Change-UpNovember 18, 2009
On Greinke and Things Related
By Patrick Sullivan

Zack Greinke won the 2009 American League Cy Young Award yesterday, capturing 25 of 28 first place votes. I am going to dive into Baseball Reference's Play Index to try and gain some perspective on Greinke's 2009 season, but first let's have a look at a couple of mainstream baseball pieces that appeared yesterday.

Since we tend to wander into the realm of media criticism from time to time here, let's start off with the negative, a look at Steve Kornacki's defense of his first place vote for Justin Verlaner.

Writes Kornacki...

Verlander received my first-place vote because nobody was tougher on the mound with the season on the line for his team.

He threw at least 120 pitches in six of his last eight outings and won his last three starts, forcing a one-game playoff against the Minnesota Twins with his final victory.

He was an inspirational "horse," using Tigers manager Jim Leyland's term for him, on a fading team.

Verlander was excellent in 2009, don't get me wrong. I don't know about "inspirational horse" but whatever, he was really good. But an honest 30-second comparison between Verlander and Greinke should do away with any confusion as to which pitcher had the better 2009 season. But Kornacki's writing in Detroit and more or less employed the classic BBWAA "I know what my eyes tell me" crutch to cast a vote for Verlander.

And that's fine. He's just one voter, and Greinke ran away with the thing. Unfortunately for Kornacki, as Tyler Kepner notes, yesterday may have represented a landmark in terms of advanced statistics infiltrating the mainstream, and Kornacki appears to have missed the boat. There's always next year, Steve!

You won't find a better piece of baseball writing all year in a daily newspaper, so be sure to go on over and check out Kepner's piece on yesterday's Greinke vote and its broader significance. But here are a couple of excerpts:

It was not surprising that Greinke won, since his earned run average, 2.16, was the lowest in the American League since 2000. But his decisive margin of victory over Seattle’s Felix Hernandez was a sign that voters overlooked his deficiency in another bedrock statistic: wins.

The article goes on to note that, thanks to his teammate Brian Bannister, Greinke has been turned on to more progressive pitching metrics. And really, in a world where so many still value wins, who can blame a Kansas City Royals starting pitcher for looking to convince himself that he really is pitching well? One can imagine how the dialogue between Bannister and Greinke might go:

Zack: Sheesh, sure feels like I am pitching well. But I only have 11 wins.

Brian: You are, and people are noticing. Here, check out Fangraphs. And Rob Neyer. And Poz.

Zack: Oh, cool. But wait, I have been digging into this stuff, and...wait...did we really just trade for Yuniesky Betancourt?

Brian: Let's not got there, Zack. Stay focused. You're an awesome pitcher.

I have read and re-read this next excerpt about 12 times now, because I can't even believe it. Kepner writes:

To that end, Bannister introduced Greinke to FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching, the statistic Greinke named Tuesday as his favorite. It is a formula that measures how well a pitcher performed, regardless of his fielders. According to, Greinke had the best FIP in the majors.

“That’s pretty much how I pitch, to try to keep my FIP as low as possible,” Greinke said.

A big, hearty congrats to the guys over at Fangraphs. They're doing great work, and fans, media members and Cy Young Award winners alike are taking notice.


OK, how great was Greinke in 2009? First of all, he eclipsed the 200 ERA+ mark. Let's just go ahead and put that one into perspective. Since 1959, it has been done 13 times by starters who have tossed at least 200 innings.

Rk Yrs To From Age
1 Pedro Martinez 3 1997 2000 25-28
2 Roger Clemens 3 1990 2005 27-42
3 Greg Maddux 2 1994 1995 28-29
4 Zack Greinke 1 2009 2009 25-25
5 Kevin Brown 1 1996 1996 31-31
6 Dwight Gooden 1 1985 1985 20-20
7 Ron Guidry 1 1978 1978 27-27
8 Bob Gibson 1 1968 1968 32-32
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/18/2009.

Here is the complete list of 200-inning, 200 ERA+ or better seasons in the last 50 years. Zack's at the bottom, but he is also one of the youngest on the list. I bet we see him back on here in the next few seasons.

Rk Player ERA+ IP Year Age Tm
1 Pedro Martinez 291 217.0 2000 28 BOS
2 Greg Maddux 271 202.0 1994 28 ATL
3 Greg Maddux 262 209.2 1995 29 ATL
4 Bob Gibson 258 304.2 1968 32 STL
5 Pedro Martinez 243 213.1 1999 27 BOS
6 Dwight Gooden 228 276.2 1985 20 NYM
7 Roger Clemens 226 211.1 2005 42 HOU
8 Roger Clemens 221 264.0 1997 34 TOR
9 Pedro Martinez 219 241.1 1997 25 MON
10 Kevin Brown 216 233.0 1996 31 FLA
11 Roger Clemens 213 228.1 1990 27 BOS
12 Ron Guidry 208 273.2 1978 27 NYY
13 Zack Greinke 203 229.1 2009 25 KCR
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/18/2009.

But, as Tyler Kepner told us, yesterday was about pitching independent numbers. ERA and ERA+ both have quite a bit to do with the defense behind a pitcher. So let's stick with the same parameters as the last table, seasons where starters have thrown at least 200 innings since 1959 only this time we will sub in K/BB ratio for ERA+.

Rk Player SO/BB IP Year Age Tm
1 Pedro Martinez 8.88 217.0 2000 28 BOS
2 Pedro Martinez 8.46 213.1 1999 27 BOS
3 Greg Maddux 7.87 209.2 1995 29 ATL
4 Greg Maddux 5.03 202.0 1994 28 ATL
5 Kevin Brown 4.82 233.0 1996 31 FLA
6 Zack Greinke 4.75 229.1 2009 25 KCR
7 Pedro Martinez 4.55 241.1 1997 25 MON
8 Bob Gibson 4.32 304.2 1968 32 STL
9 Roger Clemens 4.29 264.0 1997 34 TOR
10 Dwight Gooden 3.88 276.2 1985 20 NYM
11 Roger Clemens 3.87 228.1 1990 27 BOS
12 Ron Guidry 3.44 273.2 1978 27 NYY
13 Roger Clemens 2.98 211.1 2005 42 HOU
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/18/2009.


As you can see from the company Greinke is keeping in the tables above, his 2009 campaign was truly one for the ages. That the voters recognized this, or that they at least looked past his win total and saw that he was the AL's best in 2009, is a great sign of progress. That Greinke himself, in the pages of the country's most famous newspaper, confessed to pitching to keep his FIP as low as possible, makes yesterday even more remarkable. And the cherry on top of it all is that Greinke is a genuinely modest and curious young man who has overcome incredible mental health struggles to get to where he is today. Baseball fans and suckers for compelling personal stories alike can get behind a story such as this one.


And Greinke had to face at least one significantly better batter (2-3 times) each game than did those on the list who pitched in a league without a DH.

Man, Pedro was so nasty at the turn of the century.

It seems Pedro had the 2 best seasons in the last 50 years but a factor should not be ignored is he pitched barely the 200 innings barrier. In contrast, Maddux had the 1994 and 1995 shortened for causes we all know. Specially I may point to the 1994 season when his last game was August 11: 25 games (all started) with an average of 8.08 innings per game.
Pedro started 29 games in 1999 plus 5 innings of relief work, 7.18 innings per game. In 2000 Pedro started 29 games, 7.48 innings per game.
Considering Maddux pitched 263, 268 and 267 1991-1993, in 37, 35 and 36 games, it's conceivable he would have pitched 277 innings in 1994.
With all these numbers in mind, we should be very careful when saying Pedro's 1999 and 2000 seasons were better than Maddux's 1994.
Regarding Greinke it's really amazing he did it at age 25 (like Pedro in 1997, maybe we could see more brilliant seasons of Greinke in the next 5 years?) and it continues to amaze me Gooden was only 20 in his 1985 season.

Come on Todd, don't rain on Pedro's parade! We all know how much baseball has changed in even the past ten years when it comes to CGs and innings pitched, so don't go too far in the other direction with Pedro.

The bottom line is that all these seasons were awesome and fun to think about. I'd take any of them, thank you very much.

I'll defend wins as a career statistic. Over fifteen years or whatever, you have to be pretty good to be put in game after game (remember the old saw that you have to be a pretty good pitcher to lose twenty games in a season), plus career wins incorporate longevity, which is important when evaluating a career.

Even for relievers, even with blown saves turned into wins, over a career wins show how often they stopped the losses in a losing game, to give the team a chance to come back, or held the line in a tie game, plus indicates something about how much their manager trusted them.

Games started or Games is a better measure of this stuff, combined with other stats, but over a career wins at least will aggregate a number of measures of effectiveness in one easy to see number. Then you look at the rest of the line.

I agree in a single season wins are pretty meaningless, in fact I thought that even thirty years ago, and I always was amused by how often starting pitchers who have won the magic twenty games beat starting pitchers with much lower ERAs (never mind the other stats) in these ballots.

@Todd - Innings pitched definitely matter. It's why Pedro will go down as merely one of the best 5 pitchers of all time as opposed to the very best. It is still my belief, however, that no starting pitcher has ever been better than Martinez was at his peak.

@Ed - Wins are not necessarily meaningless, it's just that in the presence of a bunch of other, better stats, they tell us nothing at all incremental. Wins do correlate with good pitching, but that's about the extent of their statistical importance.

@Sully: At first, I thought you were saying Pedro would go down as one of the 15 best pichers of all time. I find very interesting you're saying "best 5". I assume you're giving a lot of credit to him for being so good at his peak. While I don't completely share your argument, I can understand your point.
Would you mind to say which pitchers might be in that list of 5 best ever?

Off the top of my head, how about Walter Johnson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Pedro, Roger Clemens and Lefty Grove in whatever order you would like?

Unit, Maddux, Seaver, Mathewson are all knocking on the door...

I am sure I am omitting some.

Since Pedro Martinez was brought up, here is a link to an article that claims that even with relatively low IP, his 1999 & 2000 seasons are near the top of the greatest seasons ever. Some nutcase wrote it at some obscure website

Click here to read it.

Also, can anyone explain how Bill James gives both Greinke and Hernandez 26 Win Shares?

Great for Zack, he was the clear pick

...but I do find the commentary on the 'bad voters' a bit too much sometimes, it is more likely to entrench opinions than change them.

Verlander is a 'defensible pick' if you don't look too deeply at the numbers, he also pitched with the season on the line if you care about such (I don't, looks like the voter did).

For example
I am a writer, I know Zack, Felix, Verlander, Halliday, CC have been very good.

I like the triple crown stats, I notice that for Wins, ERA and SO that Verlander (jt 1, 6, 1) leads 2 of the cats, Greinke (jt 7, 1, 2) leads 1, ergo I vote Verlander 1.

Cyril - thanks for linking back to your piece. It was a great read, and one of my favorite DH spots.

Paul - I hear you, and was reluctant to do it. But I couldn't resist given Kepner's piece claiming a watershed moment for more progressive statistical analysis while Kornacki was still going with "inspirational horse"...


Glad you liked it. Thanks.


slight over reaction on my part :)

didn't realise that the Verlander vote was actually a homer vote and i gave him too much credit.

Happy that the best AL and NL pitchers won the Cy Young, though there is another voter being flamed on the web over the NL votes.

Maybe the CY needs more than 3 place votes, that way when a writer throws a bone to an under appreciated pitcher causing one of the 3 favourites to miss out, then they don't get destroyed online

The move towards a more sabermetric approach to baseball analysis has been and will continue to be controversial, but I also think it's inexorable. Keith Law is being savaged in the comments section at ESPN, but many of the comments are also supporting his decision, and others are lauding him for writing an article that explains his selections.

As we move towards a trend to evaluate players more on the numbers and less on 'feel,' I think it becomes much more important to see voters explain their reasoning for their picks. I look forward to the day when emotional arguments become a rarity and voters hesitate to make picks that they cannot defend without words like "grit" and "pitched to the score" and so on.

"Zach's one of the youngest on the list. I bet we see him on here again in the next few seasons"....Yeah, just like Dwight Gooden

The problem with end-of-season awards is that only one player can win. There's something amiss about Verlander and Hernandez, with the great seasons they had, walking home with nothing while Pete Vuckovich still has a CYA in his trophy case.

1999-2000 Pedro was like watching an Olympian who got bored and decided to play baseball for a while.

Greinke had a great year, the voters got it right.