Greinke's Cy Young Award is a victory over the victory
Zack Greinke is the first AL Cy Young winner with just 16 wins in a full season
He easily beat the Mariners' Felix Hernandez, who went 19-5 with a 2.48 ERA
Greinke's win could signal a change in thinking that has overvalued the win
Every so often in this crazy sports racket, you can't help but feel like the conversation has changed ever so slightly ... and changed for the better. Zack Greinke won the American League Cy Young Award on Tuesday. More than that, he breezed to the award. He was named first on 25 of 28 ballots. He was the runaway winner.
And he did it with only 16 victories.
This is kind of amazing, if you think about it. Before I begin, I should probably explain quickly to those who have missed it that I cannot stand the pitcher's victory as a prominent baseball statistic. I quote victories more often than I should because they are inescapable. But crediting the pitcher for a victory has always been somewhat absurd and also -- as Crash Davis said in Bull Durham about strikeouts -- fascist. Why would you give one guy a "victory?" A pitcher has only so much control over how many hits/runs he allows, and he has almost no control over how many hits/runs his team scores. If a third baseman hits three home runs and makes two great plays, shouldn't HE get the victory?
As ridiculous as the pitching victories thing was in the 1970s and before, when pitchers threw complete games with regularity, it's even more ridiculous now because they don't. Starting pitchers generally go five, six or seven innings ... why in the hell should they get a VICTORY for that?
But I digress. Before Greinke, only one starting pitcher in the history of the American League Cy Young had won the award with as few as 16 victories. That, surprisingly enough, was also a Kansas City Royals pitcher -- David Cone in 1994. Of course, the big difference is 1994 was a strike year. Cone went 16-5 in only 23 starts that year.
Four National League starters have won the Cy Young with 16 or less. Fernando Valenzuela won 13 in the 1981 strike season -- a season which mostly exists to force sportswriters to use the words "Except for the 1981 strike season" in their stories. Greg Maddux won 16 in the 1994 strike year. Rick Sutcliffe went 16-1 after being traded to the Cubs in 1984 and won the National League Cy Young (he actually won 20 games with the Cubs and Indians). And then there was Brandon Webb in 2006 -- he too won the Cy Young with 16 victories, but that was a weird year because Webb's 16 victories actually LED THE LEAGUE (well, he was part of a six-way tie at the top).
So, this is a little bit different -- this is the first season, I think, when a starter with 16 victories won the award over a viable Cy Young choice with more victories. And there was a very good choice -- Felix Hernandez went 19-5, had a great 2.48 ERA, pitched incredible baseball in the second half and so on. There's little question in my mind that King Felix would have won the award in years past, and I'm not even saying that's wrong. I'm saying it's fairly incredible that the way we watch and study baseball has changed so much that he did not win it this time around.
No, the winner was Zack, with 16 victories. He had a great, great year as we have written here many, many times -- led the league in ERA, WHIP and homers per nine innings, was second in strikeouts, shutouts, complete games and hits per nine. On top of that, he won the Cy Young while pitching for a terrible hitting and fielding team. He won the Cy Young while pitching in a Kansas City market without much media exposure*. He won it while pitching for a team that lost 97 games.
*Even as I typed those words, I realized that the whole "not much media exposure" cry for Kansas City is probably as obsolete as judging a pitcher by his victories. I would guess that for a young fan raised on the Internet, the Royals probably feel preposterously OVEREXPOSED, what with Rob Neyer and Rany Jazayerli and Bill James and Jeff Passan and Sam Mellinger and, you know, others, having a Kansas City slant.
In fact, I wonder -- and you can e-mail me your answer if you like -- who you think are the five most overexposed teams in baseball. You can include everything -- TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, Internet, people in your office who will not shut up, etc. Rank the teams in order, Top 5. And if you are just about to send me an e-mail with this ...
... you don't have to. Really.
The Greinke award -- especially him winning so easily -- feels something like progress. Or at least it feels that way to me because (A) I have been in the tank for Greinke since before the season began and (B) I probably am a hard-liner when it comes to using victories as a way to measure pitchers. Of course, I have been saying for weeks that he WOULD win the Cy Young. But was I as confident as I wrote? Probably not. I kept looking at King Felix's 19-5 record and thinking: That could definitely change things.
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