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Thursday, September 3, 2009
Fisking Mo's Cy Young candidacy

With no prototypical overwhelming Cy Young candidate in the American League, you're going to start hearing some talk about Mariano Rivera, who's finished second or third in the balloting four times but has never won the award. And not as some sort of Lifetime Achievement Award; he may turn 40 this winter, but he's turning in one of his best seasons in a long string of a great ones.

Actually, the talk has already started, and Craig Calcaterra's having none of it:

Look, the best starting pitcher in the league is always going to be my default choice for the Cy Young Award. This year, that's obviously Zack Greinke. In this decade, only one American League pitcher has enjoyed a demonstrably better season than Greinke's 2009 (so far): Pedro Martinez. Unless Greinke pitches poorly this month, it'll be awfully hard to justify giving the award to anyone else (though lots of people will try, particularly if CC Sabathia or Felix Hernandez wins 20 games).

That said, I do worry that some of my friends are a bit too quick to dismiss the reliefers. Craig's probably right about Rivera this season, because he did give up some runs early in the season and he will wind up with only 60-some innings (particularly in light of his injury).

But Rivera's job is to seal the deal in close games, and while nobody's ever been better than him, this season he's been particularly effective, converting 38 of his 39 save opportunities. Even good closers typically blow five or six saves in a season. Last season, Francisco Rodriguez set a record with 62 saves but blew seven chances; this season he's converted 28 of 33.

One might argue, then, that Rivera's been roughly five games better than a good closer. Which is, what? Eight or nine games better than a replacement-level closer? Eight or nine games is a LOT.

So if you find a full-time closer who's perfect or very nearly perfect -- as Brad Lidge was last season, and Rivera has been this season -- let's take a long, serious look at him. Because in a season without a Pedro Martinez or a Zack Greinke, he just might be the most valuable pitcher in the league. Even at 65 or 70 innings.