How you vote on the Royals Pitcher of the Year reveals everything about how you value relievers (specifically closers) and starters. If you believe a starting pitcher is inherently more valuable than a closer due to the superiority in number of innings pitched, I suppose you’ll go with Door Number 1. On the other hand, if you view the closer as just as important as the starter and place all pitchers on equal footing so to speak, you are probably going to select Door Number 2.
Yes, it’s that straightforward. In my mind, there were two pitchers on the Royals this year worthy of consideration for postseason accolades. Two.
Here’s my ballot (and justification.)
1 -Zack Greinke
Well, the cat is out of the bag… You know where I stand on this whole “value” debate between a starter and a reliever.
Yeah, Greinke mentally checked out of some games and is struggling (along with the rest of us) to come to terms with The Process, but his team was really, really bad.
As usual, his team provided him with virtually no run support. On average, the Royals scored 3.47 runs per start for Greinke. Over the whole 162 game schedule, the Royals averaged 4.2 runs per game. In 19 of his 33 starts, the Royals failed to score more than three runs.
Then there was the defense behind Greinke. With Wilson Betemit and The Yunigma teaming up to see who could move the least amount of distance, a league leading 17 runners reached on an error against Greinke. I noted before that errors aren’t the best way to measure defense, but still… That is an incredibly high number of free base runners.
2 – Joakim Soria
Soria was his usual nasty self, but I just have a difficult time throwing a ton of weight behind a closer for any kind of Pitcher of the Year award. I can’t get past the reduced number of innings pitched for starters. And I also can’t get past the fact a number of closers (Soria included this year) enter the game with no one on base. Overall, Soria inherited nine base runners this year and allowed three of them to score. I present this, not as an indictment of Soria… Rather it’s a critique on the modern closer.
Besides, I don’t really have the stomach to try to work up some alleged deficiencies in Soria’s game… Because I pretty much think he’s awesome. Just when there’s an alternative in the starting rotation, I’ll usually lean to the alternative.
I know there are times we like to armchair quarterback the bullpen usage, but Soria’s 2.2 Leverage Index (a measure of the “pressure” a pitcher faced) was tops on the team. Sure, there are times when it would make sense to bring the closer in a little earlier in the game, but for the most part, I can’t quibble with the ninth inning usage of your best reliever.
So you know how I feel about spots number one and two… The real question is who did enough to win your third place vote? I’m going to need to turn to some advanced metrics for some help.
I understand there is a debate about WAR and which one to use… Do you prefer Fangraphs or Baseball Reference? I know the difference in WAR for batters hinges on how each formula calculates defensive contributions. For pitchers? I’m not sure.
Here’s what I do know… The top three Royals pitchers according to WAR from Fangraphs:
Zack Greinke – 5.2
Joakim Soria – 2.1
Kyle Davies – 2.0
I love and respect the work they do over at Fangraphs, but this is all kinds of jacked up. Kyle Davies, the third best pitcher on the Royals? And within a whisker of Soria for second? Shenanigans! Davies was barely better than Sean O’Sullivan. And O’Sullivan was so horrible I remain unconvinced he should receive a look in spring training 2011 for a spot in next season’s rotation.
For fun and balance, here are the top three Royals pitchers according to Baseball Reference WAR:
Joakim Soria – 3.8
Zack Greinke – 2.4
Bruce Chen – 2.1
That’s a little better I suppose, but I have an extremely difficult time buying that Bruce Chen was almost as good as Greinke. Greinke allowed far fewer base runners per inning and posted a superior strikeout rate. While they posted identical ERAs of 4.17, Greinke owned a 3.76 xFIP, while Chen had a 5.01 xFIP. Even non-tender candidate Brian Bannister had a lower xFIP at 4.86, yet people want to resign Chen. Alright…
So my third place vote goes to…
3 – Kyle Farnsworth
That’s right, Kerosene Kyle. He gets the nod for a couple of reasons. One, he really did pitch exceptionally well for the Royals. Of course, it helped his Leverage Index was 0.9, which ranked him 10th highest among Royal relievers. We all know what happens when you bring The Farns into a pressure situation. Yes, his strikeout numbers were down, but so were his walk and home run rates. He kept runners off the bases and balls in the yard. While the Royals bullpen was featuring the likes of Josh Rupe, John Parrish and Luis Mendoza, Farnsworth actually provided some… (gulp!) stability.
The second reason I would vote him third was for the simple fact he pitched well enough to net the Royals a bona fide prospect in left-handed reliever Tim Collins. Collins posted a 1.33 ERA in 20.1 IP in Omaha while striking out 20 batters and walking eight. He pitched seven innings in the qualifiers for the Pan Am games, limiting hitters to a .208 batting average against while allowing five hits and two runs. He has the chance to be an impact reliever for the next six years for the Royals.
If Tim Smith is Farnsworth’s legacy in Kansas City, I can give him a third place vote.