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Closers for AL Cy Young?

While the NL Cy Young chase presents an intriguing mix of candidates and dueling teammates, it's AL counterpart seems to boil down to A) a guy who should probably win it, but is severely hindered by playing for a cellar dwellar, which will keep him below 17 wins (Zack Greinke), and B) a guy who needed a good month+ to get into the swing of pitching for his new club, and who clearly hasn't reached the heights he reached in his last Cy Young performance (C.C. Sabathia).

What's an American League Cy Young voter to do? Well, if they've seen any of the Royals this season, they'll probably bite their tongue hard about the whole wins argument and vote for Zack Greinke. But, if they just can't move beyond traditional tape measures, why not consider a vote for a closer?

This could be as good a year as any to make a case that Mariano Rivera or Jonathan Papelbon should win a Cy Young award. Rivera just broke through the 40 save mark again earlier this week, and he shows no signs of letting up. Even if the Yankees rein him back in to save him for the postseason, it's entirely possible that Rivera could finish the regular season with 45 or 46 saves.

The case for Papelbon is a bit more murky. While his numbers are still better than just about anyone in the game's -- a 1.89 ERA and 36 saves -- his outings in 2009 have caused siginificantly more duress in Boston than they ever have in the past. He's walked more batters, he's allowed more contact, creating a scenario in which -- as Dan Barbarisi of the Providence Journal notes -- the closer was allowing 1.5 baserunners per inning before the All-Star break.

The key to that analysis is the phrase "before the All-Star break." Since taking a brief reprieve and pitching an inning in St. Louis, Papelbon has bounced back and returned to the lockdown presence he has been in Boston's bullpen for four years. And he keeps getting better as the season wears on. Just check out these numbers, which he's compiled since July 30:


19 innings pitched
3 hits
< 1 baserunner per inning

Add to that the fact that his walks have dramatically decreased -- he hasn't walked a batter since Aug. 24 -- and it suddenly doesn't seem so crazy to lump Papelbon in a Cy Young conversation with the likes of Rivera, Sabathia and Greinke. If a closer does win the award, you'd probably have to lean toward Rivera for sentimentality's sake, if for no other reason. But what if he blows two or three saves down the stretch and Papelbon gets blowing by opponents. Add to that a potential vote split among the New York media between Rivera and Sabathia, and you can see a scenario emerging in which Papelbon could sneak away with the award, despite not having his best season.

We're not saying it's going to happen, we're just saying that it could happen. In the end, that only makes the entire scenario more intriguing. As for us, we're voting for Greinke (not that we have a vote), barring an 0-fer finish from the emerging Kansas City ace.

By Cameron Smith  |  September 15, 2009; 1:10 PM ET
Categories:  Red Sox , Royals , Yankees  | Tags: C.C. Sabathia, Cy Young, Jonathan Papelbon, Mariano Rivera, Royals, Yankees, Zack Greinke, mariano rivera, zack greinke  
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Comments

I think that greater than/less than sign should be pointed the other way.

Posted by: ah___ | September 15, 2009 2:15 PM | Report abuse

i'd vote for scott kazmir. at least then that prediction i made could hold true.

Posted by: adampschroeder | September 15, 2009 7:54 PM | Report abuse

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