My ballot: American League Cy Young

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Later today the Baseball Writers Association of America will announce their choice for AL Cy Young, but first here’s how my ballot would look:
1. Zack Greinke, Kansas City
2. Felix Hernandez, Seattle
3. Roy Halladay, Toronto
4. Justin Verlander, Detroit
5. CC Sabathia, New York
Zack Greinke was the best pitcher in the American League this season, but because some people misguidedly still focus on win-loss records to evaluate such things you can blame his Royals teammates when it’s not a unanimous vote.
Greinke’s league-leading 2.16 ERA is the AL’s lowest since Pedro Martinez in 2000, and over the past 20 years only Martinez and Roger Clemens have a better mark. Greinke also ranked among the league’s top three in opponents’ batting average, OPS against, strikeouts, strikeout-to-walk ratio, complete games, and shutouts while throwing 229 innings, so the fact that he was “only” 16-8 with little offensive, defensive, or bullpen support from a team that was 49-89 when he didn’t get the decision is hardly important.
Consider that in his losses and no-decisions Greinke went 0-8 in 17 starts despite posting a 3.34 ERA that would have ranked fourth in the league ahead of CC Sabathia at 3.37 and Justin Verlander at 3.45. He lost twice when giving up one run and got stuck with no-decisions six times when he allowed two or fewer runs, including once when he tossed seven shutout innings. Give him better teammates and Greinke wins 20 games, but that doesn’t change how well he pitched.
In many seasons Felix Hernandez’s performance would have been worthy of the award, because 239 innings of a 2.49 ERA is damn impressive. However, he allowed 17 more runs than Greinke in just nine more innings, and also benefited from a vastly superior defense and pitcher-friendly ballpark. Roy Halladay also had a Cy Young-caliber season with a 2.79 ERA in 239 innings, and then there’s a pretty clear gap between the Greinke-Hernandez-Halladay trio and the next tier that includes Verlander and Sabathia.
Or at least there should be. In terms of runs saved compared to a replacement-level pitcher–that is, the caliber of arms readily available at Triple-A–Greinke was worth 88 runs, followed by Hernandez at 75 and Halladay at 74. Verlander was fourth at 61, with Sabathia and Jon Lester tied for fifth at 55. When the actual ballots are revealed later today there’s no doubt that Verlander and Sabathia will claim plenty of top-three votes, but that has far more to do with their 19 wins than their actual pitching.

Jorge Soler diagnosed with strained oblique, Opening Day in doubt

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Royals outfielder Jorge Soler has been diagnosed with a strained oblique, making it likely that he begins the regular season on the disabled list, Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star reports.

The Royals acquired Soler from the Cubs in December in exchange for reliever Wade Davis. Over parts of three seasons with the Cubs, Soler hit .258/.328/.434 with 27 home runs and 98 RBI in 765 plate appearances.

When he’s healthy, Soler is expected to find himself in the Royals’ lineup as a right fielder and occasionally as a designated hitter.

Report: Cardinals, Yadier Molina making “major progress” on contract extension

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Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reports that the Cardinals and catcher Yadier Molina are making “major progress” on a contract extension. Molina told the team he won’t discuss an extension during the season, hence the rapid progress.

Molina is entering the last guaranteed year of a five-year, $75 million contract signed in March 2012. He and the Cardinals hold a mutual option worth $15 million with a $2 million buyout for the 2018 season. The new extension would presumably cover at least the 2018-19 seasons and likely ’20 as well.

Molina is 34 years old but is still among the most productive catchers in baseball. Last season, he hit .307/.360/.427 with 38 doubles, 58 RBI, and 56 runs scored in 581 plate appearances. Though he has lost a step or two with age, Molina is still well-regarded for his defense. The Cardinals also value his ability to handle the pitching staff.