Thursday, September 3, 2009

Dayton, More?

To: David Glass, Owner, Kansas City Royals

From: Rany Jazayerli, Fan, Kansas City Royals

Dear Mr. Glass,

Hi. We’ve never met, though I imagine our paths have crossed on more than one occasion. I know who you are, obviously; you might know who I am, but only because of that little stink I caused in your front office earlier this summer when I had the audacity to be critical of certain members of the organization.

So I guess I should start off by making it clear that you were not one of the targets of my criticism, and in fact, you might be the one member of the front office that I have not been at all critical of in the last three years.

I must admit, that wasn’t always the case – certainly not during the Allard Baird era in Kansas City, not after multiple sources laid bare what was happening behind the scenes. If you’re honest with yourself, I think even you’ll admit that you and your son interfered with baseball operations on many an occasion, and with an almost uniformly bad outcome.

Whether it was nixing a trade of Mike Sweeney to the Angels which would have brought the Royals several top prospects; or cutting the draft budget at the last minute, which forced your team to draft a bunch of college seniors and then offer them $1000 to sign; or whether it was famously giving Baird 36 hours to move Jermaine Dye, resulting in the disastrous Neifi Perez trade, just a few months after you vetoed a trade of Dye to the Blue Jays for a rookie named Vernon Wells – let’s be honest, much of the blame of the Allard Baird era can be laid at your feet. (And the three incidents above are just a sampling; there are other, even more egregious examples of meddling that I have multiple sources for.)

But since you hired Dayton Moore over three years ago, you have been, dare I say it, a model owner. You have opened your checkbook repeatedly, not just to sign major league free agents, but to sign high-priced amateur talent, both in the draft and on the international market. You have given Moore the financial flexibility to hire as much front office talent as he felt he needed, a luxury that was on full display when Moore hired the well-respected Mike Arbuckle, who had been in the running to replace Pat Gillick as the GM in Philadelphia, to a job position that didn’t even exist – Arbuckle’s scouting eye was deemed valuable enough that he was worth creating a job for.

And most importantly, you have empowered your GM to run the organization without interference. They say that in business, success has two ingredients: hire the right people, and then stay the hell out of their way. For whatever reason, too many businessmen – and we’re talking about businessmen successful enough to be able to afford a baseball team – seem to forget this simple rule when it comes to building a major league organization. But for the last three years, you have followed this rule to the letter. Two years ago, when I first started this blog, I wrote a positive review of your new approach to ownership. Despite the team’s struggles since, I stand by my conclusion that you have become a net positive force in the owner’s box, and I hold you essentially blameless for the disaster that the 2009 season has become. This isn’t a popular position to take among the fan base, trust me.

So I hope that in reading the following, you keep in mind that this isn’t just another critical screed from a disgruntled fan who’s had it in for you for a long time. I truly – and some might say naively – believe that you are committed to building the Royals into a winning organization again, and that you are as frustrated by what’s happened this season as the rest of us.

Which is why I think it’s important for you to get another fan’s viewpoint to the unexpected news that you have granted Dayton Moore a contract extension. I believe I speak for virtually all Royals fans, and virtually all national baseball writers, whether they are Royals fans or not, when I say: Why?

Why on earth do you feel compelled to give Moore a contract extension in the midst of what has become, if not the worst, then certainly the most disappointing season in the history of the franchise?

Now, let me make it clear: I am not advocating that you fire Dayton Moore. On the contrary, I feel – and once again, I am taking a position that is not popular with Royals fans today – that Moore should be allowed to keep his job for another season.

It’s undeniable that virtually every personnel decision that Moore has made since the end of last season has backfired, and while a few of those decisions looked good on paper, the majority of them were panned at the time, both by myself and by the general baseball establishment. Now, a general manager is going to make controversial moves – and as long as some of those moves work out, you can forgive the ones that don’t. In Moore’s case, every controversial move (I use “controversial” as a euphemism for “other baseball teams were openly mocking him”) has has failed miserably, and in some cases spectacularly. It’s been a bad, bad year for your front office.

Even so, I think Moore has earned the right to keep his job for another season, if only to prove whether or not he can learn from his mistakes this season, and to give him the opportunity to make amends. A year ago, Moore had earned the faith of most of the Royals’ fan base, and the respect of most of the other 29 major league teams, with a few bold and savvy moves (signing Gil Meche to a five-year deal, trading Ambiorix Burgos for Brian Bannister, grabbing Joakim Soria in the Rule 5 draft) that had helped the Royals to a 75-87 record in 2008. He made a few mistakes along the way, like trading J.P. Howell for Joey Gathright, and surrendering actual baseball talent for Tony Pena Jr. But no GM is perfect; as Moore himself said (quoting Arbuckle), “If we’re not making any mistakes, we’re probably not being very aggressive.”

No one would argue that Moore hasn’t been aggressive. And up until about a year ago, his aggressiveness had done more good than bad for the franchise. Now, it so happens that over the past year Moore’s best-laid plans have blown up in his face like they were designed by the Acme corporation, but I submit that no single season – not even a season as bad as this one has been – ought to wipe out the impression that Moore had made in his first two full seasons as GM. I believe he deserves another chance.

But there’s a hell of a difference between “he deserves to keep his job” and “he deserves an extension.” Particularly a four-year extension. There are three more Olympic Games scheduled between now and the end of Moore’s new contract.

I asked the question “why?” above, and that was meant to be a rhetorical question, but maybe it shouldn’t. There must be a legitimate reason why you would decide, in the midst of one of the worst 100-plus-game stretches in team history, that the man who put this team together ought to be rewarded for his efforts. Particularly since, according to Moore himself, you were the one who initiated the contract talks. Here’s what I came up with:

1) You were afraid that if you didn’t extend Moore’s contract, that he would bolt to another team after next season. I refuse to believe that a man smart enough to run one of the world’s largest corporations would actually be worried about this contingency. Once upon a time, Dayton Moore was the most sought-after GM candidate in the country. Now is not that time. Once upon a time, Moore was respected by most of his peers. After the train wreck of the 2009 season, here’s what one front office person had to say about Moore to my colleague Kevin Goldstein:

“It’s not like they were going to suddenly contend, so I have no idea why they rushed him to the big leagues,” commented another team executive, as far as the Royals’ decision making with Gordon’s development. “But I also have no idea why they traded Ramon Ramirez and Leo Nunez for non-tenders, or why they signed Jose Guillen, Horacio Ramirez, Sidney Ponson, and on and on and on.”

Mind you, Goldstein hadn’t asked about Moore – he had asked about Alex Gordon. The criticisms of the Royals’ front office came unbidden. Three years ago, Moore commanded respect. Today, if this quote is any indication, he commands only derision.

I’m sure you know this, which is why I’m sure you had other reasons to extend Moore’s contract. Like:

2) You felt it was necessary to issue a public vote of confidence for your GM, in order to quell the growing groundswell of sentiment in favor of his firing. You wanted to eliminate any distractions.

This might be part of your motivation, but I don’t really buy it either. Sometimes an organization will need to do this for an embattled manager, to make it clear that the manager has the full support of his superiors, in order to head off a potential mutiny – a mutiny of the players, not a mutiny of the fans.

A manager needs to command the respect of his players above all else, and nothing is more damaging to a manager’s reputation than the sense that he doesn’t have the backing of his bosses. But for a general manager, who doesn’t interact with his players on a day-to-day basis, that respect is much less meaningful. If I’ve got a good relationship with my boss, I don’t really care what my relationship with my boss’s boss is like.

So I don’t really buy this rationale either. Which leaves:

3) You want to make it clear that, by extending Dayton Moore’s contract through 2014, you are committed to building a premier organization in the long term, and you want to make sure that the spectacular failure of the 2009 season does not distract your front office from that long-term goal.

Now we’re getting somewhere. If this is indeed your purpose, it’s a defensible one.

For one, I concede that it would be risky for you to let Moore go into the off-season with just one more season remaining on his contract. Few things are more potentially destructive to a rebuilding franchise than a GM who’s worried about his job security. When your general manager’s interest don’t align with your franchise’s interests, you run the risk that your GM will make bizarre short-term decisions that can hamstring the franchise for years to come.

(The classic example of this – a little history lesson here, if you don’t mind – is Dave Littlefield’s notorious trade-deadline acquisition of Matt Morris. On July 31st, 2007, the Pirates were 42-62 and 14.5 games out of first place, but Littlefield – whose job was on the line – made the inexplicable last-second decision to trade for Morris, a 32-year-old starting pitcher under contract through the 2008 season (at over $10 million a year). Morris had a 4.35 ERA at the time, but was operating on fumes – opponents were hitting .302 against him at the time. The Giants were just looking for a team that was willing to pick up a portion of his salary, and were as surprised as anyone when Littlefield not only agreed to pick up the entire contract, but gave up two prospects – including Rajai Davis, who’s turning into a fine outfielder for the A’s – for the privilege. [Two prospects for a declining major leaguer that no one else wanted. Sound familiar?] Morris would go 3-8 with a 7.04 ERA for the Pirates before he was released the following April; by that time the man doing the releasing was new GM Neal Huntington, as Littlefield was fired on September 7, 2007, in no small part because just six weeks prior he had made a deal which cost his organization close to $15 million for a below-replacement value pitcher.)

While Dayton Moore has made a ton of mistakes this year, the overriding theme that drove his worst errors was the mistaken assumption that the Royals could contend in 2009. I’m not blaming him for that assumption (I shared it to some extent) so much as the execution of his plan, but the point is that if Moore didn’t have job security past 2010, the temptation would be there for him to operate this winter under the short-term goal of building a contender for 2010. We’ve seen that movie before, and it sucked.

So if you decided to extend Moore’s contract because you wanted to make sure that the front office kept its eye on the prize – the prize being a winning team in 2011 and beyond – then I support the decision. And certainly, as a fan I would much rather that you maintain a strong commitment to someone who has convinced you to spend big money on amateur talent, than to clean house and bring in a new GM who has fresh ideas but who doesn’t have access to your checkbook.

But this is a very qualified endorsement. It’s great that you want to insure continuity and a long-term perspective in your front office. But keeping the same general manager personnel in place only makes sense when your general manager knows what the hell he is doing. Frankly, the evidence of that is still lacking. We know that your general manager can spend your cash; we don’t know that he can spend it wisely. I can’t imagine that you look at the millions of dollars Moore convinced you to give Kyle Farnsworth, or Horacio Ramirez, or especially Jose Guillen, and think that you got your money’s worth. I’m sure that you see those transactions as mistakes that should not be repeated.

Unfortunately, Moore’s public comments have yielded no evidence that he feels that way. To question Moore’s decisions is to doubt The Process, and if someone in the media dares to criticize any of his decisions, he risks getting shut out from the organization completely. (I’m not referring to my own situation with ballclub – I’ve heard from national media members who have had similar experiences with the team.)

In all honesty, what I find more concerning than the mistakes made by the Moore administration this year is the sense of arrogance that has accompanied these decisions – an arrogance clothed in insecurity. Virtually every person who has covered the Royals regularly this season – print, radio, TV, whatever – has been struck by just how ridiculously thin-skinned the front office is. Which is a problem. Not because it makes it harder for the media to do their job (it is, but that’s not a problem for anyone but us), but because a front office that can’t handle criticism is a front office that doesn’t broker dissent. It’s a front office that’s unwilling to admit when it’s made a mistake. It’s certainly a front office that’s incapable of learning from its mistakes.

This should trouble you greatly, because you’ve just promised to pay Dayton Moore a lot of money on the notion that he will learn from the mistakes he’s made this season. And my greatest worry about this extension is that Moore will regard this endorsement from his owner as a validation of The Process. Moore has defended the Royals’ performance this year as the consequence of unexpected injuries and unexpectedly poor performances, rather than as an indictment of whatever Process cooked up the idea of Mike Jacobs as an everyday first baseman or Kyle Farnsworth as a highly-compensated set-up man. Moore’s public defense of his actions is understandable; it’s not easy for a GM to admit when he’s wrong, and it’s even harder to do so without offending some of those very players he acquired. But it’s one thing to say it, and it’s another thing to believe it. I worry that, having been rewarded with a contract extension despite his track record, Moore will start to believe his own words, and assume that he earned a contract extension because of his track record.

As fans, we are not privy to the conversations that you had with Moore before this contract was signed. It’s quite possible that Moore bared his soul to you, that he took full responsibility for the disastrous product he put on display this season. It’s possible that he admitted to you that he hasn’t put enough emphasis on statistical analysis, that he underestimated the importance of plate discipline, that he made a mistake in putting together an expensive bullpen full of hard throwers who don’t actually get anyone out. I can only hope he said those things to you, because he certainly won’t say those things to us. It’s not reassuring at all that in his most recent interview, he once again repeats the canard that “I know things would have been drastically different if we would have stayed healthy.” Unless Coco Crisp is the most valuable player in the history of baseball, this is simply untrue.

It’s telling that, on the day the contract extension was announced, we saw the very best and the very worst of the Dayton Moore administration on display. At the major league level, the Royals lost a howler to the A’s, 8-5, in a game which featured two of the dumbest moments by a Royals player in a decade full of them. Three years after he was hired, the major league team Moore has assembled is not just as bad as any roster Allard Baird assembled, it’s also just as embarrassing.

But that night, in Wilmington, 20-year-old southpaw Mike Montgomery, the Royals’ supplemental first-round pick last season, faced 22 hitters, only one of whom reached base safely, and 12 of whom struck out. It was the finest outing in the pro career of arguably the Royals’ #1 prospect. As promising as Montgomery is, he’s unlikely to make any kind of impact at the major league level until 2011, if not later. Moore has been committed to building the franchise with high school talent, preferring to take the long road to the top. Your decision to let Moore finish what he started, to at least see the fruits of his farm system fully ripen before making a final decision on him, is laudable.

Or at least, it’s laudable so long as you don’t wait until 2014 to make that final decision. If the Royals haven’t made substantial improvement at the major league level within two years – and by “substantial improvement” I mean at least a .500 team – then it won’t matter if Moore’s contract extends to 3014, he needs to go. Sticking with a failing GM out of a false sense of loyalty is nearly as bad as not providing your GM with adequate support from the start.

If you don’t believe me, just look across the Truman Sports Complex, where Lamar Hunt stayed loyal to Jack Steadman even as the Chiefs had just two winning seasons from 1974 to 1988. When Hunt finally let Steadman go and hired Carl Peterson to run his franchise, the team’s fortunes turned around immediately. The Chiefs would make the playoffs seven times in eight seasons from 1990 to 1997, but after 1997 the talent dried up, and after treading .500 for the next nine years the Chiefs cratered in 2007 – but Hunt stuck with Peterson up until the day he passed away, and while his son Clark finally brought in a new GM to clean house, the mess Peterson left behind may take years to clean up.

Sam Mellinger points out that by granting Moore this extension, you have made it clear that this is Moore’s show to run – either into the playoffs or into the ground – and that the results going forward are entirely on your GM. I agree, to a point. If the Royals continue to flail and Moore gets canned in 2011, then you can argue persuasively that you gave Moore every opportunity, and every resource, to get the job done. But if the Royals continue to flail and Moore still gets to keep his job for the next five years, then you must share in the blame for failing to hold your GM to the standard of excellence that you profess to have.

I guess what it boils down to is this: I’m fine with Dayton Moore getting a four-year contract extension…as long as it’s really a one-year extension with three option years. The money is guaranteed either way, but let’s be honest: you could fire Moore tomorrow and you’d only be out about $5 million, or about what you’re paying Farnsworth this year alone.

And that’s the point: the financial commitment to Moore is less important than the commitment you’ve made to let Moore spend far more of your money on other personnel. As long as you understand that the contract only obligates you to pay Moore through 2014, and not actually to employ him, then the downside is limited.

Like so many other Royals moves, if handled correctly this transaction has the potential to be a shrewd gamble, and if handled incorrectly this transaction could be an enormous albatross on the organization. Given the team’s history, sad to say, I know which one I’m betting on. But I also know which one I’m hoping for. For a Royals fan, hope always trumps reason. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t be Royals fans.

Thanks for reading,

Rany Jazayerli.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Zack Greinke, Part III: Return of the Jonah.

Alright, let’s talk about something positive for a change. I’m halfway through a piece breaking down the Dayton Moore contract extension rumors, but it’s a lot more fun to talk about Zack Greinke instead.

As everyone knows, Greinke struck out 15 batters last Tuesday, becoming the first pitcher in the 40-year history of the franchise to do so. Most every Royals fan knows about the fact that no one on the team has ever hit more than 36 homers, but the fact that no Royals pitcher had ever struck out 15 batters has long been a nearly equally embarrassing factoid for me. Just as the Royals have never had a truly dominant power hitter, the lack of a 15-K start points to a lack of a truly dominant power pitcher throughout the franchise’s history.

Steve Busby was, briefly, and he probably would have reached the 15-K plateau at some point, but his arm was shredded after just three seasons. Dennis Leonard was perhaps the closest the Royals have come, at least in 1977, when he struck out 244 batters, a franchise record that has never been challenged until this year. That season Leonard struck out 13 twice, 12 once, 11 once, and 10 twice, but never more than that. And in recent years, Kevin Appier certainly had the ability – he once struck out 13 batters in just 5.2 innings – but his propensity for high pitch counts made it difficult for him to stay in long enough to amass 15 strikeouts.

But on one otherwise non-descript Tuesday evening in yet another wasted Royals season, Greinke washed away 40 years of history, and all you need to know about Greinke is that I was neither surprised nor all that impressed by his accomplishment. Okay, I was impressed in the sense that Greinke is always impressive, but there was no sense of astonishment or wonder from my perspective. On the contrary, the way Greinke has thrown since about this time last year, I thought a 15-strikeout start was almost inevitable. I didn’t think he could have a start like this – I thought he would have a start like this, and it was just a matter of time. It just so happened that August 25th was the date. Greinke has made the extraordinary look absolutely commonplace, and there’s no greater compliment I can pay him than to say that when he set an all-time Royals record, I didn’t even flinch.

But I must say, for him to follow up his 15-strikeout performance with a one-hit shutout…for him to follow up a performance never before duplicated by a Royal with a performance that was last done in 1995...okay, even the Baseball Jonah’s biggest fan is impressed by that. If Greinke makes the extraordinary look commonplace, he also makes the inconceivable look merely impressive.

You may have seen the list of pitchers who have followed up a 15-strikeout performance with a one-hit complete game in their next start. It’s a short list – Greinke is just the fourth pitcher to do so, after Pedro Martinez in 1999, Randy Johnson in 1998, and Vida Blue in 1971. That’s two sure-fire Hall of Famers and Blue, who might be in the Hall of Fame today if he weren’t too good for his own good: that season, Blue went 24-8 with a 1.82 ERA and won the MVP award – and threw 312 innings at the age of 21. He would never pitch that effectively again, and he won only 18 games after his age 32 season. (He’s still the answer to that great trivia question: who’s the last switch-hitter to win the AL MVP award?)

I think it’s telling that Greinke once again shows up on a short list with Pedro Martinez, given that I had compared the two extensively early in the season. As it turns out, Greinke could not keep up with Pedro’s pace from 1999-2000, which is less a failure of Greinke than it is a testament to how otherworldly Martinez was during those two seasons. Martinez’s dominance extends to this comparison as well, because while Greinke followed a 15-strikeout start with a one-hitter, he whiffed just five batters on Sunday afternoon. Martinez struck out 15 batters in eight scoreless innings in Seattle on September 4th, but the one-hitter he threw in his next start remains one of the most dominant pitching performances of all time; he gave up a solo homer to Chili Davis, but he also struck out 17 that day. His game score was 98; since 1954, that is the highest game score for a pitcher who surrendered a run (and didn’t pitch into extra innings.)

But if Greinke can’t quite match up to peak Pedro, he still stands taller than every other pitcher in baseball today. After a period of time where Greinke looked almost mortal, Sunday’s start extends a stretch where Greinke has almost returned to the unhittable form he showed at the start of the season.

In Part 1 - his first ten starts - Greinke was 8-1 with an 0.84 ERA, and allowed just 54 hits and 12 walks in 75 innings. But from May 31st – yes, the day I flew to Kansas City to see him in person – through August 8th, he was positively mortal, with a 3.84 ERA in that span. He was betrayed by his teammates on both ends. Defensively, his ERA was inflated by a defense that could not turn batted balls into outs. In 84 innings, Greinke walked just 21 batters and struck out 86, and allowed only seven homers, but thanks to his defense he gave up a whopping 96 hits in that span. And offensively, the Royals scored just 42 runs in 13 starts (12 of those in one game), saddling Greinke with a 3-6 record.

But much as Greinke pitches better the deeper he works into a ballgame, he’s pitching better as the season enters the home stretch. Part 3 of Greinke's season started on August 14th, and over his last four starts Greinke has allowed just 15 hits in 31 innings, with 35 Ks against just seven walks, and a 1.74 ERA in that span.

He now leads the AL in ERA by 45 points; he has snatched the WHIP crown back from Jarrod Washburn; he leads the league in fewest homers per nine innings; he’s second to Justin Verlander in strikeouts; he’s second to C.C. Sabathia in innings pitched. He had five Ks and just one walk on Sunday, and his K/BB ratio actually went down.

Yes, he’s just 13-8. But I think that those who are writing off his chances of winning the Cy Young Award are doing so prematurely. I don’t simply mean that it’s premature to write Greinke’s chances off because there’s still time for him to win his last six starts and get back into this thing. I mean that even if the season ended today, there’s a very good chance that his weak showing in the historically-decisive win-loss department might get trumped by his across-the-board dominance in every other category.

For one thing, while Greinke has only 13 wins going into September, he’s still just two behind Sabathia, and just one behind Verlander, Josh Beckett, and Scott (!) Feldman. There’s a reasonable chance that no one in the AL will win 20 games. Those who are saying that Greinke’s case is hopeless because starting pitchers can’t win the Cy Young award with just 16 or 17 victories ignore the fact that this is shaping up to be a year where the gap between 16 wins and the league lead just isn’t that great. Brandon Webb won the NL Cy Young in 2006 with just 16 wins…in large part because somehow, 16 wins was enough to lead the league. If Greinke wins 16 games and Sabathia wins 19, there’s a good chance that Greinke’s edge in every other category can overcome Sabathia’s edge in wins. If Sabathia or someone else tips the magic “20” barrier, the psychological impression that will make on some voters will be much harder to overcome.

Second, while Greinke may not have a lot of wins, he has every other counting statistic on his side. He has 190 innings, just two behind Sabathia; no one can accuse him of not being a workhorse. With his performance on Sunday, he now has more complete games (6) and more shutouts (3) than any other pitcher in the major leagues. This isn’t a Chris Carpenter situation, where voters will have to judge the merits of a pitcher who might have been more effective on a per-inning basis but wasn’t able to answer the bell every fifth day. When it comes to Cy Young voting, availability matters almost as much as ability; Greinke has both.

(It's worth noting that according to ESPN's Cy Young Predictor, based on a formula Bill James presented in The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers, Greinke has edged back into first place.)

And finally, we have to acknowledge that award voters are, generally speaking, a lot more savvy than they used to be. I have made the mistake of giving BBWAA members too much credit in the past – I still can’t believe Tim Raines has appeared on barely a quarter of Hall of Fame ballots the last two years – but I honestly think that Cy Young voters are more inclined to consider the extenuating circumstances for Greinke than they would in the past.

I’ve pointed this out before, but 16 years ago, Kevin Appier led the AL in ERA by 38 points, won 18 games, finished second in the league in WHIP and hits per nine innings, and by any advanced metric you chose was clearly the best pitcher in the AL. He finished a distant third in Cy Young voting, behind Jack McDowell and Randy Johnson. McDowell had a 3.37 ERA – he wasn’t in the league’s top 10 – but went 22-10, and no other AL starter reached 20 wins. Johnson led the league in strikeouts, but he went 19-8 with a 3.24 ERA, compared to Appier’s 18-8 and 2.46 ERA. Apparently that one extra win trumped more than 75 points of ERA.

(Not only that, but in McDowell’s 34 starts, the White Sox went 23-11 overall. In Appier’s 34 starts, the Royals went…23-11. So Appier didn’t miss out on the Cy Young because his team wasn’t as successful as McDowell’s team was – he missed out on the Cy Young because some of those team wins were awarded to his reliever. He was denied the Cy Young, in other words, because of an accounting decision.)

The reason I point this out is that the most galling aspect of Appier’s disappointing finish in the Cy Young vote is that he received just one first-place vote, from then-Rangers beat writer Phil Rogers. That’s right – neither writer from the KC chapter of the BBWAA gave Appier a first-place vote. Both of them swallowed the conventional wisdom about pitcher wins hook, like, and sinker.

Well, this year I have it on good authority that one of the Cy Young ballots goes to this guy. Times have changed, and I’d like to think for the better. There’s still a lot of baseball to be played, and a memorable September in either direction could render this whole discussion moot. But I think this is going to be a very close Cy Young vote. And my hope is that while Greinke may not win a majority of first-place votes, he may receive a plurality of them, as the anti-Greinke voting bloc gets split up between two or three different candidates (Scott Feldman for Cy Young!)

Ultimately it really doesn’t matter if Greinke wins; awards are fun, but success on the field is what matters. But since we’re not having much of the latter, it would be nice if we could have some of the former to keep this season from being a total loss.

Now that the Joe Mauer-for-MVP train has left the station, it’s time to hop aboard the Zack Greinke-for-Cy Young express. So get out there and remind people that Greinke is, indisputably, the best pitcher in the American League. Remind people that his 13-8 record is the result of having the worst run support of any qualifying major league starter. Remind people that his 2.32 ERA, as impressive as it is, is actually inflated significantly by pitching in front of the defense with the worst defensive efficiency in all of baseball. (This is an underplayed theme, by the way – everyone is harping on his win-loss record, but it’s not hyperbole to suggest that, with an even average defense behind him, Greinke’s ERA could be in the 1’s right now, and it would be almost impossible to deny him the Cy Young vote.)

With five weeks left in the season, it’s far from clear whether Greinke is the AL’s Cy Young pitcher. What is clear is that he is the AL’s best pitcher, and just as clear is that he is the property of the Kansas City Royals for three more seasons after this one. Whatever else you want to say about the 2009 season, if 2009 is also the season when Zack Greinke took his place among the elite players in the game, it wasn’t a total loss.