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Ichiro, Felix, Greinke

September 21, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments


Seattle Times sports columnist Jerry Brewer declared in the paper Friday morning that “it’s the best sports week ever.” That was his opening. Then he retreated, saying, “OK, maybe not ever ever, but it’s been a long time since Seattle has had such a hefty and buzzworthy slate of sporting events.” This was news to me, but I had missed a few items. The Yankees were coming to town for a three-game series against the Mariners, beginning Friday night. Saturday, the UW football team would be hosting #3 ranked USC at Husky Stadium. Sunday, the Seahawks would be playing the 49’ers down in San Francisco. Not all that unusual a confluence of events. But I had not realized that, also on Friday, the Seattle women’s basketball team would be hosting the LA team in a playoff game, and on Saturday, our pro soccer team, the Sounders, would host LA. And to top it off, one of the big high school football games in the country would be played Friday night in the suburbs. Skyline, apparently the top high school team in the state, was to play Oaks Christian, up from California, in a game ESPNU would be televising. To add to the excitement, Skyline has one of the country’s best high school quarterbacks, while Oaks Christian has the sons of Will Smith, Wayne Gretzky, and Joe Montana.

Well, that really is special, huh? Given that I’m pretending football season hasn’t started yet, I wasn’t as excited as I should have been. And I was already bugged by the silly ads the Mariners were running in anticipation of the Yankees’ visit, describing Seattle this weekend as Cooperstown West thanks to the large collection of presumed future Hall of Famers: Griffey, Ichiro, Rivera, Jeter, perhaps others. The newspaper ad featured photos of Ichiro and Rivera.

We missed Friday night’s Mariner-Yankee game. We were having a Rosh Hoshana dinner with friends. Once we cleaned up, I read the results online and realized it was a great one. Forget the Cooperstown West nonsense, but it did culminate in an Ichiro-Rivera confrontation, so the marketers were on to something. Our young pitcher Felix Hernandez — King Felix — who at the age of 23, in his fifth season, has achieved the greatness expected of him, was on the mound against A.J. Burnett. Felix pitched all nine innings, giving up 2 runs, but only one of them earned. The unearned run came on an opening double by Johnny Damon in the top of the 6th, followed by a passed ball to Mark Teixeira on which Damon went to third and a deep sacrifice fly down the left field line by Teixeria on which Damon scored. The Mariners managed only 1 run off Burnett in 7 innings and no runs off Phil Hughes in the 8th. Thus, after Felix completed pitching the 9th inning, the Mariners were down 2-1 as Rivera came in to finish them off. He had not blown a save opportunity in his last 36 tries, going back to last August. And he hadn’t blown a save against the Mariners since 1997. Game over. Probably.

Rivera strikes out Hannahan and Carp to open the bottom of the 9th. Then Mike Sweeney pinch hits for Josh Wilson in the 9th slot and hits a double to deep right center. Here comes Ichiro, top of the order. He had won the game against the White Sox the day before with a single in the bottom of the 14th. Can he hit a walkoff winner two nights in a row? Or will Rivera prevail. It only took one pitch to find out. Home run. Game over.

The game didn’t mean much for either team at this point in the season in terms of playoff chances, but still, it was special. And Felix got the win. He raised his won-loss record to 16-5 and lowered his ERA to 2.45. Why it’s almost enough to make you think he should get the Cy Young Award this year. The Mariners are such a low-scoring team. With more run support, he might be a 20-game winner already. The problem with arguments such as this is that they apply with even greater force to Zack Greinke. He leads the American League in just about every major stat besides wins. For example, his ERA is 2.14, well below Felix’s, though Felix is second.

SI’s Joe Posnanski has repeatedly made the case in his blog for Greinke as this year’s Cy Young winner. He’s happy to put Felix second, but views Greinke’s case as airtight. I think he’s right. His most recent argument was particularly interesting. I’ll describe it, but let me first remind you of what ERA+ is. ERA (earned run average) is the average number of earned runs a pitcher gives up every nine innings. When comparing pitchers across baseball history, this is unsatisfying, because conditions have changed over time — night games, height of mound, and so on. Also, comparing pitchers in a given year by ERA alone doesn’t take into account what kind of parks they pitch in. Half their starts, roughly, are at home, and they may pitch in a park conducive to runs scoring, or the opposite. ERA+ compares a pitcher’s ERA to the average ERA that season in the league. Divide average ERA by the individual’s ERA to get a number, a little over 1, say, if the pitcher has a slightly below average ERA. Then multiply by 100. And then do an adjustment based on ballpark. Good pitchers should have an ERA+ somewhere in the 100’s. Great ones, in great years, might reach 200 or above. It doesn’t happen often. (See a list of best ERA+ seasons here.)

Okay, so here’s what Posnanski did in his post on Friday. He asked which pitchers, in a season, threw 200 innings or more, had a 200 or better ERA+, and had at least 200 strikeouts. Here’s what he came up with — pitcher and year.

1. Pedro Martinez, 1997, 1999 and 2000.

2. Roger Clemens, 1990 and 1997.

3. Walter Johnson, 1912 and 1913.

4. Dwight Gooden, 1985.

5. Ron Guidry, 1978.

6. Bob Gibson, 1968.

7. Grover Cleveland Alexander, 1905.

8. Christy Mathewson, 1905.

As Posnanski comments, “each of those seasons was legendary.” But wait, there’s one more:

9. Zack Greinke, 2009.

Yes, Greinke is in the midst of an historic season. Posnanski: “Greinke’s is not just the best pitching season of this year. It’s probably the best pitching season of the last five years, maybe the last 10 years going back to Pedro. It’s historical. The guy has pitched 210 innings, he has a 204 ERA+ and 224 strikeouts. He leads or is second in the league numerous other categories — gone over those a few dozen times already. But all you really need to understand the season is that 200-200-200 thing. This is a magical season. … Greinke is without a doubt that best pitcher in the American League. He’s the best pitcher in baseball. He’s having one of the great pitching seasons of our lifetime. Other guys are having good seasons — Felix Hernandez is having a hard-luck, Zack-Greinke-lite season. Justin Verlander leads the league in strikeouts. Roy Halladay is Roy Halladay. C.C. Sabathia might win 20. But if someone else should happen to win the Cy Young because he won five more games than Greinke or something irrational like that, well, I don’t believe it will happen. I just don’t. He’s going to win the Cy Young.”

For the record, Felix has pitched 216.1 innings so far this season and struck out 196. He’ll pass 200 strikeouts soon. His ERA+ is 176, excellent in its own right, but not near 200. (Find Felix’s stats here.)

Let me add one more note in the Cooperstown West vein. Yesterday, the Mariners beat the Yankees yet again, with Ken Griffey looking like the Griffey of old. He hit a run-scoring double in the first and a three-run homer in the second. You may recall that I had a post last month on career RBIs, wondering why people don’t pay attention to the milestone figures as they do with hits and home runs. Today’s Seattle Times article on the game for instance let us know that Griffey’s home run, his 16th of the season, was the 627th of his career. But what about the 4 RBIs? They moved him to 1822 total. He passed Frank Robinson since my last post, moving up to 17th place overall. Another 23 RBIs will move him to 12th, ahead of Al Simmons, Dave Winfield, Rafael Palmeiro, Ted Williams, and Carl Yastrzemski. He won’t answer questions about whether this is his last season, but the guessing is that it is, in which case he won’t get those 22 RBIs. And in five years, he’ll go to Cooperstown East.

Brewer was right. Pretty good weekend.

Categories: Baseball, Sports
  1. September 21, 2009 at 8:04 PM

    That’s pretty amazing. I knew he was having a good season, but not a great one like that you described. Too bad he’s on such a crappy team nobody notices him… Check out our blog http://doin-work.com

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