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.
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
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 --
Four National League starters have won the Cy Young with 16 or less.
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 --
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.
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.
And in other years, yes, I think it would have changed things. There are a few examples of great pitchers getting little or no Cy Young support because they did not win games.
A bonus mention should be given, however, to
• In 1993, Cincinnati's
• In the American League in 1993,
• In 1978,
And so on. This is not to say that these players got cheated -- my feeling on it is that you either win the Cy Young or you don't. Second or third place, while fun to talk about, are not especially memorable for most. And I would say the only one of these five who SHOULD have won the Cy Young was Kevin Brown. I'm just saying that wins have always played at least some role in the voting. But with the game changing -- there were no 20-game winners again this season, just like 2006 -- and with people (fans, writers, analysts, everyone it seems except a few former players) attempting to go deeper with pitching analysis, I think this year wins played very little role in people's thinking. And that's why Zack Greinke won.
Of course, because of my crazy mind, I do wish we could come up with something like wins and losses (but better) that would tell us at a glance just how effective a season a pitcher had. Bill James' Game Scores and Season scores are fun. Win Probability Added -- which, to wildly oversimplify, adds up an entire season's worth of winning/losing plays to estimate how many wins a player adds to a team -- is extremely helpful.
But, yes, I can see why people would be drawn to pitchers wins (and losses). It's simple, it's clear-cut and appeals to the certainty we want from baseball. Who is the best winner? If he was so good, why didn't he win more? If he was so bad, how did he win so many? And so on. Wins have had a powerful pull on the American baseball fan and writer for a long time, and I do not doubt that it will again. But for now, the win is humbled. Zack Greinke wins the Cy Young -- a rare victory without many victories.