Roy Halladay Should Win the AL Cy Young Award

Roy Halladay

A groundswell has been growing (budding? Swelling? What do “groundswells” do, exactly?) in the race for this year’s American League Cy Young Award. Zack Greinke had a dominant season, on par with historically great pitching seasons (Pedro in ’99, Guidry in ’78, Clemens in ’86, etc.*), but he’s in danger of losing out on the award. Since Greinke’s team, the Royals, was as bad he was good in 2009, Greinke finished with a mere 16 wins. Six pitchers in the league had more wins than he did.

*We’re not even going to count Bob Gibson’s 1968 season, because the pitching statistics for that season were so aberrational that I’m not sure what he was playing technically constitutes “baseball.”

Zack GreinkeNow, it would be tragic if Greinke lost the Cy Young because his team stinks. On six separate occasions this year, Greinke pitched at least seven innings, and gave up no more than one earned run, and got either a no-decision or a loss. If he had won just half of those games, then he would be tied for the league lead in wins, and he’d probably win the award unanimously.

All this shows, however, is that wins are a bad way of deciding who should win an award for pitching. None of the AL wins leaders (CC Sabathia, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez) should win the Cy Young, but neither should Greinke. The award should go to Roy Halladay.

It’s odd that Halladay more or less fell out of the discussion for the award. Halladay is third in ERA, second in WHIP, second in innings pitched, fifth in Ks, and he lead the league, as he does practically ever year, in complete games and shutouts. In fact, through the first half of the season, Halladay was the prohibitive favorite to win the Cy Young. It seems the main thing that people are holding against Halladay is that he wasn’t traded to the Phillies in July, which is even dumber than looking at win totals.

Greinke did finish ahead of Halladay in most secondary statistics, but here is one simple and unignorable fact: Halladay threw more innings against better lineups, and finished with similar and/or better numbers in most statistical categories.

A lot of Greinke advocates like to jokingly point out that Greinke never got to face the anemic Royals lineup. And it’s true that Halladay did get one start against Kansas City. But he also had to make 20 of his 32 starts against teams that exceeded the league average in OPS, including 17 against the four best lineups in the league (New York, Boston, LA, Tampa Bay). By most measures, the Yankees were the best offense in the league in 2009: Halladay faced them five times, and Greinke never faced them at all.

Greinke, in fact, had inferior competition across the board: 19 of his 30 AL starts were against below-average offenses, and even his Inter-league opponents (Arizona, Pittsburgh, Houston) were weak hitting teams. In fact, Greinke’s worst start of the season (really, one of his only bad ones) came against Tampa Bay (5 IP, 6 ER), a team Halladay had to face six times.

Greinke’s ERA may have been a half-run lower than Halladay’s, and his WHIP .05 better, and he had 34 more strikeouts, but those differences can largely be attributed to the difference in their competition. Once you account for this difference, though, I think it’s fair to say that Halladay had the better overall year.

None of this changes the fact that Greinke has been utterly dominant this year. He has had one of the most impressive years a pitcher has had in recent seasons; he just didn’t have the best one this year.

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9 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Tim on October 6, 2009 at 1:54 PM

    This would be a stronger argument if it weren’t so based on quantity over quality. Sure, Halladay has had MORE starts against the top AL offenses, but Greinke has pitched better in them. Some stats:

    Against the top four offenses in the AL (based on runs) — NYY, LAA, BOS, MIN
    Greinke: 35 IP, 1.54 ERA
    Halladay: 102 IP, 2.74 ERA

    There’s a big disparity in innings, of course. But 35 is a pretty good number, and a 1.20 difference in ERA is significant.

    Against the top 10 offenses in baseball (based on runs) — NYY, LAA, BOS, PHI, MIN, COL, TB, TOR, MIL, TEX
    Greinke: 75 IP, 2.52 ERA
    Halladay: 153 IP, 3.06 ERA

    Again, Greinke was better in fewer opportunities.

    Against the bottom four offenses in the AL (based on runs) — CHW, DET, KC, SEA
    Greinke: 80 IP, 1.46 ERA
    Halladay: 46 IP, 2.35 ERA

    Greinke has pitched more innings against bad competition than Halladay, but he’s pitched considerably better against it. Furthermore, Greinke’s ERA in 35 innings against the league’s best is 0.81 better than Halladay’s in a similar number of innings (46) against the league’s WORST.

    Also, you can’t dismiss Greinke’s good outings against good teams (allowed 1 ER in 22 IP against LAA and BOS this season) as short sample sizes while pointing out ONE bad start against TB. (Halladay, in fact, had a 6 IP, 7 ER game against the Rays.)

    The bottom line is that Greinke has been better all year, regardless of the competition. He has allowed more than three earned runs in five starts all year; Halladay has had five such games since the All-Star Break (and nine on the year) — the real reason Roy dropped out of the discussion (not, as you hilariously suggest, because he didn’t get traded to the other league, in which case we can assume his chances of winning the AL CY would have improved?). Halladay was never the prohibitive favorite to win the CY; you may remember Greinke had a historically strong start to the season (8-1 through 10 starts with a 0.84 ERA and a SI cover story: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/writers/joe_posnanski/04/28/zack.greinke/index.html). So let’s stop perpetuating the AL East bias (based on your logic, Halladay could pretty much be penciled in as the Cy Young winner the next several seasons b/c he will always face those teams the most), and give it to the guy who really deserves it.

    Reply

    • Posted by John S on October 6, 2009 at 2:36 PM

      A couple of points:

      1) There was a lot of controversy hen Posnanski wrote that story (and nobody’s going to defend Joe Poz more than me), with most people saying that calling him the best pitcher in the league was ridiculous. Greinke got off to a great start, it’s true, but so did Halladay: Through the first half of the season he had as many wins, more innings and a better WHIP than Greinke. The consensus when the trade rumors started was that Halladay was the best pitcher in the AL. He did have some rocky starts after that, and then nobody discussed him at all.

      2) It’s odd that you would include starts against NYY/BOS in your first group of stats. Greinke made ONE start against those two teams, and Halladay made nine. That is a pretty big disparity.

      I don’t mean to be too Yankees-biased (although I suppose that’s inevitable), but the fact that Halladay had five starts against NY, who had the best offense by a lot in any reasonable measure, and Greinke had ZERO is a big deal. Greinke never had to pitch against the best offense in their hitter-friendly stadium is hard to ignore. It’s fair to say that his numbers probably would not have been as good had he been forced to.

      3) It’s almost humorous (but not as funny as my “hilarious” suggestion that Halladay dropped out of discussion for not being traded, which WAS a joke, btw) to see you compare numbers based on 1/2 or even 1/3 of the innings. You know who threw 1/3 as many innings as Greinke and had even better numbers than him? Mariano Rivera. Should he win the Cy Young? No.

      Look, quantity matters. Greinke did have some great games v. LAA and BOS, but so did Halladay, and Halladay had some great ones against NYY and TB too. Throwing more innings against better competition is going to make your numbers worse, but the fact that Halladay’s are so good while pitching 2/3 of his games against great hitting teams is impressive. More impressive, I think, than Greinke’s dominance of Cleveland, Detroit and Oakland.

      I will concede that Greinke was better against the bad teams. And it’s probably true that he had a more dominant season than Halladay, but I don’t think that necessarily makes it BETTER. I don’t think Greinke would have dominated BOS/LAA if he had had six starts against them, or if he had had to NYY five times, or TB six.

      I don’t really think there’s a wrong decision here, to be honest. I was pretty sold on Greinke until I looked at Halladay’s numbers (I’m more perplexed at why Halladay hasn’t even been mentioned. I mean, people have mentioned Scott Feldman more than Halladay this month), but there’s no denying that Greinke has been great. I just think it’s a little disingenuous to say that 35 IP is the same as 100+, or that 0 IP against the best offensive team in baseball is the same as 40.

      Reply

  2. Posted by glp on October 6, 2009 at 4:03 PM

    Jonn S, in your last comment you state, “I don’t think Greinke would have dominated BOS/LAA if he had had six starts against them, or if he had had to NYY five times, or TB six.”

    I wasn’t aware that Cy Youngs were handed out based on what somebody THINKS a person would have done. How about leaving what you THINK he might have done out of the discussion?

    Reply

  3. Posted by Tim on October 6, 2009 at 4:35 PM

    I just don’t see why Halladay’s 40 innings against the Yankees seem to count so much more than Greinke’s 35 against top competition. Your argument would be a lot stronger if Greinke had pitched poorly in those innings, but his ERA was 1.54. It’s reasonable to say that Greinke’s ERA wouldn’t be quite as good if he had pitched against the Yankees, but it would undoubtedly still be better than Halladay’s. What evidence do we have to suggest that Greinke would have been markedly worse if he saw those elite teams more often?

    Greinke was better against the bad teams, better against the good teams, better against all the teams. He was better against the good teams than Halladay was against the bad ones.

    And it’s not like Halladay threw 30 more innings than Greinke; it was 9 2/3. And he gave up 19 more earned runs. I suppose if Zack had three starts against the Yankees and went 3 IP with 6 ER each, then maybe he’d win the Cy Young in your book?

    Reply

    • Posted by John S on October 7, 2009 at 12:33 AM

      My argument is that you can pull stretches of 35 innings where Halladay was similarly dominant vs. great offenses, but since he faced them far more often, he also had starts where he was less dominant (some of which was really no fault of his own; I recall a game in NY where he shut down the Yankees for seven innings, only to give up one of the cheapest bloop 3 run home runs that stadium has seen, killing his overall line for the game…and I realize that seeing more Halladay starts than Greinke starts biases me, but it doesn’t make it any less true that Greinke threw 70 fewer innings against the best offenses).

      And my argument is not based on the TOTAL number of innings, but the number of innings against good teams, of which Halladay has far more. He has more against the single best offense than Greinke does against all the other top-four teams combined.

      As you say, the difference between their numbers was 19 ER. If Halladay had two fewer starts vs. NY and two more against, say, the White Sox. Is it unreasonble to say that he’d give up five fewer runs? And if Greinke had two fewer vs. Chicago and two against the Yankees, he might give up five more? Suddenly that difference is cut in half, and Halladay would still have more than twice as many starts against the top two offenses in the league.

      Reply

  4. […] I insisted repeatedly earlier this week, the Yankees have the best lineup in baseball. Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez are the best […]

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  5. […] Zack Greinke won the AL Cy Young Award. The BBWA clearly doesn’t read NPI. Oh well, it was probably the right […]

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  6. […] not have heard, but the Blue Jays traded a fellow named Roy Halladay this off-season. Roy Halladay is a very good pitcher. The best, even. According to FanGraphs, Halladay was, by himself, worth about six or seven wins […]

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