SweetSpot: Max Scherzer

Keith Law's review of the Evan Gattis trade wasn't kind to the Astros:
There's a good chance Atlanta walks out of this deal with an above-average starting pitcher and an everyday third baseman, which would be a heck of a return for a flawed player such as Gattis. The Astros get four years of control of Gattis, and if they choose to use him behind the plate on occasion, the acquisition might free them up to trade one of their many catchers ... but is this the kind of player the Astros should be trying to acquire right now? They're not contenders this year, probably not in 2016, and by 2017 Gattis will be turning 31 and past peak, which we've probably already seen. I have no objection to the Astros trading from their passel of prospects to add real major league talent, but they should be aiming higher than an OBP sinkhole who doesn't add value on defense.

I'm not quite as down on the trade as Keith. While Michael Foltynewicz has a monster fastball and a good curveball, his minor league numbers have always been mediocre: He's allowed nearly a hit an inning in his career and has just 478 strikeouts in 562.2 innings. He did fan 102 in 102.1 innings in Triple-A in 2014 but also posted a 5.08 ERA as he walked 4.6 batters per nine innings. I'm just speculating here, but I'm guessing the Astros' math guys are predicting that Foltynewicz never pans out as a quality starter. Still, as Keith pointed out, he's a highly regarded prospect who, along with third-base prospect Rio Ruiz, probably could have returned a better player than Gattis.

Here are two figures that help explain why the Astros made the trade:

Astros left fielders, 2014: .218/.286/.317
Astros first basemen, 2014: .168/.277/.307

That's not a misprint: Astros first basemen hit .168. The Astros ranked last in the majors in wOBA at both positions. Acquiring Gattis gives them flexibility: They can play Gattis in left field; they can DH Gattis and play Chris Carter at first base and let Robbie Grossman/Jake Marisnick/L.J. Hoes/Domingo Santana duke it out for left field; they can DH Gattis and play Carter in left field. It's all about flexibility. If Jon Singleton doesn't hit, he's not locked in at first base, and they have multiple options for left field.

Also, consider that the Astros were also last in the majors in wOBA at third base as Matt Dominguez didn't hit at all. They signed Jed Lowrie as a free agent, and everybody assumed it was to play shortstop, but I'm not so sure Lowrie doesn't end up at third base. The Astros were next to last in the American League in runs in 2014 but have reason to believe they'll see major offensive upgrades at three positions plus a full season from potential breakout star George Springer. They signed free-agent relievers Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson to help a bullpen that had the worst ERA in the majors.

Still, the Astros were 70-92 in 2014, so even improved offense at three or four positions and a better bullpen won't necessarily make them a playoff contender. But what the Astros have is money, and that could make them a potential mystery team to sign Max Scherzer. Or maybe they were the team that reportedly offered James Shields that $110 million contract (although he doesn't seem like a pitcher an organization as dependent on analytics as the Astros would spend $100 million on). According to Baseball-Reference.com, the Astros currently have the lowest projected payroll in the majors. They have no prohibitive long-term contracts, with $34 million in salary commitments for 2016 and just $19 million in 2017. So they have plenty of room in the budget to sign Scherzer.

Jim Bowden didn't list the Astros as a potential landing spot for Scherzer in his ESPN Insider column. Sure, it's a long shot, but Scott Boras clients usually take the most money, so if the Astros offer the most money, it's not a crazy scenario. If playing for a team with a good shot at winning the World Series in 2015 was a priority for Scherzer, wouldn't he have signed by now? The Tigers may be the favorite to re-sign Scherzer, and while they may be better than the Astros in 2015, which organization has the brighter future? You can't make a sound argument that the Astros will be stronger over the next seven years than the Tigers.

Plus, you throw out a rotation with Scherzer, Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh and Scott Feldman and that looks like a playoff-caliber rotation if Keuchel and McHugh match their 2014 performances. Toss in a better offense, a better bullpen and prospects like Carlos Correa and Mark Appel soon to arrive, and the Astros aren't that far away. With Scherzer, the Astros could even dream about a 2015 playoff appearance.

We probably spend way too much discussing and arguing about awards, but it's fun and fans like to argue about these things, so straight to the numbers. There are, I'd suggest, five reasonable Cy Young candidates in the American League:


Felix 14-5 2.14 2.47 219.0 160 41 225 15 .551 2.59 20 65.5 6.8 5.8
Kluber 16-9 2.54 2.87 219.2 195 48 244 14 .631 2.47 17 61.7 6.3 6.5
Sale 12-3 1.99 2.31 163.0 116 34 192 11 .543 2.46 11 66.4 6.5 5.3
Lester 15-10 2.45 3.06 205.2 181 46 206 15 .633 2.81 13 60.8 4.3 5.7
Scherzer 16-5 3.26 3.34 207.1 184 58 237 18 .661 2.88 12 59.3 5.6 5.2

(Some of the numbers above: OPS is OPS allowed; FIP is Fielding Independent Pitching; Felix -- named in honor of Felix Hernandez -- is the number of starts a pitcher had where he went at least seven innings and allowed two runs or fewer; GS is average Game Score; and bWAR and fWAR are from Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs.)

A few weeks ago, Hernandez appeared to be a Cy Young lock, with that stretch of 17 Felixes in a row, an all-time record. Over his last six starts, however, he has just one win and a 3.03 ERA. OK, that's not bad when your bad stretch still produces a lower ERA than Max Scherzer has on the season. Hernandez's main culprit in this period has been the home run: After allowing seven in his first 25 starts, he's allowed eight in those six, including four in one game to the Nationals.

Still, this little slump has allowed others to jump into the race. Corey Kluber had another outstanding effort on Tuesday, striking out a career-high 14 to earn his 16th win and lower his ERA to 2.54. He has a 1.84 ERA since the All-Star break and his FanGraphs WAR has also edged ahead of Hernandez's. While Hernandez's changeup is regarded with awe, it's time to view Kluber's curve with same level of appreciation, as opponents are hitting .094 against it in 198 plate appearances with no home runs and 113 strikeouts.

Chris Sale leads the AL with a 1.99 ERA, despite pitching in a tougher park for pitchers than Hernandez. He's closing in on Hernandez in both bWAR and fWAR and starts Wednesday against the Royals. The Condor's slider is reminiscent of another tall, slim lefty: Randy Johnson. Opponents are hitting .135 off it with just four extra-base hits (two home runs).

Jon Lester is close behind in ERA, innings and WAR, but he's also allowed 14 unearned runs, so his actual runs allowed per nine is significantly higher than Hernandez's. Scherzer's ERA is higher but he has solid peripherals; keep in mind that his ERA was hurt by that 10-run outing to the Royals -- all earned runs.

One category I like to look at is dominant performances. That's why I like the "Felix" -- if you go seven and allow two runs or fewer, you should win, or you've at least put your team in position to win. It's a better quick-and-dirty method than quality starts (six innings, three runs or fewer), which don't work as well in this era of depressed offense.

As you can see, Lester and Scherzer trail Hernandez significantly in that area. They've been terrific, but I feel comfortable knocking them off the list.

The problem I have in giving Sale the edge over Hernandez is that large gap in innings -- Hernandez has pitched 56 more innings. So why is Sale so close in WAR? The quality of opposition has been about the same (4.35 runs scored per game on average for Hernandez's opponents, 4.28 for Sale's), so it's all about park effects. But Felix has a 2.16 ERA at home and 2.11 on the road. This isn't a Sandy Koufax type of situation, where Hernandez derives an obvious and large benefit from Safeco Field. Maybe Sale has been slightly better on a per-inning basis, but I can't get over that gap in innings and the benefit has created in resting the bullpen.


Who is your AL Cy Young winner right now?


Discuss (Total votes: 2,137)

That leaves Kluber. He's got the innings, the strikeouts and more wins than Felix. He's faced an easier group of opponents -- 4.09 runs on average -- and his runs per nine innings is still 0.40 higher than Felix's. That's a minor knock against him.

It could come down to wins, especially if Kluber gets up to 18 by the end of the season and Felix remains stuck at 14 or 15. But we probably all know the tough luck Felix has pitched in this year. Hernandez has seven games where's he allowed no runs or zero runs, tied for most in the majors (with Jeff Samardzija and Hector Santiago). Sale has six such games and Kluber four. If we increase the runs allowed to two, Hernandez has had 11 such starts where he didn't get the win, compared to eight for Sale and seven for Kluber.

I still think Felix is the guy. But it's close enough that these final two starts for each pitcher could make a difference.

Last week, after Corey Kluber dominated the Mariners with an 85-pitch shutout, I rashly tweeted that Kluber is one of the best 10 starting pitchers in the game. That seemed to stir things up a bit on Twitter, and Giants fans were especially angered when I suggested Kluber is better than Madison Bumgarner. Kluber came back on Monday with another solid effort, allowing one run while striking out seven in 7.1 innings, improving his record to 12-6 with a 2.55 ERA.

But is he one of baseball's top 10 starters right now?

[+] EnlargeCorey Kluber
Mark Cunningham/Getty ImagesHe's been very, very good. But is Corey Kluber one of the 10 best starters in baseball right now?
How do you even measure such a thing? We can take the easy way out and just look at wins above replacement for the season.

1. Felix Hernandez: 5.8
2. Corey Kluber: 5.0
3. Jon Lester: 4.7
4. Clayton Kershaw: 4.5
5. Chris Sale: 4.2

1. Felix Hernandez: 5.5
2. Clayton Kershaw: 5.2
3. Corey Kluber: 4.7
4. Johnny Cueto: 4.6
5. Chris Sale/Max Scherzer: 4.5

By WAR, Kluber isn't just a top-10 starter, but a top-five starter. Even ignoring how much you believe in WAR, the question is: Do you buy into Kluber's four-month streak as a true breakout performance? How much emphasis do we place on history? Zack Greinke won a Cy Young Award in 2009. Should that matter as to how we evaluate him now? Scherzer won the Cy Young Award last year when he was arguably the best pitcher in the American League. How much should that matter as to how we evaluate him in August 2014?

Bill James actually devised a method to answer this question a couple of years ago. He wrote:
Everybody starts out with a ranking of 300.0, and you can’t go lower than 300, even if you pitch badly. If you’re at 300, you’re unranked; you’re only actually on the list if you have a current score higher than 300. There would typically be 150 to 180 pitchers who are, at the moment, ranked. Pitchers never actually pitch badly enough that they would rank below 300 (if it were possible to do so) for more than two or three starts, because if you pitch that badly, you lose your position in the rotation.

When a pitcher makes a start, we:

a) Mark down his previous ranking by 3%, and

b) Add 30% of his Game Score for the start.

We base the rankings on Game Scores, which means that we ignore wins and losses, but give weight to innings pitched, runs allowed, earned runs allowed, walks and strikeouts.

James also adjusted for park effects, inactivity (if a pitcher doesn't pitch, his overall rating goes down) and postseason play, which he factored in. Anyway, his site unfortunately doesn't update the rankings, so I don't know how Kluber would rank. So I'll just wing my own top 10.

1. Clayton Kershaw

The best pitcher in baseball, and I don't think anybody is really arguing this. Hernandez ranks higher on the WAR lists because Kershaw missed April, so he doesn't have as many innings.

2. Felix Hernandez

3. Adam Wainwright

Similar in many ways -- veteran right-handers (it seems weird to call Felix a "veteran," but he has been around a long time) having their best seasons.

4. Chris Sale

He's 10-1 with a 2.09 ERA with 129 strikeouts and 20 walks in 116 innings. Incredible numbers. He has cut his home run rate from last year, even though he pitches in a good home run park. I'm not knocking Wainwright when I say this: Sale is better. But he did miss time earlier this year and I think we have to give Wainwright extra credit for his durability.

5. Yu Darvish

6. David Price


Is Corey Kluber one of the 10 best starters in the game?


Discuss (Total votes: 2,346)

I'm not completely comfortable ranking Price this high -- he's ninth in FanGraphs WAR and 25th in B-R WAR. He has 189 strikeouts and just 23 walks but has allowed 20 home runs, and he goes from a good pitcher's park with a good Rays defense behind him to a better hitter's park with a below-average Tigers defense behind him. It's possible that change will reveal that he did benefit from pitching in Tampa. Or it may not reveal anything. But Price has been good a pitcher for five years, and his new approach of pounding the strike zone has basically turned him into a harder-throwing version of Cliff Lee.

OK, now things get a little murky. Let's start with Kluber versus Bumgarner, because that got a lot of feedback on Twitter.

I know Bumgarner has been a solid pitcher for several years. He has come up big in the postseason. But in comparing 2014: Kluber has the better ERA, the better FIP, the better strikeout rate, a lower walk rate, a lower home run rate, a higher ground ball rate, the lower batting average and OPS allowed, has pitched more innings and has done it in a DH league while pitching in a tougher park with a lousy defense behind him. I can't rate Bumgarner ahead of Kluber.

(By the way, Bumgarner's career high bWAR is 3.8, achieved last year. A lot of that is park effects. Giants fans will point out that Bumgarner has a better ERA on the road in his career than at home, but that's not the way park effects work. Bumgarner still has the advantage of pitching half his games in a pitcher's park.)

Jon Lester? Hmm. Lester is a No. 2 starter having a No. 1-level season. But he had a 3.75 ERA last year and 4.82 the year before. FanGraphs and B-R differ on his value -- FanGraphs ranks him third overall while B-R ranks him 22nd. Kluber, by the way, had a 3.85 ERA last year with excellent peripherals. If you give Lester a little extra credit for his postseason last year, I'll reluctantly give him the nod, although I think his track record works against him just as much as Kluber's lack of track record works against him.

Scherzer is similar to Lester, except his No. 1 season came last year. He's been nearly as good this year, even though his BABIP has once again bounced up:

2011: .314
2012: .333
2013: .259
2014: .316

One reason Scherzer's BABIP is usually high is that he does pitch up in the strike zone, unlike a lot of pitchers who pound the zone at the knees. Of course, the other reason is the lousy Tigers defense. (Take note, Mr. Price.)

Johnny Cueto? I'm not quite sure what to do with Cueto, giving his history of injuries. But we're talking best starters right now, and Cueto has been healthy and effective all season and he has always been effective even when he has missed time.

Garrett Richards is another young starter having a breakout season. While Kluber relies on command and a wipeout curve, Richards has upper 90s heat and a deadly slider. Their numbers:

Kluber: 2.55 ERA, .233/.277/.341, 26.7 percent K rate
Richards: 2.58 ERA, .195/.267/.259, 24.7 percent K rate

Kluber rates a little higher in WAR because he has pitched 12 more innings and Richards benefits from a pitcher's park. Tough call here. Like Kluber, Richards doesn't have much of a track record before this season. There's no denying his stuff. Richards has the fourth-lowest BABIP allowed among starters at .258 (Kluber's is .309) and a low rate of home runs per fly ball (third-lowest among starters). I think those numbers indicate Richards has pitched in more good luck than Kluber this season. But I could be wrong; his stuff is nasty.

OK, where does that leave us? With apologies to Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Hisashi Iwakuma, the injured Masahiro Tanaka and maybe a couple of others, the top 10 starters in the majors RIGHT NOW:

1. Kershaw
2. Hernandez
3. Wainwright
4. Sale
5. Darvish
6. Price
7. Cueto
8. Lester
9. Kluber
10. Scherzer

Including Richards, you could rank the final four guys in any order, really. If you want a longer track record, go with Lester and Scherzer. If you like raw, unhittable stuff, go with Richards. If you think postseason history matters, go with Lester. If you like 28-year-olds out of nowhere with curveballs that make major league hitters weep in frustration, go with our man Corey Kluber -- one of the 10 best starters in the game.

Why Tigers are AL favorites

June, 29, 2014

With the season nearly half over, the Detroit Tigers have stumbled to first place in the AL Central. And yes, I said "stumbled." As you might recall, the Tigers were the ESPN Forecast preseason prediction to be the American League representative in the World Series. Yet so far they have the second-best record and worst run differential of the three AL division leaders.

As bland as leading a division by 4.5 games can be (which can make all the difference in sudden-death wild-card formats), the 2014 Tigers could have been even worse. I wouldn’t call it karma, but trading Prince Fielder seemed fortunate, especially after he stuck his neck out with some rather nonchalant comments about last year’s playoffs but before he had the season-ending neck injury. Throw in slow starts from Austin Jackson, Torii Hunter and Miguel Cabrera, a false start from Joe Nathan, and no start at all from their original starting shortstop, Jose Iglesias, and even the Cleveland Indians (briefly) looked competitive.

That phase has passed. After Saturday's come-from-behind victory over the Houston Astros, the Tigers are 8-2 in their past 10 games while other teams in the AL Central have wilted. Cabrera, their reigning Triple Crown winner, has a .994 OPS over the past week. To complement Cabrera, Victor Martinez hasn't exactly been roster filler either, nesting himself among the league leaders in hitters. And the guy they acquired for Fielder? Ian Kinsler's got a higher WAR than Martinez and Cabrera. While you might be dazzled by the offense, don't forget that the Tigers have two Cy Young award winners, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, on their staff which can make all the difference in a short series playoff format. Furthermore, they have remaining upside on both sides of the ball if Jackson returns to form and Nathan returns to relevance.

[+] EnlargeIan Kinsler
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesIan Kinsler for Prince Fielder? The Tigers have certainly gotten the better end of that deal so far.
But what if Jackson falters or Nathan remains, um, not good? What separates the Tigers from the other AL division leaders and wild-card wannabes is that they have much more flexibility to make moves at the trade deadline, getting the players needed to win in 2014. It is no secret that Mike Ilitch, the elder Tigers’ owner, badly wants to win a World Series. Ilitch has thrown, wisely, his support (and let’s not forget the money) to a front office headed by GM Dave Dombrowski, who has provided Detroit with one of baseball's rarities, a team that perpetually wins.

We’ve seen evidence of Dombrowski's handiwork beyond the Fielder trade. Before the season, he signed J.D. Martinez to a minor league contract and called him up near the end of April to avert an offensive outfield offense. While Martinez has been used sparingly and is highly unlikely to continue to post an elite OPS of .957, he’s bought time for the rest of the offense to find its wheels. Meanwhile, though Rookie of the Year candidate Nick Castellanos has been serviceable at third base, Dombrowski’s early promotion of Eugenio Suarez to plug the shortstop hole is paying off offensively, if not defensively, so far.

Furthermore, there’s little that blocks Dombrowski from making a future move. Though the Tigers' farm system isn’t the richest in the world, there is still some talent that can be used to snatch players from “rebuilding” teams. Meanwhile, they can still take on more money despite having a payroll in excess of $161M. Comparatively, the Blue Jays and A’s are both near their limit payroll-wise. Sure, they can acquire players for prospects (which would be a break for the norm for both of them), but the Tigers can swim in both ends of the pool.

If Hunter continues to look better smiling than he does hitting, he can ride the bench and be sent on his merry way while a star player (and their ensuing salary) is brought on. Ilitch has the finances to absorb a Nathan demoted to middle reliever status if it means bringing on a still-working closer. If Castellanos (or some other Tiger) goes into a horrible slump, the Tigers can make a move. Those are worst case scenarios from a front office that wants to win. If Castellanos achieves his upside, pure gravy cometh.

The AL East and AL West are still tight races, meaning that even the Oakland A's, with their lofty run differential, could get bumped out early in either a wild-card game or short series. We also know that there are teams "in the hunt" such as the Los Angeles Angels or (gasp) the New York Yankees that will spend. While the Tigers, at present, have neither the best record nor the best run differential, they have an outstanding group of core talent, they are in the best position to win their division and have the kind of roster that can go far in the playoffs. Furthermore, they have a front office empowered to make moves that their rivals just can't or won't make.

Richard Bergstrom writes for Rockies Zingers, a SweetSpot network blog on the Colorado Rockies.
Tuesday's battle for first place in the AL Central was supposed to be a pitcher's duel between reigning Cy Young winner Max Scherzer and rookie fireballer Yordano Ventura. Instead, Scherzer allowed 10 hits and 10 runs in four innings. His ERA climbed from 3.05 to 3.84 and he probably cost himself at least a few million bucks when he hits free agency this offseason.

In the second inning he threw 51 pitches as the Royals scored seven runs. The inning went: Single, home run, walk, home run, single, bunt single, single, single, ground out, ground out, strike out.

As Jeff Sullivan wrote on FanGraphs:
You might assume that, Tuesday, Scherzer simply didn't have it. Everybody is entitled to an off-night, and maybe Scherzer just didn't have the right feel for his pitches. But, in the top of the first, Scherzer set the Royals down 1-2-3, on ten pitches, with a strikeout. In the top of the third, he set the Royals down 1-2-3, on nine pitches, with a strikeout. Scherzer had it, then he didn't have it to an extreme degree, like a four-standard-deviations-away-from-the-mean degree, then he had it again. Conventional wisdom states that there are nights when pitchers don’t have their stuff. What research has indicated is that bad innings aren’t actually particularly predictive. Feel can come and go, between innings and between pitches, and it’s not like Scherzer was doomed from the get-go. He just wound up getting his [butt] kicked in the span of 30 minutes.

I went back and looked at that second inning. Let's review:
  • Billy Butler single: 3-2 fastball inside, Butler fights it off for soft single down the right-field line.
  • Alex Gordon home run: 1-0 fastball over the middle of the plate. Bad pitch.
  • Salvador Perez walk: After getting ahead 0-2.
  • Mike Moustakas home run: 3-2 changeup over the middle of the plate. Bad pitch.
  • Alcides Escobar single: 2-2 slider off the plate but up. Soft single to right-center. Not a good pitch.
  • Jarrod Dyson bunt single: He can fly. Royals successfully challenged the out call at first.
  • Nori Aoki single: 3-1 fastball up in the zone. Line drive -- more of a flare -- to right. I'd say that J.D. Martinez got a pretty bad read on this one.
  • Omar Infante single: 1-2 fastball right down the middle, lined sharply to center. Bad pitch.

Everything wasn't hit hard but Scherzer did make a lot of bad pitches in the inning. In a different reality, he could throw the same sequence of pitches and get out of the inning. But it certainly wasn't a good inning -- both home runs were awful pitches and the 1-2 fastball to Infante was down the middle and lacked movement. The Royals made Scherzer pay and he become the sixth starter this season to give up 10 or more runs.

But the other five weren't Cy Young winners. How often does a great starter have a terrible game?

For Scherzer, it wasn't even the worst game of his career. His Game Score in this one was 6; back on May 3, 2010, he also allowed 10 runs in a game against the Twins, good for a Game Score of 4. But in looking at pitchers who allowed 10 runs in a game, most of them weren't Cy Young contenders. James Shields is a pretty good one, however, and he's allowed 10 runs in a game four times. Jon Lester had an 11-run start in 2012. Felix Hernandez had a 10-run outing back in 2006, his first full season in the majors. Shields, by the way, is pretty extreme: Since 1961 only four pitchers have had four 10-run starts: Jamie Moyer (5); Shields, Jerry Reuss and Jon Garland (4 each).

Bill James actually just wrote on this subject the other day in a series of posts (pay) he's writing on billjamesonline.com. He developed a system to evaluate each start a pitcher makes -- similar to Game Score but adjusted for era, ballpark and strength of opponent, and he rates each start on a 10-point scale. Anyway, he writes,
"This is what I had never understood, until doing this study ... and it is absolutely amazing that I never understood this, because it is an extremely fundamental truth about the game, which I had somehow unaccountably missed up until this point. Dominant pitchers almost never actually have bad games. I never knew that. Guys like Koufax, Carlton, Gibson, Pedro, the Big Unit, Gooden when he was good ... they almost never actually have bad games. They lose sometimes, because sometimes they run up against another pitcher having an equally good day, and sometimes they give up a few runs because they may be pitching against a good team in a good hitter’s park or something. But in terms of just having a bad day ... they almost never do. Their Good Game/Bad Game percentage is actually very close to 1.000.

He mentions Steve Carlton's 1980 season, when Carlton went 24-9 with a 2.34 ERA for the Phillies. He has Carlton at 34 good games and just one bad one. Indeed, Carlton gave up more than four runs just once -- six runs in 7.1 innings against the Expos on July 2. That was his only bad start of the season, under the James method. In 1997, Randy Johnson made 29 starts. Under James' system, he had 25 good starts and four starts rated as a "5" -- but no bad starts. His lowest Game Score was 47 and he allowed more than four runs once, five runs in six innings. (Interestingly, both of those games came against the Orioles -- who would beat him twice in the postseason that year. Actually, Johnson's worst game was the first game of the Division Series, with a Game Score of 32. Not that I'm bitter or anything.)

So Scherzer has now had two Game Score of under 10. Here are the lowest Game Scores for some current starters:

Shields: -3 (twice)
Hernandez: 4
Justin Verlander: 14
Clayton Kershaw: 12
Adam Wainwright: 4
Tim Hudson: 9
Yu Darvish: 29
Mark Buehrle: 0 (he's one of 62 pitches since 1961 to have at least two 10-run games).
Jered Weaver: 7

Most guys have had some bad games -- most of these are starters where the pitchers last a few innings and give up eight runs and a bunch of hits.

What about the all-time legends. Let's check a few:

Roger Clemens: 2 (1.1 IP, 9 H, 8 R, 2 BB, 0 SO; 7/23/95)
Pedro Martinez: 6 (4.1 IP, 9 H, 10 R, 4 BB, 5 SO; 4/12/03)
Randy Johnson: -5 (2.1 IP, 8 H, 11 R, 6 BB, 2 SO; 4/10/94)

Johnson had one other 10-run game in his carer, with Arizona in 2003.

Greg Maddux: 5 (2.1 IP, 11 H, 8 R, 0 BB, 2 SO; 8/5/88)

Maddux had two 10-run games, in 2002 and 2003.

Tom Seaver: 8 (2 IP, 10 H, 7 R, 1 BB, 1 SO; 5/25/79)

OK, let's end it there as I need to grab some lunch. What makes this new system of James' interesting is you could look at the percentage of good and bad starts for each starter or percentage of awful games. Certainly, it's unusual for a starter of Scherzer's caliber to have such a terrible start.

The other day, I had a discussion with one of my editors: What defines an ace? He brought up Max Scherzer. I said, yes, I would describe Scherzer as an ace. He pointed out Scherzer has never had a complete game in the majors. Can that be an ace? Has he done it long enough, or is one Cy Young season enough to earn the label?

Look, in the end, the definition doesn't really matter all that much, although I suppose how a team views Scherzer will determine the size of the contract he receives this offseason. In the end, either you help your team win games or you don't.

Still, this is the kind of game in which an ace delivers a clutch performance: Scherzer versus the Chicago White Sox's Chris Sale, division game against one of the best and hottest pitchers in the game. Your team is slumping, your bullpen has been taking its lumps and you're trying to avoid a series sweep on the road.

And there was Scherzer in the bottom of the ninth, protecting a 4-0 lead and going for his first career complete game and shutout. You know Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus didn't want to go to his bullpen, and it helped that Scherzer had thrown an efficient 99 pitches through eight innings, but this was going to be Scherzer's game even if it was 1-0. An ace finishes it off. He did, giving up a one-out single to Adam Dunn but striking out Jose Abreu on a nasty 1-2 curveball to lead off the inning and then getting Dayan Viciedo looking on a 96 mph fastball at the knees (well, maybe a little below the knees) for the final out. That was his 113th pitch of the game, showing he was still able to dial it up a notch.

The final score wasn't indicative of the great duel between Scherzer and Sale. If anything, Sale was even more dominant, striking out 10 in seven innings. But he made one mistake -- a flat slider that Victor Martinez lined just over the fence in the left-field corner in the fifth inning. Sale paid the price for all those strikeouts, however, and was out after 116 pitches. The Tigers added three runs against the Chicago bullpen. Scherzer, no stranger to high pitch counts himself, finished with eight strikeouts and three hits while inducing 13 fly outs. Maybe it wasn't the most powerful outing of Scherzer's career, but it might have been his best: His Game Score of 86 was a career high, topping the 84 he had in May against the Houston Astros (three hits, nine strikeouts in eight scoreless innings).

The Tigers needed this game, more than just because it was a battle of staff leaders. On May 18, they were 27-12, owners of the best record in the majors and a hefty seven-game lead in the AL Central. But since then they have gone 6-16 while getting outscored 136-83. The bullpen has received a lot of the criticism, but it's been a team effort and fairly raised the question: Who are the Tigers? The good team we saw early on or the mediocre team that entered Thursday's game having outscored its opponents by just two runs on the season?

The bullpen is certainly a problem, with Joe Nathan struggling and Joba Chamberlain serving up that game-losing home run to David Ortiz on Sunday night while filling in as closer. Its 4.68 ERA is second worst in the majors, and it has allowed 46 runs in the ninth inning -- most in the majors. But the starters haven't been as good, either, allowing 4.10 runs per nine innings compared to 3.68 in 2013. Much of that is the result of Justin Verlander's struggles. The offense, despite the big season from Martinez and usual excellence from Miguel Cabrera, has dipped from 4.91 runs per game to 4.45. Once you get past those two, Torii Hunter (.289 OBP) and Ian Kinsler (.309 OBP) haven't provided an effective pair, especially of late.

There might finally be a ray of light at shortstop, however, in 22-year-old rookie Eugenio Suarez, the team's fourth attempt to replace the injured Jose Iglesias. In the few at-bats I've seen from Suarez, he looks like he's going to hit. He takes an aggressive swing and has popped two home runs in his six games, and, while he struck out three times on Thursday, a lot of guys strike out against Sale. But he's also drawn three walks, and he had eight home runs and 18 doubles in the minors, so he has some pop. We'll see how he handles the position defensively; he's considered to have good hands and feel for the game, but scouts question his range.

As for the AL Central, the Tigers' lead is now a slimmer 2.5 games. They have 34 wins, just one ahead in the win column over the Kansas City Royals, White Sox and Cleveland Indians and three over the Minnesota Twins, who just added Kendrys Morales. Those are flawed teams, but so are the Tigers.

It might come down to aces, and that's where the Tigers might still have the edge with Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez. Maybe it's time for Ausmus to ride his horse a little deeper into games.

Who is the best starting pitcher in baseball right now? I think you can make a strong case for Chris Sale, who maybe isn't the first guy who pops into your head, in part because he did miss a few starts with a tender elbow -- technically a strained flexor muscle -- but he's returned to the White Sox and been nearly unhittable.

In fact, he has been unhittable when facing left-handed batters: They're 0-for-32 against him on the season. In his past four outings, Sale has allowed four hits in 25 innings for a .051 batting average against.

Is he the best? Let's do a quick roll call.

Chris Sale

The case for: 5-0, 1.59 ERA in seven starts. Has allowed a .126 average against with a 52-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His slider has been known to make grown men cry. He had a 3.05 ERA in 2012 and 3.07 in 2013, while pitching in one the best home run parks in the majors. Distinctive three-quarter delivery and unusual arm angle have earned him the nickname "The Condor," which is worth bonus points. Arguably improving as strikeout rate has increased and walk rate decreased.

The case against: Has just one 200-inning season in his career and may not get there this year. This hit rate is unsustainable. Concern about elbow. Only one of his seven starts has come against a team with an above-average offense (and that was Cleveland, which ranks seventh in the AL in runs per game).

Clayton Kershaw

The case for: He's been the best pitcher in baseball the past three years and should have won three straight Cy Young Awards (he has two). He's 4-2, 3.32 and people say he's struggling even though his strikeout and walk rates are both better than last season. If God needed one pitch to get out the Devil, he just might choose Kershaw's curveball. He's averaged 232 innings the past three seasons. He's pitched in front of a shaky defense, especially with poor range from exiled center fielder Matt Kemp and shortstop Hanley Ramirez. Take away that seven-run game where he lasted 1 2/3 innings and he's been as dominant as ever.

The case against: A 3.32 ERA is a 3.32 ERA. Missed time with a sore back, so you have to worry about that. Has actually allowed three extra-base hits, including a home run, off that curveball, which is three more extra-base hits than he allowed last year with it. Got hammered in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series by the Cardinals last year. Only one outing of more than seven innings this year.

Yu Darvish

The case for: If you were going to sculpt a pitcher from clay and infuse him with life, you'd want him to look like Darvish and possess his right arm. He's 5-2 with a 2.04 ERA while pitching in a hitters' park. He's leading the AL in strikeouts per nine innings for the second straight year. Darvish has allowed just three home runs this year after allowing 26 in 2013. Kershaw has allowed a lower batting average (300 innings minimum) since 2012, but Darvish doesn't get to face pitchers. He's walking fewer batters, and over his past four starts -- which included games against Toronto, Detroit and Washington, three good offensive teams -- he allowed four runs and struck out 41 in 31 2/3 innings.

The case against: Hey, he's never thrown a complete game either. Still runs up big pitch counts, which can lead to early exits. Has missed a couple of starts with neck stiffness -- this following a nerve problem in his lower back that hampered him last September.

Masahiro Tanaka

The case for: He's 9-1 with a 2.02 ERA and has 12 quality starts in 12 starts. Leads AL starters in lowest OBP allowed. He's 33-1 over the past two seasons. His splitter has been outlawed by multiple religious groups for defying the laws of nature; batters are hitting .135 against it with 48 strikeouts, two walks and one home run (by Melky Cabrera, on Tanaka's first pitch of the season, which means he's since thrown 315 splitters without much damage). He's rebounded from his one loss with three straight one-run starts.

The case against: It's only 12 starts, so let's see what happens as teams see him again. The quality start stat is a little dubious since he allowed four runs in six innings in his defeat, but only three of the runs were earned. He's allowed eight home runs, so the long ball may prove to be an issue. Struck out 10-plus batters three times in his first five starts but hasn't done it since.

Max Scherzer

The case for: The reigning AL Cy Young winner is 6-2 with a 3.20 ERA; his strikeout, walk and home run rates are essentially the same as last year. Few pitchers can match his four-pitch arsenal of four plus pitches. Has had four starts with no runs allowed this year. Have to admire the guts to turn down a reported $144 million contract and hit free agency after the season.

The case against: Has never thrown a complete game in the majors. If you're talking about the best at this very moment, Scherzer has allowed 16 runs in his past three starts. Hit rate is back up this year. Had one great season but career ERA is still 3.64.

Adam Wainwright

The case for: Talk about a workhouse. Led the NL in innings (and wins) in 2009 and again last season. This year, he's once again leading in innings and wins. He's 8-3 with a 2.31 ERA and holding batters to a .194 average. His curveball has been known to break knees, spirits and bank accounts. Has a 2.53 career postseason ERA and is the prototypical staff leader. He's third in the majors since 2012 in FIP (fielding independent pitching) behind only Kershaw and Felix Hernandez. Has had six games this season of seven-plus innings and no runs.

The case against: His BABIP this season is .252, far below his .320 of 2012 and .311 of last season, so his hit rate may increase moving forward. Gets to pitch in the NL Central, which, let's face it, has had some pretty weak offenses in recent years, except the team Wainwright pitches for. Does have some blowup starts -- a seven-run and six-run game this year, a nine-run and six-run game last year. (Hey, we're nitpicking here.)

Felix Hernandez

The case for: His FIP is second in the majors over the past three years -- 2.62 to Kershaw's 2.57, and he does that facing deeper lineups. He's 8-1 with a 2.57 ERA this year and just three home runs allowed. Has topped 200 innings in six consecutive seasons. That changeup, oh that changeup. Shakespeare would write love sonnets about it if he were alive today. Batters are hitting .143 against it with 49 strikeouts and three walks and one home run (praise you, Matt Dominguez). Has pitched in front of a lot of lousy defense the past couple of seasons, particularly in 2013, when the Mariners' outfield was especially atrocious. Has the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career and faces the pressure of often having to win with one or two runs of support nearly every start. Nicknamed "King" and nobody really has an issue with that.

The case against: Gets to pitch half his games at Safeco Field, where fly balls go to die. Hasn't had an ERA under 3.00 since 2010 or a complete game since 2012. Hasn't had a no-run game yet this year. Can he pitch in a pennant race or big-game situation? Has never had to do that.

Hisashi Iwakuma

The case for: Since he joined the Mariners' rotation in July 2012, he has the best ERA in the AL. Led AL pitchers in Baseball-Reference WAR last season and finished third in Cy Young voting. (See above for notes about bad defense and offense.) His splitter is a thing of beauty: Over the past two seasons batters have hit .174 against it with 99 strikeouts, eight walks and four home runs. Has handed out just four walks in seven starts.

The case against: Missed time with a finger injury this year and wasn't always the most durable pitcher back in his Japan days. No career complete games in the majors. His strikeout rate of 6.4 per nine innings is a little mediocre and he's allowed six home runs after allowing 25 last year. Isn't nicknamed "King."

Johnny Cueto

The case for: Leads the majors with a 1.68 ERA while pitching in that bandbox in Cincinnati. That Luis Tiant-like spin-and-twirl delivery is awesome. Has three complete games and limited batters to a .151 average. His strikeout rate has increased for the third year in a row and is up to 27 percent. With his fastball/cutter/slider/changeup arsenal, he's a four-pitch pitcher and can throw any of them at any time. Has given up more than two earned runs just once so far. One of the best right-handed pickoff moves ever means he shuts down the running game -- one stolen base allowed this year after just three the previous two years (runners were 1-for-10 off him in 2012).

The case against: His .187 BABIP is simply unsustainable. ERA is helped by five unearned runs. Has had trouble staying healthy, making 24 starts in 2011 and 11 last year, so has reached 200 innings just once.

With apologies to: Anibal Sanchez, Julio Teheran, Tim Hudson, Zack Greinke, Madison Bumgarner, David Price, Mark Buehrle, Corey Kluber, Jon Lester, Stephen Strasburg and Sonny Gray, left off for reasons of space, previous track record, lack of a track record, or simply the belief that their hot start isn't sustainable.
I started watching the Detroit Tigers-Cleveland Indians game while in the office this afternoon. Went home. Had a conference call with our editors to discuss the upcoming week. Mowed the lawn. Took the dog for a walk.

The game still wasn’t over. It finally ended after 5 hours, 16 minutes when Al Alburquerque balked home the winning run as the Indians scored twice in the bottom of the 13th inning to cap off a crazy, dramatic, improbably afternoon of baseball.

It completed a three-game sweep for the Indians, right when their season was on the verge of falling apart. It raises the question: Are the Tigers as invincible in the AL Central as it seemed three days ago? More on that later. Some quick thoughts on maybe the best game of the season:

1. Rough outing for Max Scherzer. At one point he had recorded five outs and allowed 10 baserunners, although some shaky Detroit defense contributed to that. Still, as he struggled with his command in the second inning, you could read the frustration on his face. Cleveland scored five runs that inning to take a 6-4 lead and Lonnie Chisenhall homered in the third, but give Scherzer huge props for making it through seven innings without further damage. Sometimes an ace isn’t measured by his zeroes but by outings like this one.

[+] EnlargeMiguel Cabrera
Jason Miller/Getty ImagesMiguel Cabrera's ejection reflects one absence the Tigers can't afford for any length of time.
2. A key moment came in the sixth inning: Ian Kinsler struck out on a checked swing that didn’t look like a checked swing but plate umpire Tim Timmons rang him up. On the next pitch, Miguel Cabrera checked his swing although he pretty clearly did swing and Timmons called a strike without appealing to the first-base ump. That angered Cabrera, who said something and was ejected, which in turn angered Brad Ausmus, who also was ejected. Can’t argue balls and strikes and all that, you know. Timmons has been around as a full-time ump since 2000, so I’m a little surprised with the itchy trigger finger. Don Kelly replaced Cabrera and would go 0-for-2 with two walks and a run.

3. Poor Carlos Santana. While the Indians tallied 17 hits, the struggling Santana had none of them, dropping his season line to .146/.303/.268. Is this a case of a guy in a season-long slump or just hitting into a lot of bad luck? A little of both. Santana’s ground-ball/fly-ball/line-drive percentages are 48/37/15 compared to 43/35/22 in 2013, when he hit .268. So, yes, he's hitting fewer line drives. A year ago, he hit .180 on grounders; he has hit .140 this year. But the big difference is fly balls: Santana is hitting 5-for-45 (.111) on fly balls, and four of those five hits are home runs. So he’s 1-for-41 on fly balls that don’t clear the fence. A year ago, he hit .215 on fly balls. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s unlucky, but it probably means he is due for some flares and bloopers and balls in the gap to start falling.

4. David Murphy tagged Joe Nathan with the game-tying, two-run homer in the ninth. This was Nathan’s third blown save, but the Tigers actually won the earlier two games, so this is the first game the Tigers lost when leading entering the ninth. They were 82-6 a year ago.

5. The Tigers are basically trying to win without a major league shortstop on the roster. Danny Worth went 0-for-6 with four strikeouts and Tigers shortstops are now hitting .184/.247/.213 with no home runs and nine RBIs. That the Tigers are basically winning with an eight-man lineup is a testament to the goodness so far of Victor Martinez and Cabrera.


How many games will the Tigers win the AL Central by?


Discuss (Total votes: 3,473)

Which gets us back to the big question above: Are the Tigers invincible in the AL Central? Well, invincible is a strong word. At 27-15, FanGraphs currently gives the Tigers a 90 percent chance of winning the division.

This game certainly exposed the Tigers’ flaws: Shortstop, bench and bullpen depth. Not to mention what happens if Cabrera or Martinez is injured for a lengthy period of time. Of those concerns, I’m actually least worried about the bullpen. Phil Coke, who earned the loss, has just about pitched his way out of Detroit, but Joba Chamberlain, Ian Krol and Alburquerque have generally pitched well as the primary guys in front of Nathan. Maybe Robbie Ray remains in the majors in the pen as well, filling Drew Smyly's lefty role from a year ago.

Maybe the question isn’t whether the Tigers are invincible, but who can challenge them? Remember, as dominant as the Tigers have looked on paper recently, they won the division by one game over Cleveland last year and just three games over Chicago in 2012.

I don’t think it’s going to be that close this year. The Indians showed signs of life these past three days, but they have a lot of winning to do to impress after a bad start. The Twins, White Sox and Royals have obvious flaws.

Never say never, but I’ll go with the computer on this one: The Tigers win the Central going away.

A night dominated by starting pitchers

May, 17, 2014
Earlier on Friday, one of baseball's best young pitchers, Jose Fernandez, underwent Tommy John surgery. Martin Perez, Matt Moore, Jarrod Parker, Brandon Beachy and a list of far too many players have also been victimized by the same elbow injury. Just two months into the baseball season and it's growing hard to find teams that haven't been affected by this year's rash of pitching injuries.

After these surgeries, we're seeing more and more teams rely on their sixth starter, their seventh starter, and at times pitchers that we've hardly heard about. Just two days ago, the Yankees sent Chase Whitley to the mound after he had made just 14 minor league starts. And despite the talent level of pitchers seemingly declining with every subsequent injury, pitching in baseball has hardly taken a hit. We're seeing a ton of these no-names pitch better than some of the big-money starters of just a decade ago.

In 2013, starting pitchers owned an average 4.01 ERA, a 3.95 FIP, an 18.9 strikeout percentage, and a 7.4 walk percentage. This season, numbers have improved to an average 3.85 ERA, a 3.85 FIP, a 19.7 strikeout percentage, and a 7.5 walk percentage. I've seen and heard a handful of theories to explain baseball's evolution toward lower run totals. Some say that shifts significantly help pitchers save hits, while others say that the steroid era has ended and with it the home run boom of the 1990s and 2000s. Whatever you believe, there's no denying that even with a plague of injuries to very talented pitchers, more and more young starters are emerging in their place.

With the weather warming up and pitchers continuing to build arm strength, Friday night featured some prime examples of starter dominance. We saw a handful of shutouts, and even some complete games to go along with them. Teams like the Red Sox, Royals and Rangers were held to no runs. Starting pitchers dominated the night.

Max Scherzer was perhaps the most predictable success of the night, however, it came against the reigning World Series champion Red Sox. Despite a 47-minute rain delay, Scherzer and Jon Lester pitched following the weather stoppage and both succeeded. Lester's five innings of four-hit and one-run ball just wasn't good enough to overcome Scherzer's six innings of shutout stuff. While we expected a pitching duel from both starters, their success through a rain delay and against such daunting offenses was somewhat unforeseeable.

Perhaps one of the night's most stunning performances came inside baseball's toughest pitcher's park. Jorge De La Rosa of the Rockies allowed just two baserunners all night, and didn't give up his first hit until the seventh inning. He ended the night with seven shutout innings, five strikeouts and 11 groundouts with no flyouts. Inside Coors Field, that is nearly the perfect strategy, keeping the ball on the ground or simply avoiding contact all together. After a dominant 2013 and a sour start to 2014, De La Rosa has now put together six consecutive quality starts.

Then there was Chris Tillman, who pitched a complete-game, five-hit shutout to shut down the Royals. Though he didn't dominant Kansas City's lineup with strikeouts (he had just three strikeouts while he walked just one), he showed a great command of the strike zone and induced weak contact with his four-seamer. Tillman now owns the lowest ERA (3.34) in the Orioles' rotation, beating out Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris and Ubaldo Jimenez.

The Reds' rotation, which projected to include Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake and Tony Cingrani in the offseason, is now showcasing Alfredo Simon, a career reliever prior to this season. But Simon has emerged as far more than adequate, and after pitching 7 2/3 shutout innings with eight strikeouts against the Phillies, the right-hander now owns a 2.45 ERA over his first eight starts of the season.

Yet the strongest performance of the night came by a 23-year old right-hander who's hardly a household name in the prospect scene. Drew Hutchison, who has spotted lofty peripherals all season, finally put together a brilliant performance for the Blue Jays against the Rangers. Entering the game, Hutchison owned a strong 9.73 K/9 ratio, a 2.98 BB/9 ratio and an outstanding 3.14 FIP. The problem with that was he also had a 1-3 record with a 4.37 ERA. On Friday, Hutchison dominated the Rangers with a complete-game shutout. He allowed only four baserunners and finished with six strikeouts. He outdueled Rangers ace Yu Darvish and it only took him 105 pitches to finish off Texas.

There were a handful of other great starts on Friday, as baseball is slowly evolving towards a pitcher's game. Even with the injuries taking a toll on countless teams, it feels like young and unexpected starters are taking to the scene faster than ever.

Michael Eder writes for It's About the Money, a blog on the New York Yankees.
During Monday's Power Rankings video chat, Eric Karabell mentioned that this would be an important week for the Pirates as they entered the week at 12-19 with two big series at home against the Giants and Cardinals. That's a tough week and it's followed by a road trip to Milwaukee and New York to face the Yankees and then six home games against the Orioles and Nationals.

This stretch got off to brutal start on Monday with an 11-10 loss to the Giants in a game that ended at 12:36 a.m. local time, featured ducks on the field, two pitchers pinch-hitting, two replay challenges and an umpire getting hit by a throw. The Pirates had an 8-2 lead after five innings. The Giants scored five in the sixth as Jeff Locke and Bryan Morris couldn't stop the damage. The Giants tied it the seventh but the Pirates re-took the lead, only to see the Giants tie it again with a run off Mark Melancon in the ninth. At that point, it seemed inevitable that the Giants would eventually pull it out and they did, scoring in the 13th when the Giants, out of position players, had to let reliever Jean Machi bat with two on and one out. Jared Hughes threw away Machi's bunt for an error and Hunter Pence scored from second. The Giants' rally that inning: Walk, hit by pitch, throwing error. Ouch.

Needless to say, it's not surprising that the Pirates didn't blow any six-run leads last year. Here's a stat that shows how well the Pirates played when they grabbed an early lead in 2013: They were 64-9 when leading entering the sixth inning; this year, they're just 6-6. Pirates starters are last in the majors in FanGraphs' WAR. The magic and good karma of 2013 is quickly fading and they're already 9.5 games behind the Brewers. It's going to be a tough climb back.

Other thoughts on Monday's wild night of action:
  • Machi has become the Giants' secret weapon or good-luck charm. He's now 5-0 with a 0.53 ERA, part of a Giants' bullpen that is second in the majors with a 1.88 ERA and has held opponents to a .198 average. Due to some struggles in the rotation, Giants' relievers are averaging 3.4 innings per game, fourth-highest in the majors, so that's something to watch. Machi is a great story, a 32-year-old Venezuelan first signed by the Phillies in 2000. He didn't reach the majors until 2012, after spending time in the minors with the Phillies, Rays, Blue Jays and Pirates. He's a bad-body guy who primarily throws a fastball/splitter combo. He didn't really refine his control until last season, which began in Triple-A, but he's walked just 15 and allowed two home runs in 70 innings with the Giants in 2013-2014. And his bunt last night? It was first as a professional, as he was batting for the just the fourth time in his professional career.
  • The Rockies continue to roll at home, where Troy Tulowitzki is unstoppable. They beat the Rangers 8-2 as Jordan Lyles improved to 4-0 with a 2.62 ERA, pitching eight strong innings. The Rockies had just three starts at home all last season where the starter went at least eight innings and allowed two runs or fewer (all by Jhoulys Chacin). As for Tulo, he hit two home runs and is now hitting .596 at home and a 1941 Ted Williams-like .408/.512/.786 overall. Nolan Arenado extended his hit streak to 25 games so that's starting to get interesting. I like what I'm seeing from this club. Sure, some of the offense is Coors infused -- they're hitting .344 at home, .254 on the road -- but they're also outslugging opponents .587 to .423 at Coors. They're going to hang around if Tulowitzki stays healthy. Mark Simon has more on the Rockies.
  • Another team that may hang around: The Miami Marlins, owners of another walk-off victory, 4-3 over the Mets after scoring three in the eighth and once in the ninth. Nathan Eovaldi had another good start and he's developing into a solid No. 2 behind Jose Fernandez. After giving up two first-inning home runs, he settled down and went seven innings, allowing three runs and striking out 10. He was a guy I pinpointed before the season as somebody who could take a big leap forward due to his big fastball. He's walked just six batters in 45 innings and after having a poor 78/40 strikeout/walk ratio last year is at 45/6 in 2014. Neil Paine of FiveThirtyEight wrote about the Marlins yesterday.
  • Oh, Max Scherzer is still good. He's won four starts in a row and hasn't allowed a run his past two. OK, Monday's game was against the Astros but the three previous came against the White Sox (twice) and Angels, two of the best-hitting teams so far. He won the Cy Young last year and he's looking like the leading candidate in the AL once again.

Overreact after one series? Of course we're going to overreact! We're baseball fans. It's no fun if we just spout things like "small sample size" and "check back in two months." So, what have we learned after one series? Here are a few trends and things to watch, starting with Evan Longoria.

The Rays third baseman went 2-for-4 in Tampa's 7-2 win over Toronto, slugging a three-run homer for his first home run of 2014. So here's the deal with Longoria: If anyone is going to crack the Miguel Cabrera-Mike Trout stranglehold on the AL MVP Award, Longoria is the most likely candidate. Consider his merits:

[+] EnlargeEvan Longoria, David DeJesus, Ben Zobrist
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsIs this the year Evan Longoria puts it all together for the Rays?
1. He's off to a hot start! Our guy is hitting .400.

2. He's good. Not including 2012, when he played just 74 games, he's finished fifth, sixth, third and fourth in WAR among AL position players and has three top-10 MVP finishes.

3. The Rays are a good bet to make the postseason. MVP voters love that.

4. Longoria is an RBI guy, averaging 110 RBIs per 162 games over his career. MVP voters love themselves some RBIs.

5. He should knock in more than the 88 runs he did last year, when he hit .265 with just four home runs with runners in scoring position (22 of his 32 home runs came with the bases empty).

In truth, as good as Longoria has been, we've kind of been waiting for that monster season, haven't we? Maybe that's unfair to say about one of the best all-around players in the league (did you see the play he made the other night?), but Longoria hit .294 in 2010 and just .269 last season, when his strikeout rate increased to 23.4 percent, easily his highest rate since his rookie season. If he cuts down on the strikeouts, I can see that average climbing over .300 for the first time in his career and the RBIs climbing well over 100.

Other thoughts from many hours of baseball viewing over the past few days:

  • If they stay healthy, the Giants are going to have the best offense in the National League. On Thursday, they scored five runs in the eighth inning to beat the Diamondbacks 8-5. Angel Pagan is a solid leadoff hitter, and Brandon Belt, Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence provide a juicy meat of the order. I've mentioned Belt as a guy I like to have a big breakout season, and he hit his third home run. Pence seems to get better the higher he wears his pants legs. Posey won't slump like he did in the second half last year. Sandoval hits and eats and hits some more.
  • The Angels’ and Phillies’ bullpens look like disasters. The Mariners pounded every reliever the Angels tried in their series and the Angels are suddenly staring at another bad April start: 9-17 last year, 8-15 in 2012. Jonathan Papelbon looked like a shell of his former shelf in getting roughed up the other day.
  • [+] EnlargeJim Johnson, Bob Melvin
    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesStruggling Jim Johnson might get hooked from his role as the A's closer.
  • How long do the A’s stick with closer Jim Johnson? OK, he led the AL in saves the past two seasons. He also led the AL last season in blown saves and was second in relief losses. He has two losses already, he’s not a strikeout pitcher and the A’s have other good relievers. It’s never too early to panic about your closer!
  • How many closers do you have complete confidence in right now anyway? With low-scoring games and tight pennant races, late-inning relief work is going to decide a division title or two. We had six blown saves on Wednesday. The D-Backs coughed up that game on Thursday. The Rockies blew an eighth-inning lead to the Marlins. And so on. Rough few days for the bullpens (in contrast to starters, who generally dominated).
  • A young pitcher who hasn’t yet made his mark to watch: Seattle’s James Paxton showcased electrifying stuff in his first start, striking out nine in seven and throwing 97 mph in his final inning.
  • With Clayton Kershaw missing a few starts, the new Cy Young favorite in the National League: Jose Fernandez. He’s must-watch TV, Pedro-in-his-prime eye candy. His run support will be an issue, but the stuff, poise and confidence are that of a wise veteran, not a 21-year-old kid.
  • In case you had doubts, Michael Wacha is most assuredly the real deal. His changeup is Pedro-in-his-prime nasty. The Reds went 0-for-10 with four strikeouts against it.
  • Veteran Alex Gonzalez is not going to last as the Tigers' shortstop. He simply doesn’t have the range to play there. Stephen Drew, come on down?
  • Manager on the hot seat: Kirk Gibson. The Diamondbacks are off to 1-5 start, and nine of their next 15 games are against the Dodgers (six) and Giants (three). If the D-backs can avoid digging a big hole over that stretch, the schedule does get a little easier starting April 21, when they play 19 consecutive games against teams that finished under .500 in 2013.
  • Tyro Zack Wheeler is not Matt Harvey. Hold down your expectations, Mets fans.
  • We’re going to see a lot more shifts this year. I haven’t checked the numbers, but anecdotal evidence suggests infield shifts are way up. Expect batting averages to continue to plummet as a result.
  • Free-agent-to-be Max Scherzer is going to make a lot of money this offseason.
  • I hope B.J. Upton gets fixed, but I have my doubts. Six strikeouts in his first 12 plate appearances.
  • Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman is going to have a high BABIP again. Great stroke to all fields, great balance between attacking fastballs early in the count and waiting for his pitch later in the count. He'll be an MVP candidate again.
  • Clearly, Emilio Bonifacio (11 hits in three games!) is the best player in the NL. OK, seriously: The Royals couldn’t find a spot for this guy on their roster? Ned Yost, everyone!
  • Rookie Xander Bogaerts is ready NOW. He’s hitting .556 with three walks and one strikeout in three games. Maybe the power takes a year or two to fully develop, but his mature, disciplined approach at the plate is going make a star right away.
  • Dave Cameron of FanGraphs suggested this and it’s not outrageous: With Jose Reyes injured, Brad Miller might be the best shortstop in the AL. Or maybe Bogaerts. Could have been Bonifacio, if only the Royals had kept him!
  • Best team in baseball: The Mariners ... too early?
Quick thoughts ...
  • With Max Scherzer ending negotiations with the Tigers until after the season, it appears he (and agent Scott Boras) will head into free agency. Reports indicated Scherzer was offered less than teammate Justin Verlander, who signed an extension last spring that averages $25.7 million per season over seven years. If Scherzer was offered a deal at $24 million per year, we'd be looking at a six-year, $144 million. Even if Scherzer repeats his Cy Young season, I'm not sure he'd get much more than that on the free agent market. He's not to going to get the $30.7 million AAV that Clayton Kershaw received from the Dodgers because (A) He's not Clayton Kershaw; and (B) Scherzer is four years older. Scherzer has had one great season; while it wouldn't shock me to see him have a similar season, even a little regression back to his career norms means he's unlikely to get a $24-25 million AAV contract. You do have to like his confidence and belief in himself, however, to have another big year.
  • How big of a loss is Geovany Soto to the Rangers? It could have bigger impact than you might expect at first glance. You really don't want to play J.P. Arencibia on a regular basis considering he hit .194 with a .227 OBP last season. Over the past two seasons he's struck out 256 times while drawing just 36 walks, making him one of the least disciplined hitters in major league history. He has 11 strikeouts and one walk in spring training. Even with his decent defense, that made him a replacement-level player. Robinson Chirinos is hitting .444 this spring and he had a big year with the bat in the minors in 2010, but he hit a lukewarm .257/.356/.400 at Triple-A Round Rock last year. Still, don't be surprised if he ends up at least splitting time with Arencibia until Soto returns. Say this about last year's catcher, A.J. Pierzynski: He's never great but he is durable.
  • The Mariners released Scott Baker, as they had to notify him by today whether or not made the big league roster. This means Randy Wolf will almost certainly be in the Opening day rotation, which will probably turn out as bad as it sounds. He's given up six home runs in 19 spring innings with just nine strikeouts. Good luck.
  • I found this interesting: Dexter Fowler sort of criticized the Rockies for trading him to the Astros, saying "I don’t even know who’s the GM. I think everybody over there is still wondering who really is the GM," referring to Dan O'Dowd and Bill Geivett, who split GM duties in Colorado. I agree with Fowler: The Rockies basically traded Fowler to free up money to sign Justin Morneau and Morneau is a worse player than Fowler. It leaves the Rockies without an everyday center fielder -- Corey Dickerson, Drew Stubbs, Charlie Blackmon and Brandon Barnes will share the job in some format -- and they could have moved slow-footed right fielder Michael Cuddyer to first base.
  • You never want to read too much into spring training stats, but the Giants have to be concerned about the spring performances of starters Ryan Vogelsong (33 hits in 19 innings, 12 strikeouts) and Tim Lincecum (25 hits and 14 runs in 19 1/3 innings, just 11 strikeouts). Yes, the ball tends to fly in those Arizona spring parks but you're also not facing a full slate of major league hitters.

In his newsletter yesterday -- sent out before the big trade -- Joe Sheehan wrote a column titled, "Money Don't Matter," making an argument that there's so much money flowing into the game now, and a relatively low percentage going back to the players (4 percent less of total revenue than NFL players receive), that our traditional methods of evaluating contracts are becoming outdated. Joe wrote:
It is so much money that it has a distorting effect on the market for talent, not just breaking our models, but arguably invalidating the first principle: that the opportunity cost of spent money matters. The combination of so much extra cash combined with so little talent becoming freely available -- due to teams locking up the best players in baseball long-term through their peaks -- means that there isn't much opportunity cost to spending. The money is there, and if it isn't spent on free agents it's not going to be spent in the draft or in the Dominican or on a superstar because the next superstar might not hit the market for another two years.

The money doesn't matter. It's not about whether the marginal cost of a win on the free-agent market is five million bucks or $7 million or $13 million; it's about that framework no longer being the way to evaluate signings. The extra dollars a team might spend to bring a player into the fold -- and turn a contract from a sabermetric win to a sabermetric loss -- are meaningless in the big picture because there's just no other good application of those dollars. The opportunity cost of not signing the player isn't "having the money to sign someone else", it's "having cash and no good way to use it."

This is essentially the argument for the Rangers trading for Fielder. They have money, they needed power and especially left-handed power, and Fielder was available, warts and all. The Rangers were willing to absorb his contract simply because they have the budget to do so.

On the other hand, the excellent Marc W. wrote this at the U.S.S. Mariner blog (scroll down to the bottom of the piece, past the stuff about the Mariners' 40-man roster moves):
Still, I wonder if we'll come to see the Fielder deal as some sort of peak in the value of pure power hitters on the open market. The Pujols deal may end up looking worse in time, and the Ryan Howard contract is still so bad it's basically in a separate category, but throw in Mark Teixeira and you're looking at a lot of dead money for 1Bs. As Dave's mentioned, this is part of a trend where contracts have lengthened, showing that teams are holding the line on single-year salary and stretching their commitment over time instead. But while Fielder's deal isn't going to seriously impact Robinson Cano’s negotiations, I wonder if we may not see many deals like, say, Joey Votto's extension for a while. We won't really be able to see for a while, not until the very reasonable extensions for young players like Arizona's Paul Goldshmidt run out, but the fact that the Reds will be paying Votto $25m in 2023 looks odd, and Votto's a much better hitter than Fielder. Basically, will this lead to a re-valuation of good-not-historically-great ballplayers?

This is essentially the sabermetric argument against the Rangers trading for Fielder -- that his decline in 2013 could be a harbinger of things to come, making him a very expensive player for his relative value. You can also argue that money is still a factor; for the Tigers, moving Fielder creates needed space to sign Max Scherzer to a big extension.

While that's likely true, you can also argue that for the Tigers this was strictly a baseball trade. They needed a second baseman and Kinsler fills that hole; they needed to improve the defense, and getting rid of Fielder and moving Miguel Cabrera to first base and installing highly rated rookie Nick Castellanos at third will do that. Even without Fielder's bat the Tigers may be a better team in 2014.

Some other reaction from across the interwebs, starting with Keith Law of ESPN Insider:
Compared to Fielder, Kinsler is showing greater signs of decline, with two disappointing offensive years as his legs have lost strength and his power has evaporated. After two 30-homer seasons in three years (2009, 2011), he's hit 32 total in the past two seasons in a good ballpark for power bats. His defense at second base improved with effort in his late 20s but has started to regress with his legs, and it's fair to worry that in a year or two his range will make him a liability at the position. He does fill a critical hole for the Tigers at second base in the short term, probably three wins above any internal options they had for the position, but their biggest gain in the deal is financial -- they save $76 million, which they can put toward retaining Max Scherzer or filling other needs. From a baseball perspective, however, I'd rather roll the dice on Fielder than Kinsler -- and with multiple sources indicating to me that the Rangers had shopped Kinsler but found no takers, it seems they had little choice.
Dave Cameron, FanGraphs:
If you're a Tigers fan, this is a deal to celebrate. Don't worry about narratives like "big bats" and "Cabrera needs protection," or listen to the criticisms of Kinsler's good-at-everything-great-at-nothing skillset. The Tigers just made a fantastic trade that sets them up to be even better in 2014 than they were the last two years.

Dave Dombrowski has made a lot of good trades; this might end up being one of his best.

Sam Miller, Baseball Prospectus, on Fielder's 2013:
Most of the lost value came in two areas: his walks dropped and he quit hitting as many of his fly balls over the fence. His plate discipline didn't show much change -- he didn't swing more overall, he didn't get thrown more strikes, he didn't chase more; the only real change was a couple-percentage-point drop in contact rate—so we can chalk that up almost entirely to a drop in intentional walks, perhaps a combination of batting behind Miguel Cabrera (lineup protection sometimes works both ways) and batting in front of a switch-hitter for most of the season.

So then the home runs. Had his fly balls left the yard at exactly the rate that they typically do, he would have hit 10 more home runs. Say five of those lost homers turned into doubles and five into outs. Had he hit those 10 homers, and had he drawn 13 more intentional walks to match his 2012 total, his line goes up to .287/.381/.504, hardly a decline at all. Why give him credit for those home runs? You probably shouldn't! But 10 fly balls pulling up just short is hardly enough to declare a guy's career over. And his average fly ball, at 294 feet, went just two feet shorter than his average fly ball in 2012, and four feet shorter than in 2011.

John Niyo, Detroit News, addressed Fielder's second straight disappointing postseason:
Fielder’s brief tenure as the Tigers’ cleanup hitter and the highest-paid player in franchise history finished amid a cascade of boos in Comerica Park and that infamous third-base flop at Fenway Park. But it also ended with a series of puzzling postgame interview sessions that revealed Fielder as either tone deaf or just plain dumb. ...

And yet his nonchalant explanation after Game 3 against the Red Sox last month was, "If they throw a mistake, I hit it. If not, I won’t." That comment didn't sit well with other leaders in the Tigers clubhouse, and though Fielder's work ethic was never questioned -- "He played hard, he played every day," (GM Dave) Dombrowski said -- it's not hard to understand why.

Prince Fielder wasn't brought here simply to hit mistakes.
Jean-Jacques Taylor, ESPNDallas:
Sure, there's risk involved. Fielder is a big man, and there's a chance he'll have a dramatic decline as he nears the end of his deal.

No guarantees exist in pro sports. Every deal of consequence contains risk. The best GMs aren't paralyzed by fear.

They study the deal from every angle, then make a pragmatic baseball decision.

The reality is [Jon Daniels] is on a pretty good streak when it comes to making franchise-altering moves.

More importantly, the move allows Jurickson Profar to play second base instead of being miscast as a utility infielder. Now, the Rangers have their middle infield of Profar and shortstop Elvis Andrus locked up for at least five seasons.
Jeff Passan, Yahoo:
No, this was about what Kinsler isn't: a $168 million cost over the next seven years. Even after sending cash to Texas, Detroit freed up $76 million to lock up Max Scherzer long-term or re-up Miguel Cabrera before his contract runs out after the 2015 season. Coming off the AL Cy Young, Scherzer likely never will find his market value as high as it is now. That didn't stop Detroit from giving Justin Verlander a $180 million contract over seven seasons after back-to-back years in which he finished first and second in Cy Young voting, and unless the Tigers divert their pot of gold to a left fielder -- (Shin-Soo) Choo makes all the sense in the world, actually -- it could be Scherzer's.

Just as likely is Detroit putting it toward the Let Miggy Retire a Tiger Fund. This is worth remembering: Cabrera will be only 32 after the 2015 season. Jayson Werth received $126 million at age 31. A $200 million contract for Cabrera is almost a certainty, even if he does go to first base, which is the logical next step after the Fielder deal.
Dustin Parkes, The Score:
I think what’s most interesting about this deal, though, is what we thought when these players signed their contracts with their previous teams. Fielder's nine-year, $214-million contract from a Tigers team with Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Alex Avila already vying for future plate appearances from the 1B/DH spot seemed ridiculous. Kinsler signing his five-year, $75-million extension after a seven-win season in 2011 was a stroke of genius for the Rangers.

Since that time, Detroit has won two straight divisions, and made a World Series appearance. Fielder has put up seven wins, and arguably given room for Miguel Cabrera to emerge as not just an elite hitter, but perhaps the greatest many of our generation will have seen. Kinsler could never equal his 2011 performance. Since signing the deal, he’s become only a slightly above average player with most of his value coming from his defensive play.

It's not all roses for Fielder, nor is it Death Valley for Kinsler. The Rangers new first baseman had one of the worst years of his career last season, causing many to believe that the long-believed-to-be-impending decline due to his weight had finally begun. Meanwhile, Kinsler's contributions over the last two seasons have been limited as he battled injuries. With good health, Detroit's new second baseman could easily regain his status as one of the best up the middle players in the league.
Jon Paul Morosi, Fox Sports:
I fully expect Fielder will find greater contentment and gaudier power numbers in Texas. It won't surprise me at all if he swats 40 or 45 home runs next year, thanks to the welcome scenery change and hitter-friendly environment at Rangers Ballpark. Meanwhile, Miguel Cabrera is likely to see fewer pitches to hit now that Fielder isn't protecting him any longer. (Remember: Fielder has batted behind an MVP in each of the last three seasons -- Ryan Braun with the Brewers in 2011, Cabrera for the last two. That is not an accident.)

"It's going to be a bat we miss at times," Dombrowski admitted.

Last word to Miguel Cabrera ... considering all the pictures of Fielder and himself that he posted on Twitter, I think he's going to miss the big guy:

Max Scherzer and importance of 1-1 count

November, 18, 2013
Pitching seems like a simple concept. Pitchers all talk about wanting to keep the ball down in the zone, being aggressive in the strike zone early, and getting batters to chase their pitch later in the count. As Toronto pitching coach Pete Walker said upon his hiring in 2012, "We want to attack early and expand late." The numbers back up the theory of getting ahead of batters because once the pitcher has the advantage in the count, they gain a significant advantage in potential outcomes.


Situation AVG OBP SLG
Pitcher Ahead .196 .203 .289
Even Count .297 .383 .470
Hitter Ahead .339 .470 .572

The league is taking to the coaching of Walker and his peers as the overall percentage of first-pitch strikes has improved each of the past five seasons. According to the data from ESPN Stats & Info, the percentage of first-pitch strikes was 58.1 percent in 2009 and has incrementally improved each season to 60.1 percent in 2013. That first pitch is an integral part of the three-pitch plan toward the statistical high ground in any matchup.

This past April, Jon Roegele of Beyond The Boxscore reviewed the pitching philosophies of the pitching coaches in the American League East. Roegele found quotes from Rick Peterson, Juan Nieves and Jim Hickey that each preached the importance of being up in the count after three pitches. Peterson, the Orioles' director of pitching development, advocated for his pitchers to throw high-percentage strikes in 1-1 counts, and Red Sox pitching coach Nieves told Tim Britton of the Providence Journal that it was simply his favorite count. Boston won the World Series this season in spite of the fact they were the fifth-worst team in all of baseball in getting to Nieves' favorite count. Hickey feels when pitchers are ahead, they all become David Price on the mound. The data backs that up:


0-0 .336 .881
0-1 .311 .780
1-0 .333 .882
1-1 .331 .840

The data in the table shows that there is no clear advantage for either party for these counts (although a small edge goes to the pitcher when he's ahead 0-1) -- but the outcomes diverge greatly with the third pitch in a plate appearance. In 2-1 counts, batters hit .351 with a .932 OPS but in 1-2 counts, they hit just .166 with a .412 OPS. That 185-point difference in batting average and 520-point different in OPS makes it easy to see why coaches such as Peterson, Nieves, and Hickey preach the importance of getting ahead early.

In looking at all plate appearances after those counts were reached, batters hit .255/.387/.412 after reaching a 2-1 count but just .179/.228/.271 after reaching a 1-2 count, still a 300-point difference in OPS.

Max Scherzer was an exceptional example of the 1-1 philosophy in 2013.

Scherzer led all of baseball in 2013 with a 74.3 percent strike rate in 1-1 counts. It marked the second consecutive season he topped the 70 percent mark and the third straight season he improved on that percentage from the previous season. The divergence in outcomes for Scherzer from the 1-1 count was even more pronounced than the numbers league-wide. Batters hit just .127 against him in 1-2 counts with a .306 OPS but hit .391 with a 1.087 OPS in 2-1 counts. Scherzer was able to mitigate that damage by getting to 1-2 counts 72 percent of the time.

It was not until Scherzer's fourth full season in the major leagues that he started to reap the benefits of getting ahead early in the count and putting hitters into protect mode rather than attack mode. When pitchers fall behind in the count, they tend to throw more fastballs and Scherzer was no exception to the rule. Scherzer went to his fastball 66 percent of the time in the 2-1 counts this season, but just 48 percent of the time when he got into the 1-2 counts. Scherzer was able to leverage his advantage in those counts to collect strikeouts 48 percent of the time.

The pitcher-batter matchup, by its very nature, is decidedly in the favor of the pitcher. On average, the pitcher will retire the batter nearly 70 percent of the time. Over the past five seasons, that figure jumps to 80 percent when the pitcher is ahead in the count. It took Scherzer a few seasons to grasp the concept, but he has excelled at his craft since he began getting ahead of batters with increased regularity earlier in the count. Some may point to the fact Scherzer had the fourth-highest run support of all American League starters as a reason for his impressive win-loss record, but that is a secondary factor in his success story. A combination of hard work and refocusing his career after a personal tragedy is the big reason he won the Cy Young Award last year.

Jason Collette writes for The Process Report, a blog on the Tampa Bay Rays, and also contributes to FanGraphs and Rotowire.
As expected, Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer easily won the Cy Young Awards on Wednesday, with Kershaw capturing 29 of 30 first-place to win his second Cy Young Award, and Scherzer collecting 28 of 30 first-place votes to win his first.

Kershaw, with his 16-9 record and 1.83 ERA, was the clear choice in the National League. Jose Fernandez had a similar dominance over hitters -- Kershaw allowed a .195/.244/.277 batting line, Fernandez .182/.257/.265 -- but Kershaw pitched 63 more innings, making that comparison moot. Adam Wainwright was terrific, going 19-9 with a 2.94 ERA, walking just 35 batters in 34 starts while leading the majors in innings pitched, but he allowed 28 more runs while pitching just 5.2 more innings.

The American League race arguably had a little more flavor to it if you looked past Scherzer's shiny 21-3 record. Over at FanGraphs, Dave Cameron outlined the specifics of the debate when it came to using advanced metrics to evaluate the candidates:

We have two different models of pitcher WAR: one based on FIP, and one based on runs allowed. These represent the extreme opposite ends of the viewpoints on how much credit or blame a pitcher should receive for events in which his teammates have some significant influence. If you go with strictly a FIP-based model, a pitcher is only judged on his walks, strikeouts, and home runs, and the events of hits on balls in play and the sequencing of when events happen are not considered as part of the evaluation.

If you go with the RA9-based model, then everything that happens while the pitcher is on the mound -- and in some cases, what happens after they are removed for a relief pitcher -- is considered the pitcher's responsibility, and he's given full credit or blame for what his teammates do while he's pitching.

Scherzer fared best in the Fielding Independent Pitching version of WAR, with his terrific strikeout and walk rates; Yu Darvish and Hisashi Iwakuma, because they allowed slightly fewer runs in a similar number of innings, fared best in the runs-based model. Iwakuma, for example, led the AL in Baseball-Reference WAR, which focuses more on runs (while considering other factors like team defense and quality of opposition). But as Cameron pointed out, Scherzer rates high in both models. Scherzer likely won so easily because of his 21-3 record, but he's a deserving winner even if he'd gone 17-7.

Did either pitcher have a historic season? Scherzer did have the fifth-highest winning percentage for a pitcher who won 20 games:

Ron Guidry, 1978 Yankees: .893 (25-3)
Lefty Grove, 1931 A's, .886 (31-4)
Cliff Lee, 2008 Indians: .880 (22-3)
Preacher Roe, 1951 Dodgers: .880 (22-3)
Scherzer, 2013 Tigers: .875 (21-3)

But Scherzer's 2.90 ERA wasn't historical, and teammate Anibal Sanchez had an even lower ERA. Scherzer was hard to hit and had a high strikeout rate, but his .583 OPS allowed ranks just 31st during the wild-card era. I'm not trying to diminish Scherzer's season, just suggesting the win-loss record overstates his dominance a bit. He took a huge leap forward, however, and is now correctly labeled as one of the best in the majors.

It's easier to make the case for Kershaw. Since 1950, we've had just 33 seasons where a starter allowed an ERA under 2.00, with 21 of those coming in the 10-year span between 1963 and 1972, when pitching dominated. Going back to 1994 and the wild-card era, just seven times has a pitcher finished with an ERA under 2.00: Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez twice, Kevin Brown, Roger Clemens and now Kershaw. Kershaw's .521 OPS allowed is third-best in that era, behind Martinez in 2000 and Maddux in 1995. I would rate Kershaw's season behind those two since they pitched in much higher-scoring leagues.

In fact, Baseball-Reference isn't all that impressed with Kershaw's season, valuing it at 7.9 WAR -- just 38th since 1990. Consider the other factors in play: He pitched in a good pitcher's park, offense across the majors was at its lowest point since 1992 and he didn't face a particularly tough slate of opponents.

Not that 7.9 WAR isn't anything but awesome. It is awesome. Kershaw is clearly the best starter in the majors right now, having finished first, second and first in the past three Cy Young votes while leading the majors in ERA all three seasons. He doesn't turn 26 until next March. I don't think he's going to stop at two Cy Young Awards.