the Cy Young?  Or will they look behind the traditionally “sexy” statistic of wins and vote for the person who has been the most outstanding pitcher in the American League this year – Zack Greinke?

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