x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Just winning is not enough for pitchers in MLB any longer

New-age individual pitching statistics are starting to carry more clout in the MLB, writes Gregg Patton.

Detroit’s Max Scherzer is taking aim at his 20th win of the season but that is no longer a prerequisite for the Cy Young award. Elise Amendola / AP Photo
Detroit’s Max Scherzer is taking aim at his 20th win of the season but that is no longer a prerequisite for the Cy Young award. Elise Amendola / AP Photo

There is nothing quite like an old-school versus new-school debate in baseball, a sport so steeped in tradition that its cramped, century-old, brick ballparks in Chicago and Boston are often cited as its finest venues.

So it is no surprise that pitcher Max Scherzer's success this season has spawned a spirited argument pitting old statistical values against the new.

The Detroit Tigers right-hander has a won-lost record of 19-2, far better than any other pitcher in the American League. He will more than likely be the only one to reach the traditionally coveted 20-victory mark.

In an earlier era, that would have been enough to ensure Scherzer of the Cy Young Award.

Not so fast, say a growing legion of baseball analysts – amateur and professional – armed with numbers seemingly crunched at Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and given such headache-inducing labels as Babip (batting average on balls in play) and DFR (Defence-Independent Earned Run Average).

The new-age argument is that Scherzer's win total is as much a function of his team's performance as it is his pitching prowess, since the Tigers have averaged 5.79 runs per game when he pitches - more than any other starter in the league.

In fact, the won-lost stat has been losing its charm, with the American League Cy Young going to Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners in 2010, despite his 13-12 record.

Still, traditionalists had all but ceded the award to Scherzer last month. The calculator crowd fought back. They noted that Hernandez and Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers were at least the statistical equal of Scherzer in traditional categories, such as earned run average and strikeouts, as well as the fancier numbers figuring in such biases as ballpark dimensions and defensive help.

Perhaps the most visible stat-based analyst has been Brian Kenny of the MLB Network. Kenny's "Kill The Win" campaign, aimed at ending official recognition of the won-lost category, has angered the old guard.

For his part, Kenny bristles over the subject, complaining to USA Today that "every headline I've seen about Max leads with his won-lost percentage".

Worse, Kenny argued, is when people who make decisions – from award voters to managers – over value pitchers' wins.

"The people who have their reins on the power aren't using state-of-the-art analysis," he said.

Not surprisingly, when reporters last week brought the calculus class to Jim Leyland, Scherzer's 68-year-old manager, he blew up.

"I don't believe in any of that stuff, I won't listen to it," groused Leyland.

He said that he only cares about one thing in a pitcher. "Did he give us a chance to win? I'm a baseball manager, not a statistician."

In baseball, which began professionally in 1869 and has always cherished its stats, it is a deep schism.


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