Greinke takes Cy Young lead!

September, 23, 2009
9/23/09
12:50
PM ET
Shortly after Joakim Soria locked up Zack Greinke's 15th win last night, I saw this Tweet from Joe Posnanski:
    @robneyer Blog readers want to know ... the Cy Predictor has Zack third in the AL at the moment. Will he win the Cy Young?
How could I resist such a challenge?

It's been my (uninformed) impression that Bill James' Cy Young Predictor hasn't been working well since unveiled six years ago in this book.

I was wrong. With one caveat, the Predictor has worked exceptionally well.

The caveat is that the Predictor doesn't really know how to handle relievers. Bill admitted as much, writing, "Whatever it is that causes a relief pitcher to ring bells with the voters, the formula doesn't reliably quantify it."

Indeed. The formula has "missed" four of the last 12 winners, and every time it was because of some stupid relief pitcher.

• In 2003, the Predictor predicted that closer Keith Foulke would win; instead Roy Halladay won and Foulke finished seventh.

• Also in '03, the Predictor predicted that Mark Prior would win; instead closer Eric Gagne won and Prior finished third.

• In 2004, the Predictor did like Gagne as the winner, but Roger Clemens won and Gagne finished seventh.

• And in 2005, the Predictor liked Mariano Rivera, but Bartolo Colon won and Rivera finished second.

In every case but one, the Predictor's highest-ranked starting pitcher wound up as the highest-ranked starter in the Cy Young balloting. The exception was Prior, who finished just a hair behind second-place Jason Schmidt in 2003 (for reasons that are today not apparent).

The point being, we should take the Predictor quite seriously when it comes to the starters. And at this moment, the Predictor has Greinke in first place, just slightly ahead of Felix Hernandez and CC Sabathia.

Those rankings can change quickly, though; before beating the Red Sox last night, Greinke was slightly behind those other two guys. Sabathia's going to pick up four more bonus points for the Yankees' division title, which would (as things stand now) tie him with Hernandez, just two points behind Greinke. From there, it's all about the wins and losses. Each of these guys is going to start twice more, and I suspect that whoever wins both starts will wind up at the top of the Predictor.

If the Cy Young ballots were due today, I've little doubt that Greinke would win. The Predictor says he would win, and nearly all the scuttlebutt says he would win. But I'm not convinced yet that he will win. We know that he could wind up third in the Predictor. As for the scuttlebutt, couldn't that change, too? What if Greinke loses his last two starts to finish 15-10, while King Felix finishes 18-5 and/or Sabathia finishes 20-7?

You know someone's going to vote for those 20 wins. And if Felix goes 18-5 and Greinke 15-10, it's likely that Greinke's ERA edge will be fairly small.

Like I said, right now Greinke's the guy. But there's still room for this thing to get really interesting.

*****

Oh, and something else to watch. As my friend Rany Jazayerli notes, Greinke's got a shot at the Royals' franchise record for lowest ERA in a season.

The current record-holder?

Nope, not Bret Saberhagen or Kevin Appier or David Cone or Charlie Leibrandt or even Jose Lima.

The record is held by Roger Nelson, who posted a 2.08 ERA in 1972. A couple of caveats, though. Nelson started only 19 games that season and pitched only 173 innings. Also, the American League ERA in 1972 was 3.07, so low that the owners were inspired to introduct the DH in 1973.

What Greinke is really doing is making a bid for the best season by a starting pitcher in franchise history, and his competition is just one: in 1989, Saberhagen went 23-6 with a 2.16 ERA. Relative to the league ERA, Greinke's 2.08 ERA is significantly more impressive, but then again Saberhagen pitched 262 innings (Greinke's going to finish with 225-230).

Greinke is 25 this season. Twenty years ago Saberhagen was 25, and had all the talent in the world. He would win only 75 more games, and never more than 15 in one season.

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.

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