Is Greinke the best in the game?

May, 1, 2009
5/01/09
5:01
PM ET
Is Zack Greinke the pitcher in the majors? Justin Sablich is a tad skeptical ...
  Greinke
    There is no denying the remarkable ability of Royals ace Zack Greinke, or the compelling story of how he has battled back from bouts with depression and social anxiety, as The Times's Jack Curry reported. But is Greinke all-of-a-sudden the best pitcher in baseball, as Sports Illustrated proclaimed?

    This season, Greinke's stats make his case. He hadn't given up an earned run until Wednesday, when he won by striking out eight Toronto Blue Jays in seven innings. He has won each of his five starts, posting a 0.50 E.R.A. with 44 strike outs in 36 innings.

    Another pitcher who has been considered by many to be the best pitcher in baseball has similarly impressive numbers: Johan Santana hasn't won all of his starts, but he has the same number of strike outs as Greinke with a 1.10 E.R.A.

    It's too early to give out labels like "best pitcher in baseball" after one month of action, but if you are going to try, Santana deserves consideration. He has a longer track record than Greinke to back up his already impressive numbers this season.

Greinke's probably been the best pitcher so far. In 36 innings, he's walked eight hitters and struck out 44, and given up zero home runs. In 33 innings, Santana has walked nine, struck out 44, and given up two homers. But of course Greinke's been facing DH's in his starts; without checking I'll guess that Santana has faced a pitcher at least 10 times.

Even without checking the other batters each has faced, we might reasonably assume that Greinke's been the better pitcher this season. It's probably not all that close. But that's the question we're trying to answer. What we want to know is not who's been the best, but rather who is the best. Put another way, if you could have one pitcher for the rest of this season, who would you choose?

In 2008, Greinke was the 22nd best pitcher in the majors, at least as measured by VORP. I don't believe that VORP accounts for the American League's superiority, but even that adjustment would move Greinke up just a couple of spots into 20th (with both Greinke and Mike Mussina skipping ahead of Ricky Nolasco).

Of course we should not assume that Greinke's April of 2009 means nothing; that incredible month tells us something about him, too. But last season, Santana was the third best pitcher in the majors, Tim Lincecum was the fourth best, Roy Halladay the fifth best, Dan Haren the ninth best.

If you could have one pitcher, would you take Greinke ahead of all those guys? Would you take him ahead of CC Sabathia (who was second best)?

Maybe you would. I wouldn't, and I suspect that most general managers wouldn't, either. He just might have crashed into the top five with one of the more stunning Aprils we've ever seen. But to take over the top spot, he'll have to pitch brilliantly in May, too.

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