Sunday, September 13, 2009

I Thought Some Of 'Em Were Friends Of Mine

...I was wrong about 'em all
(From "Cold Irons Bound," Time Out Of Mind)

You can't blame Zack Greinke if he feels that way about his teammates. For me, and I'm sure for most Royals fans, this season can't end fast enough. There is a lot of bitterness out there--just read any game thread on Royals Review, or consider the hiatus a normally mild-mannered sort like Rany has self-imposed. I'm not going to point fingers at anyone who wants to stop paying attention to this team for a while, or question their fandom. That's your choice, and I can't blame you--it is harder every day to care about this franchise and their unique mixture of incompetence and arrogance.

But there is one remaining reason to pay at least a little attention to the rest of this season, and that is Greinke's quest for a Cy Young award. Of course, winning the award isn't going to make this disappointing season any easier to take, but I think every Royals fan is hoping that Zack will win a nice shiny trophy for his trophy case and be recognized for what he is: the best pitcher in the American League in 2009. It would be the capper on a great story, and I think we all believe Zack deserves something special for pitching so well for the worst team in the AL.

However, there is concern that the media types who vote for these awards will look at Zack's rather paltry win total (13) and decide somehow that CC Sabathia or Justin Verlander or Roy Halladay must be better, simply by having more wins.

You and I know (probably) that wins are a terrible way to measure a pitcher. If the Royals have done nothing else this year, they have certainly provided Exhibit A in the case against the Pitcher Wins stat. How can a pitcher lead the league in ERA, WHIP and shutouts and be near the lead in strikeouts, innings pitched and complete games and not even get close to 20 wins? When he playes for a low-scoring team that can't catch the ball. And of course, neither of those factors are things Zack can control.

Zack has made 29 starts this year, and the Royals have put together a total of 101 runs in those games, an average of 3.48 runs per game. Even for the Royals' pathetic offense, this is below average; KC is scoring 4.08 runs per game overall this year. I went through Zack's game logs for this season and tried to figure out what his record would be if the Royals could have just scored 4 runs per game for him (mind you, league average is 4.83 R/G, so this isn't even giving him averag support). For this exercise, I supposed the Royals had a "4" on the scoreboard when Zack left and the bullpen work stayed the same, no matter how crappy it was.

Unsurprisingly, the Cy Young race would be over. Zack would be 18-3. The Royals would be 18-8 when he pitches (with three times where the opponent ended up with 4 runs), instead of their pathetic 14-15 record in his starts, so they'd have at least 4 more wins this year.

Under these same conditions, Halladay would be 15-5 (he's currently 14-9), Sabathia would be 16-6 (he's currently 16-7), and Verlander would be 17-4 (currently 16-8). So none of these guys have suffered as much from a crappy offense as Zack has. For further evidence, look at their run support: Sabathia has received 5.73 R/G, Halladay 4.86 R/G, and Verlander 4.63 R/G. They're all getting at least 1 more run per start than Greinke.

And of course, Zack has put together this amazing season with one more disadvantage: unlike those other three, Greinke has not had one start against the league's second-most feeble offense, measured in runs. That would be the guys dressing in the same locker room as he is. When he faced the only AL offense to score fewer runs than the Royals, he tossed perhaps his most dominant game, a 1-hit shutout of Seattle. Coincidentally, that was the last time Zack got a win. Since then, in two starts, he's given up 2 runs (1 earned) in 15 innings. His mates have backed him up with a total of 3 runs, and it took 23 innings to manage that.

I am about 75% certain the voters will do the right thing and give Zack his Cy Young award. But that's only because no pitcher in the AL this year is piling up wins. With a win today, Sabathia took the league lead over Verlander (and Scott Feldman of Texas) at 17. It looks like Greinke will get 4 more starts this year. If the Royals can just squeeze out a few runs for him and he gets to 15 or 16 wins, that ought to be enough. I hope. It would help if no one makes it to 20, since I'm afraid the old-fashioned types voting for the award couldn't resist the pull of a nice round number.