Saturday, October 05, 2013

Put to rest the run support asterisk with Scherzer

I can picture in my mind that moment when Brian Kenney of the MLB Network saw his dreams of someone other than Max Scherzer winning the Cy Young Award went poof. Scherzer was going to be Kenney's poster boy for the meaninglessness of the win statistic so he could show that guys like King Felix and Darvish were the better pitchers. The problem for Kenney became that Scherzer, despite the run support and the wins was the best pitcher in the American League in 2013.

And then we get this headline from Jim Caple at ESPN after Scherzer's playoff win against the A's yesterday: "Run support no big deal for Scherzer." In Caple's defense, his point was that Scherzer showed why the pitcher was the Cy Young Award's best candidate. But Caple got to the point by bringing up the tired argument:
"Hmmm. Apparently, Max Scherzer can also win when he doesn't get great run support. Funny how good pitchers can do that.

Scherzer received the third-highest run support in the majors -- nearly six runs per game -- during the regular season, leading some critics to complain that his 21 wins were as much a testament to his teammates' bats as his pitching. That is, if they gave any credence to wins at all."

Caple is basically saying the same thing I have been saying here for the last couple of months, so I should be grateful. But for me, I will not be happy until Scherzer can be mentioned without the run support even coming up in the conversation. Put it to rest already.

Max Scherzer beat league averages no matter what he received for run support. Yes, he received an average of six runs plus run support per game. But it is not like he received that every game. The American League averages for starting pitchers for run support went like this:
  • 0-2 Runs = 30.2% of occurrences
  • 3-5 Runs = 39.8%
  • 6 or more = 30%
Scherzer's were indeed skewed as his same percentages were: 15.6%, 40.6% and 43.8% respectively. While his 3-5 run games of support were near the norm, he only had five starts with two or less and fourteen with more than six. But again, he beat the norms in every category. Here are the league winning percentages in those splits:
  • 0-2 runs = .121 winning percentage
  • 3-5 runs = .534 
  • 6 or more = .915
Scherzer's winning percentages in those same splits were: .250, 1.000, 1.000. Those wins were no accident. And let's for a moment, compare them to the great season Verlander put up in 2011 in his Cy Young Award winning season. Verlander's occurrences 17.6%, 50% and 32.3%. So Verlander also received a lot of run support in 2011. I do not remember that being so hotly debated during that season as far as his winning percentage. All of Verlander's losses that season were in the six (and only six) occurrences of when the Tigers scored zero to two runs in a game. That is basically the same as what happened to Scherzer this season.

Was Scherzer's season up to Verlander's 2011 standard? No, I don't think so. I don't think many seasons like Verlander's in 2011 come up very often in one lifetime. But Scherzer was clearly this year's best pitcher in the American League and run support had little to do with it.

But now perhaps with this playoff win, people can stop saying Scherzer's name without having to include the run support thing in the same sentence or paragraph. The win statistic is not the most important statistic to rate a pitcher. I get that. But for a starting pitcher, it is far from meaningless. Scherzer was the winningest pitcher in the American League. But he was also the best.

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