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Friday, October 16, 2009

BBA Awards Ballot: Cy Young (AL)

Much to my surprise and glee, the BBA Rookie of the Year in the NL went to Andrew McCutchen. Check it out. The BBA voters weren't at all swayed by Chris Coghlan's high batting average or the gaudy ERA of J.A. Happ, resoundingly supporting McCutchen, who garnered twelve of the twenty first-place votes and 65 total points. Tommy Hanson finished second with 50 points and Happ third with 27 points. Let's hope the BBWAA is as thoughtful in their selections. On the AL side, the BBA went with Andrew Bailey (48 pts.), followed by Rick Porcello (36) and Elvis Andrus (28).

I've had a hard time deciding in which league to cast my Cy Young ballot. In the end, laziness got the better of me. I, like most people, believe Chris Carpenter, Tim Lincecum, and Adam Wainwright belong on the NL ballot, but deciding upon their order was going to require a parsing of hairs which frankly exceeded my patience this weekend. Instead, let's check on the AL, where things are slightly more cut and dry:

3. Justin Verlander - Detroit Tigers

19-9, 3.45 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 240 IP, 269 K/63 BB, 8.2 WAR

I wouldn't have a terrible problem with Felix Hernandez or C. C. Sabathia in this spot, but Verlander sold me on his candidacy with three excellent starts to finish the season, when the Tigers needed him most. I'm also partial to pitchers who go deep into games (see Halladay, Roy). Verlander was certainly that. He led the league in innings (and also strikeouts). Fourteen times Verlander pitched in the eighth or beyond. He threw three hundred more pitches (3931) than anybody in baseball, the highest total for a pitcher since 2005. It's worth noting that Verlander has been willing to take this kind of "abuse" despite the fact that he has yet to sign his first big deal. The Tigers Ace is still two years away from free agency. Hopefully, Jim Leyland won't destroy his arm before he gets a crack at a Sabathia-sized payday.

2. Roy Halladay - Toronto Blue Jays

17-10, 2.79 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 239 IP, 208 K/35 BB, 7.3 WAR

It will surprise exactly nobody that I'm placing Halladay higher than the average voter. He's been my favorite pitcher and one of my favorite players for years. However, this isn't exactly favoritism to the detriment of rationale. Halladay did lead all of baseball, again, in complete games (9) and shutouts (4). His K/BB ratio (5.94) also led both leagues and his pitches per plate appearance (3.52) was tied for lowest in the AL (with Nick Blackburn). He was third in the AL in ERA, second in innings pitched, tied for fourth in wins, and fifth in strikouts.

In my mind, what really separates Halladay from the other excellent American League pitchers of 2009 is the quality of his competition. The Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays finished 1, 3, and 5 in the AL in scoring this season. Roy Halladay had to make 15(!) of his 32 starts against those three teams. He went 6-7 (2.97 ERA) against them. He went 11-3 (2.62 ERA) against everybody else. The strength of his competition pushes him ahead of bigger winners like Sabathia, Verlander, and Hernandez. If he had, say, two more starts against the Royals and the A's instead of New York and Boston, he'd likely be sneaking up towards #1 on most ballots.
1. Zack Greinke - Kansas City Royals

16-8, 2.16 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 229 1/3 IP, 242 K/51 BB, 9.4 WAR

Greinke probably punched his ticket with the BBWAA when he won his sixteenth game. (Fernando Velenzuela remains the only starting pitcher to take home a Cy Young with less than sixteen wins, something Tim Lincecum fans would probably rather not hear.) In truth, Greinke should win it regardless. He had a downright dominating season, posting the best ERA in the AL since Pedro's legend-making 1999 season (18-6, 1.74). And, of course, his win total was probably considerably suppressed by playing for the Royals. Six times Greinke went seven or more innings allowing one earned run or less and didn't get a win. A dozen times he registered a quality start and ended up with a loss or no decision.

It's great to see this kind of comeback story as well. As recently as 2006 Greinke was suffering from such severe depression and social anxiety that he had to take some time off from the game and seek professional help. In an interview with the Kansas City Star he described an amazing form of psychological transference where he believed his unhappiness was the result of being a hitter trapped in a pitcher's body:

"I thought that was why I hated baseball. I thought it was because I wanted to hit...At least once a month I'd be crying to myself while I'm going to bed with a bat in my hand, just swinging it...I was waiting for a bad season. I was even hoping I'd have a bad season so I could be a hitter or be done with baseball period...As soon as I started taking the medication, I started feeling better and I really didn't have any desire to go back to being a hitter anymore."
(Kansas City Star, 2/22/07)

Talk about a ringing endorsement. Pharmaceutical companies are salivating. A baseball player hasn't sold this many pills since Rafael Palmeiro hawked Viagra (oh yes, that did happen). Seriously though, one has to applaud the Royals for their patience and support, and for having the wisdom to sign Greinke to a four year, $38 Million contract right before his breakout season.

Honorable Mentions: Felix Hernandez (SEA), C. C. Sabathia (NYY), Jon Lester (BOS)

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