The Royals’ Zack Greinke was a runaway winner in the AL Cy Young voting, which was announced on Tuesday, netting 25 out of 28 first-place votes. Greinke finished with a major league-low 2.16 ERA while striking out 242 hitters in 229.1 innings. His won-loss record was 16-8, certainly respectable, but also tied with Brandon Webb for the lowest win total by a starting pitcher in a non-strike season.
Indeed, it’s a win for advanced metrics today. The Baseball Writers Association of America voters took a bold step into the 21st century today by demonstrating an understanding that Greinke’s win total was compromised by playing for a last place club, and that other statistics — ERA, VORP, WARP, SNLVAR, FIP, DIPS and their acronymous playmates — better illustrated his value. Not only that, the winner’s underlying strategy on the mound has been colored by his understanding of sabermetrics:
Hernandez had two first-place votes, and Detroit’s Justin Verlander the other. The Yankees’ C. C. Sabathia finished fourth, and Toronto’s Roy Halladay was fifth. All of those pitchers had more wins than Greinke, who was 16-8 for a team that tied for last in the A.L. Central. Hernandez was 19-5 with a 2.49 E.R.A.
“I thought that could push him over the top, because his won-loss record was way better than mine,” Greinke said. “But I’m also a follower, since Brian Bannister’s on our team, of sabermetric stuff and going into details of stats about what you can control.”
Bannister, a right-handed starter, is known for his appreciation of modern pitching metrics, which emphasize the factors for which pitchers are essentially responsible: walks, strikeouts, home runs and hit batters. In Greinke, he found a like mind.
“He’s extremely bright, and he’s really picked up on using all the information out there to make his game better,” Bannister said by telephone. “He’s always had the talent. His confidence level, which is extremely high, combined with his knowledge of the numbers behind the game now, definitely makes him one of the best pitchers in the world.”
Bannister said Greinke has learned to adjust his pitching based on the advanced defensive statistics. Because of the size of the outfield at Kauffman Stadium and the strength of the Royals’ outfielders, relative to their infielders, it sometimes made more sense to induce fly balls.
“David DeJesus had our best zone rating,” Bannister said, referring to the Royals’ left fielder. “So a lot of times, Zack would pitch for a fly ball at our park instead of a ground ball, just because the zone rating was better in our outfield and it was a big park.”
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 fangraphs.com, 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.
Congratulations to Zack Greinke, the thinking man’s Cy Young winner, to the voters, for getting it right, and to all the writers and researchers out there who’ve tirelessly pressed the case that baseball’s new alphabet is more than an academic argument about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, that the findings of sabermetrics have practical application on the field even among the game’s elite players. It feels like we all won something today.
For more on Greinke’s win and the progress of the old guard, see Joe Posnanski, the man next to the word “more” in the dictionary.
I agree one hundred percent! Zack definitely deserved to have some good recognition for a job well done. Many sports fans should have the same sentiments. Thanks and keep up the good work here.