When you look at the numbers that matter, Zack Greinke has probably been the 7th most valuable pitcher in the American League this season. Given that the voting for the Cy Young has expanded from 1-3 to 1-5 this year, there's every reason to believe that, when you factor in individual voter whims, Greinke should end up with the odd 4th or 5th place vote here or there.
Now, I don't think that this is actually likely to happen. The baseball writers who vote on the major awards tend to do weird things with their down-ballot votes (although this is much more rampant in the MVP voting, which goes 10 deep). Nevertheless, even in the Cy Young and Rookie of the Year voting, over the years we've seen a fair number of bad-to-random-to-interesting down-ballot votes. I hope that Greinke picks up a few this year. Hey, I'm a fan. More importantly, I think he deserves the recognition.
The perception is that Greinke has obviously had a down year, and we've heard all manner of explanation why. He couldn't repeat 2009. (Who could? That was one of the greatest seasons of all-time.) He's bummed that the Royals are still bad. The pressure got to him. Etc. Because of Greinke's back-story, there's an even greater rush amongst everyone to look for some kind of psychological angle. In addition to being specious and potentially insulting, many of these memes are simply inaccurate. The Royals, for example, were pretty bad last year. Moreover, I think they overstate the problem. Quite simply, Greinke has been a very good pitcher this year.
Greinke's success on the mound this season has been obscured by his W-L record and by his ERA, both of which are tied up with his teammates in complicated ways. When you look at the stats that attempt to focus strictly on what Greinke can control, a different picture emerges.
With a K/9 of 7.40 and a BB/9 of 2.25, Greinke still controlled the strike zone very well in 2010. His K/BB of 3.29 ranked 8th amongst AL starters. Once again, his ERA was inflated by the fact that he pitched in front of a bad Royal defense. Think of some of the infields the Royals have sent out there this season. Both the fancy stats and the empirical observations suggest that Greinke wasn't done many favors by his teammates. All those extra hits add up over the course of a season.
Thus, his FIP, an attempt to reflect on an ERA scale how the pitcher alone has done, is a shiny 3.35, good for 7th in the AL.
Because Greinke has generally pitched very well over the course of his 220 innings, he's been very valuable to the Royals, whether or not they were able to do anything with it. Here are the WAR rankings for AL pitchers:
- Lee: 7.0
- Felix: 6.4
- Verlander: 6.3
- Weaver: 6.0
- Liriano: 6.0
- Lester: 5.6
- Greinke: 5.2
Notably, Greinke comes out ahead of both Price and Sabathia, along with the scores of closers who will inevitably pick up votes. Innings matter.
I don't advocate a straight-WAR ballot from the Baseball Writers. However, I do think it should be part of the discussion. There's a perception out there that Greinke has been medicore this year, that he's struggled to live up to the expectations. That just isn't true. If he'd pitched for a good team, hell, a mediocre team, things would look different. If he pitched for the Yankees, they'd be building statues of him.
Closers are going to get votes. Lesser pitchers like Matt Garza and Gavin Floyd and CC Sabathia are going to get votes. I hope that Zack gets a few.