11/17/09 5:15 PM EST
Greinke gets one more win: AL Cy Young
Royals right-hander's dominance nets 16-game winner award
By Dick Kaegel / MLB.com
The Royals' right-hander received a rousing 25 of 28 first-place votes and had 134 total points in the Baseball Writers' Association of America voting. Runner-up Felix Hernandez of the Mariners had 80 points, with two first-place votes.
The remaining first-place vote went to the Tigers' Justin Verlander, who was third in the balloting with 14 points. Also receiving votes were the Yankees' CC Sabathia (13) and the Blue Jays' Roy Halladay (11).
Hernandez, Verlander and Sabathia all were 19-game winners, and there was the suggestion that Greinke's 16-8 record, a rather modest win total for a Cy Young winner, might override his Major League-best ERA of 2.16. But that did not happen.
Greinke thought Hernandez, who was 19-5 with a 2.49 ERA, would get more support.
"I was really surprised at that," Greinke said. "I thought Felix had an amazing year and that he would get a little more credit than he did with that. Everything was fantastic with him, and I thought it'd be closer than it was between the two of us."
Certainly, there was no argument that Greinke was one of the most dominating pitchers of 2009 in either league. His performance and his award brightens what was a disappointing season for the Royals.
"Zack Greinke has always been a potentially tremendous talent, and we were all fortunate to watch him perform this past year," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. "He was everything that he and all of us expected him someday to be."
Greinke becomes the third Cy Young winner in club history. Bret Saberhagen won in 1985 and 1989; David Cone won in 1994. Cone was the only other starter to win the AL award with as few as 16 wins, and he did it in a strike-shortened season. Brandon Webb (2006) was the last starter to win the National League award with so few.
"It's a great tribute to Zack and who is he is as a person and everything that he's had to battle through," Moore said. "It's a great story."
AL Cy Young Award Voting
|Zack Greinke, KC||25||3||134|
|Felix Hernandez, SEA||2||23||1||80|
|Justin Verlander, DET||1||9||14|
|CC Sabathia, NYY||2||7||13|
|Roy Halladay, TOR||11||11|
Sure is. Greinke emerged from the shadow of a social anxiety disorder that took him away from the game for two months in 2006. He worked his way back to the Royals with a tour in the Minors that year and spent most of 2007 laboring in the KC bullpen. Back full force in 2008, he made 32 starts with a 13-10, 3.47 season that set the stage for this thunderous year.
Among other accomplishments, Greinke struck out 15 batters and threw a one-hitter in back-to-back outings in August as he headed toward a strong finish. He was 6-1 with a 1.75 ERA in his final 11 starts.
He attracted Cy Young notice from the beginning, winning his first six starts with a 0.40 ERA. Only legendary pitchers Walter Johnson (1913) and Fernando Valenzuela (1981) had done that with lower ERAs.
"I don't really know how it happened," Greinke said. "It started off real good, and I'm sure there was a lot of luck going at the very beginning of the year when I had a good streak of not giving up any runs. ... It just really helped my confidence. I started to really believe I could do good things."
Greinke's strong getaway was helped by the development of a changeup, a pitch that successfully augmented his sizzling fastball and devastating slider. That was a Spring Training project that Greinke attacked with his usual single-minded zeal. Never mind that he got hammered in some exhibition games.
"He knew a changeup would make him better and he stuck with it," pitching coach Bob McClure said. "As the season progressed, it got better and better and better. He got more movement with it, it was much more comfortable. He was throwing it in all different counts."
Looking back on the season, Greinke said having the right mind-set on every pitch and being ready for every situation gave him an optimum mental outlook.
"I felt like if I just didn't make mistakes and beat myself, then the results were going to end up being good by the end of the year, and I feel like I did that as well as I possibly could," he said.
There's no doubt that Greinke could have won 20 or more games with a bit more help. For one thing, the bullpen blew four leads after he'd left the game. For another, the Royals didn't score many runs for him. In the 17 starts in which he took a loss or no-decision, the Royals scored a total of 37 runs for him, just 2.2 per game, including only 15 runs in the eight losses (1.9).
Even so, he stood tall.
"If a player is going to win an award, you always have to look at whether or not he was dominant," Phillies scout Gordon Lakey said, "and, in his case, he was certainly dominant. You put him on a team with the offense the Yankees had or you put Sabathia on a team that doesn't have a lot of offense, the record would probably just be the opposite. [The Royals] just didn't score a lot of runs for him, but he had the ability to win close games even when they didn't score, especially early in the season."
Earlier, Greinke was named as the AL's top pitcher by the Sporting News, the Players Association and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. At midseason, he was the Royals' only player in the All-Star Game and pitched a perfect inning in the AL's 4-3 victory.
Among other things this season, Greinke went through his first four starts and 29 innings before giving up an earned run and through his first 83 1/3 innings before giving up a home run.
Greinke credited his teammates, notably catcher Miguel Olivo, who handled almost all of his starts.
"I had a lot of help this year," he said. "Our team played real good behind me, and I could tell that every game they came 100 percent ready to play and were focused to do as good as they could to help me out, because they saw how serious I took it and they were serious behind me. And Olivo did a fantastic job with me all year, we had a good bond together."
Olivo, however, is now a free agent and likely will end up on another team, a possibility that Greinke accepts.
"I loved him and we had a great relationship, but that's baseball," he said.
Greinke's 242 strikeouts, second in the AL to Verlander's 269, included the club-record 15 on Aug. 25 against the Indians.
Then, in his next start at Seattle, came a one-hitter flawed only by a second-inning single. Greinke mowed down the last 22 Mariners he faced.
That made him just the fourth pitcher in history to follow a 15-strikeout game with a one-hitter, matching Pedro Martinez (1999), Randy Johnson (1998) and Vida Blue (1971).
His ability to command his pitches, moving the ball in and out, up and down with pinpoint accuracy, and to vary his speeds was phenomenal.
"Not many guys command the fastball and throw the ball as hard as he does and yet be as comfortable throwing a 60-mph fastball as a 95-mph fastball," said Lakey.
There was one big scare for Greinke. On Sept. 17 at Detroit, he was drilled by a fourth-inning line drive just above his precious right elbow. But he finished five shutout innings before going for X-rays (which were negative) and made his pitching coach extremely proud.
"I'll tell you what -- that's a gamer right there," McClure said.
Greinke didn't miss a start and pitched six scoreless innings against the Red Sox in his next outing.
What Greinke did so well this season was to develop the knack of reading hitters and feeling what they were all about. It goes beyond just firing away.
"Too many guys are just throwing it and not paying attention to what the hitter is doing or what he did previously on the last swing and they don't feel the hitter," McClure said. "He's starting to feel the hitter, and I think we're just seeing the top of the surface of what he's going to be able to do."
That, of course, was part of Greinke's maturing process, which was as noticeable in the clubhouse and the dugout as it was on the mound. He became more outgoing in a marked change from his earlier years.
"Zack was just super shy and didn't want to have a relationship with anybody," teammate David DeJesus said. "And then last year, he started morphing into a person who would take a chance and go out of his way and do something [with] someone. And then it came to this year when he was just a different person. He was playing cards and having fun. He was up on the [dugout] fence talking to guys in between his starts. It just seemed like he was having a fun time at the field. ... The anxiety [was gone]."
For Greinke, still just 26, there's another big event coming up on Saturday. He and longtime sweetheart Emily Kuchar will be married in Orlando, Fla.
"Emily's doing all the work, though, pretty much," Greinke said. "I just have to show up and, hopefully, it'll be fun."
On Tuesday night, he's getting both families together for a dinner. Now they have an extra reason to celebrate, a Cy Young Award.
"I didn't think about it," Greinke said. "We haven't had a chance to all get together for the wedding stuff, so I guess we could kind of take care of that, too."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.