10 Reasons Max Scherzer Should Win the Cy Young over Clayton Kershaw
Who will win the NL Cy Young award? Will it be the reigning hardware-holder Max Scherzer or the three-time recipient Clayton Kershaw?
I want it known that I love Clayton Kershaw and I think he is a first-ballot hall of famer. He is one of my favorite athletes in sports and if I formed a rotation of the five best starting pitchers of my lifetime, he would make it. That said, Scherzer is more deserving of the Cy Young this year and I’d hate to see him robbed of an important award he’s earned by voters looking at the wrong things.
Here are 10 reasons why Scherzer should be named the 2017 NL Cy Young over the always-brilliant Kershaw.
Scherzer was way harder to hit
The Nationals’ ace was the hardest starting pitcher in the league to get a base hit off of this season. He yielded 5.7 hits every nine innings he threw. Kershaw allowed 6.8 hits per nine innings. Scherzer’s batting average against of .179 was also best in the NL. In fact, no other starter even held opponents under a .200 average this season. The league hit .207 off Kershaw, which shows incredible dominance but doesn’t begin to approach Scherzer’s figure.
Scherzer was more dominant
Max struck out 12 batters per nine innings, a number that very few starters could even dream of approaching. You know who strikes out a dozen batters each nine innings? Relievers. Closers who throw 99. Not starters who throw 200-innings and work deep into starts every time they get the ball. Kershaw, for the record, fanned 10.5 per nine which is still amazing. But again it doesn’t stack up with Scherzer. Because of the discrepancy in the innings the two worked, Scherzer has fanned 63 more batters than Kershaw. In fact, Scherzer has the most strikeouts in the league despite missing parts of three starts with a neck ailment.
Scherzer was more durable
Scherzer will end his season having missed three starts. If you add to those three starts a game in which he left after an inning he will have left roughly 25 innings of performance on the DL. Kershaw is likely going to end his 2017 campaign with 27 outings, having missed about six starts and 40-plus frames. I’m not going to penalize Scherzer for having a neck problem just like you can’t penalize Kershaw for having a back issue. But that said, when you’re comparing the two best pitchers in the league and one pitched a lot more often than the other it shouldn’t be completely dismissed.
Scherzer was the hardest pitcher in the league to get on base against
WHIP is one of my favorite stats. Walks plus hits per inning pitched. More easily said, how many runners do you allow to get on base each inning? Nobody in the sport let fewer runners get on base than Scherzer. What is a pitcher’s job? If you said to keep hitters off base you are correct. Who did a better job at that, Scherzer or Kershaw? The answer is Scherzer. Scherzer’s WHIP was a league-leading .907. Kershaw’s was .930. Good but not Scherzer-good.
Win-Loss record is an antiquated, misleading statistic when determining individual pitching excellence
Kershaw (18-4) has a better record than Scherzer (16-6). That and two bucks will get the Dodgers lefty a pack of gum at Safeway. It is next to meaningless. Kershaw spent most of the season supported by a superior bullpen. Starting pitchers cannot control run support. They can not control how the late-inning arms fair after they depart. They can help their chances to have a good record by pitching well. Both did. Scherzer was more dominant and more effective and has a worse record. Why would you penalize him for that in an award that is solely designed to reward individual achievement?
The NL West has worse lineups than the NL East does
The two teams that have scored the fewest runs in the National League were the San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres. The Giants have scored 621 times and the poor Padres have crossed home plate 597 more times than you and eight of your friends. Kershaw sharing a division with those clubs is a dramatic benefit. He faced them a combined seven times and allowed more than a single earned-run in just one of those starts. I’m Scherzer would have liked to have been able to get fat on those two lineups. Kershaw did also have to deal with the Rockies and Diamondbacks (the No. 3 and No. 4 lineups in the NL). But the NL East doesn’t have bottom-feeders to pad stats against like the Padres and Giants. The worst offense in the East scored 41 more runs than either of those two.
FIP is more important than ERA when analyzing pitching performance
Fielding independent pitching is a complicated formula but just know that the point of the metric is to convert a pitcher’s three true outcomes into an ERA. It is designed to tell you what a pitcher’s ERA should be, based on the things they control by themselves. It accounts for factors a starting pitcher can’t control that influence their ERA. Kershaw has a better ERA than Scherzer does (2.21 to 2.55) but Scherzer has the better FIP (2.92 to 3.01). What does this mean? Scherzer’s ERA ‘should’ be 2.92 and Kershaw’s ‘should’ be 3.01. So in one of the few categories where Kershaw actually has a statistical edge, if you look deeper you’ll find it’s another advantage for Scherzer.
Scherzer wins the WAR
Wins above replacement shows a player’s value to the team by suggesting how many wins a player is worth. Scherzer is worth 5.9 wins to the Nationals. Kershaw was worth 4.7 wins to the Dodgers. If you are one of the old-school thinkers who cares about wins and losses, and you shouldn’t be, this would be the better way for you to prioritize a pitcher’s ability to ‘win.’ Losing Scherzer would cost the Nationals more games than losing Kershaw would cost the Dodgers.
Scherzer had a better home run rate
When you drive a ball against Scherzer does it go further than it does against Kershaw? Who do you barrel at a better rate? Only 11% of the fly balls hit off Scherzer left the yard. Contrarily, 15.5% of the fly balls off Kershaw went for homers. Scherzer’s home run rate was a big problem in 2016, a Cy Young season that saw him have few other flaws. He corrected it in 2017.
Scherzer allowed softer contact
Line drive percentage indicates how many balls are hit on a line (not grounded or popped into the air). Scherzer has a lower line drive percentage (16.9) than Kershaw (18.7). Perhaps a better indicator of how loud the contact was off the two aces is hard hit percetage, which via fangraphs, also favors Scherzer. Scherzer allowed hard contact 26.8% of the time compared to Kershaw’s 27.2%. While those two numbers are close together, Scherzer’s soft contact percentage (19.8) is vastly different than Kershaw’s (24.2)