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.

Report: Astros remain in contact with the Athletics on Sonny Gray

OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 06: Sonny Gray #54 of the Oakland Athletics pitches against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning at the Oakland Coliseum on August 6, 2016 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
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The Astros remain in contact with the Athletics on starting pitcher Sonny Gray, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports. The Astros have added Charlie Morton this offseason, but the club has been trying to add a big-name starting pitcher to put at the top of the rotation behind Dallas Keuchel.

Gray, 27, was limited to 22 starts in the 2016 season due to a forearm issue. His stats left a lot to be desired, as he finished with a 5-11 record, a 5.69 ERA, and a 94/42 K/BB ratio over 117 innings. Considering how Gray pitched in the previous three years, he’s a good bet to bounce back.

Gray is under team control through 2019, which is a big draw for the Astros. Needless to say, the Athletics would want a haul in terms of prospects. Gray will earn $3.575 million in 2017, having avoided arbitration in his first year of eligibility.

President Obama Welcomes the Cubs to the White House

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As we noted last week, The Chicago Cubs took the unusual step of not waiting until the summer after winning the World Series to make their customary White House visit to meet the president. They did it today, seeing President Obama a few short days before he leaves office.

Despite the fact that Obama is a White Sox fan, he met the Cubs with diplomacy and grace. It’s almost as if he’s been in that business for the past eight years. In return, he was given some gifts by the Cubs: Theo Epstein presented Obama with a No. 44 Cubs jersey, a tile from the center field scoreboard at Wrigley Field, and a lifetime pass to Wrigley as well.

Obama is staying in D.C. after he leaves office this week, hanging around so his daughter can finish high school in the same place she started. Even so, he’s likely going to be back to Chicago a good bit over the rest of his life, so he’ll likely be able to put the free pass to work. Assuming it comes with, like, six companion passes for his Secret Service detail.