As a Mariners’ fan I wanted Felix Hernandez to win this year’s AL Cy Young Award, because as a rule of thumb Seattle sports don’t win much (and no, I’m not forgetting about you Storm). After all, Hernandez came up through the farm system and matured before our eyes from a 19-year-old prodigy into a certified staff ace. He was dominant in 2009, leading a pedestrian Mariners team to an 85-win season, and looking better and better as the year progressed. The King finally lived up to his nickname, winning 19 games with a 2.49 ERA and 217 K’s, but even as a Mariners fan, I knew Felix didn’t deserve the award. C.C. Sabathia, Justin Verlander and Roy Halladay didn’t even deserve to be in the discussion; it was truly a two-horse race, and unfortunately, sweet Barbaro wasn’t one of them. No, Hernandez picked a bad season for his coming out party because, despite being stuck in the baseball wasteland that is Kansas City, Royals right-hander Zach Greinke was the best pitcher in 2009, not just in the American League…but in the entire sport.
Although his finish to the 2008 season should have raised a few eyebrows (4-1 with a 2.18 ERA in September), Greinke came into the year with virtually no fanfare—but it didn’t take long for that to change. By the end of the season’s first month, Sports Illustrated was heralding Greinke as the game’s best pitcher and it was easy to see why. In five April starts, the Royals’ ace went 5-0, had a dead-ball era 0.50 ERA and struck out 44 batters in only 36 innings. Kansas City was riding high and looking like a favorite in the AL Central but as often happens to a team that relies on Mike Jacobs as the big bat in their lineup, the Royals quickly faded from contention and Greinke was once again left to toil in obscurity. That didn’t stop him from mowing down hitters though, and despite some sub par run support (is Mark Teahan really hitting cleanup?) Zach-Attack cruised into the All-Star break with a 10-5 record, 2.12 ERA and amazingly, only four HR’s allowed in 127 innings. Although somehow not chosen to start the All-Star game, he made the most of his opportunity, striking out two NL batters in one inning and showing a national audience that he was a true star in the making.
The second half of the season was a struggle for Greinke, as he won only six games in 15 starts, though the blame clearly fell on the woeful Kansas City offense. The Royals only managed to score 13 runs in Greinke’s eight losses (1.6 runs/game) on the season, while scoring just 21 runs in his nine no-decisions (2.33 runs/game). Playing for a team with an average offense, Greinke would likely have finished with 22-23 wins, instead of the 16 he collected with Kansas City, and the Cy Young race wouldn’t have been a race at all, rather a runaway. Despite his team’s numerous shortcomings (no offense Sidney Ponson), Greinke never let up and capped off his historic season with a 3-0 record and 0.55 ERA in September.
If you take away wins (unfair, I know, but so is playing for K.C.), the choice of Zach Greinke as the Cy Young was really a no brainer (a good thing for voters):
–>Greinke: 2.16 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 242 K’s/51 walks, 6 complete games
–>Hernandez: 2.49 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 217 K’s/71 walks, 2 complete games
If that’s not enough, digging even deeper shows that Greinke was at his best when it mattered most (which technically is never when pitching for the Royals, but bear with me). He held hitters to a .253 average with the bases empty, and incredibly was tougher with runners on, allowing opposing batters a miniscule .197 average and .235 OBP. Even when batters got ahead in the count Greinke was unhittable. He faced 111 batters with a three ball count, which typically favors hitters not named Yuniesky Betancourt, yet he held those batters to 19 hits, or a Richie Sexson-esque .171 average. The 26-year-old righty showed his true grit by improving each time through the lineup (.264 average on first plate appearance vs .189 average on third plate appearance), and holding hitters to a .199 BA with runners in scoring position. By any statistical measure you choose to look at Zack Grienke, was the best pitcher in the AL, and it wasn’t even close.
Although often criticized for questionable and uneducated decisions (cough–Derek Jeter Gold Glove–cough) baseball voters got the right man this time. Not only was Zach Grienke a great story in overcoming social anxiety disorder, but he was also baseball’s best pitcher all season long. It looks like the Royals have found their ace for the next decade, now if they only could find a catcher, first baseman, shortstop, second baseman, right fielder, third baseman and left fielder, they might be in business. Regardless of the talent (or lack thereof) that surrounded him, Zack Grienke pitched like a superstar all year and was more than worthy of the 2009 AL Cy Young award. Here’s hoping the humble young pitcher carries his success into next season…and brings some much needed hope to a hapless franchise.
Filed under: AL Central, AL West, Baseball, Seattle Mariners | Tagged: 2009 AL Cy Young, Barbaro, C.C. Sabathia, cy young, derek jeter, felix hernandez, justin verlander, Kansas City Royals, mark teahan, mike jacobs, New York Yankees, richie sexson, Roy Halladay, Seattle Mariners, sports illustrated, yuniesky betancourt, zach greinke |