Nationals Baseball: Monday Quickie - Max attack

Monday, June 12, 2017

Monday Quickie - Max attack

Look. I know the pen was terrible again. We can keep talking about it or we can accept the following points.
  • You won't care nearly as much how the bullpen is doing in June as compared to how the bullpen is doing in September.
  • At this point there will have to be some trade made to improve the pen, so evaluation of it now is not evaluating it as it will be when it matters. 
  • Even if the bullpen became lights out today, you'd still worry about it in the playoffs because of these first two months and playoff history and because we're all just worrywarts at heart. 
It sucks.  It'll have to be dealt with. But at this point accept it for the absurd joke it is and don't let it get to you. If you want to concentrate on something, concentrate on hearing what we need to in the rumor mill because we're only like a month away from the post All-Star Game activities.

As for the Max question - I wrote about how Max was #2 last week, even appeared on a podcast to talk about it. Apparently that's more controversial than I thought because a lot of Nats fans think Scherzer is the bestest! Even Boz got in on the action, kind of insinuating that Kershaw and Max are neck and neck. Of course I can't let a good clumsy attempt at proving something using stats by Boz go unchallenged. It's like how every month or so I need to go to Taco Bell and get a bean burrito and a double decker supreme. I just have to. I don't control this part.

Boz mentions that they they are close in wins. Yeah, that's a middling stat for evaluating how good a pitcher really is but I'm not going to argue that point strongly. I like wins. Then Boz brings up strikeouts which is totally fair, but only one aspect of a pitcher's ability. Weak case so far. Then Boz brings up ERA.  He notes Kershaw has a career ERA of 2.36, and Scherzer's is 3.34. BUT he says - Scherzer's ERA in the NL is 2.79! So haha?

There's a few things wrong here. Immediately we have the implied assumption that if Scherzer was in the NL all these years his career ERA would be around 2.79.  Of course that is unlikely to be the case because Max just wasn't as good when he was younger. He did pitch in the NL first and put up a 4.12 ERA in his first full year. A couple years after that, in the AL, he put up a 4.43. It's likely if he was never traded he still would have struggled early on.

Second, look at that gap! 2.79 to 2.36 is 0.43 or nearly half a run better. That's a BIG gap. It's almost the difference between Max last year (2.96) and Joe Ross (3.43).  Would you try to compare those two as being close to the same last year?  It's a bit of a mind trick because Kershaw and Max are both kinda in the "mid" 2.00s so you can fool yourself to think that gap isn't as big as it is. But it is! Boz basically says "These guys are close!" then put out a stat that says "These guys aren't close!". 

Now getting into the nitty-gritty of the comparison. First I hate comparing two unequal time frames. Everyone's career generally starts slow so if you compare someone's best 3 years to someone else's career it's going to favor that first guy. We'll tackle a career to career comparison in a minute but what about Scherzer with the Nats to Kershaw the past 3 years?

Max :  41-23, 2.79 ERA, 147 ERA+, 0.928 WHIP, 6.5 H/9, 1.1 HR/9, 1.8 BB/9 11.2 K/9
Kershaw :  36-15, 2.00 ERA, 192 ERA+, 0.835 WHIP, 6.2 H/9, 0.7 HR/9, 1.3 BB/9, 11.0 K/9

It's not all that close. And understand it's not all that close and Max Scherzer has been FANTASTIC. Here you see the things that Boz didn't bring up. Kershaw gives up fewer hits. Kershaw gives up fewer walks. Kershaw gives up fewer homers. So even if Max is a better strikeout pitcher, Kershaw has been a better pitcher in regards to everything else a pitcher does.

Ok so what about career to career. Turns out there IS a stat that takes into account the league and ballpark they are in. It's imperfect but it's definitely your starting point for comparisons between time periods and between leagues. So what is the career ERA+ comparison?

Max :125*
This is great! Plenty of Hall of Famers around here. Smoltz, Drysdale, Feller. Hey! There's  Bob Gibson!** Now what about

Kershaw : 160!

Oh.  That is literally the best ever for a starting pitcher. I'm sure it'll go down as he ages and hits those off years but again. Currently. Best. Ever.

Here are the arguments you can make for Max vs Kershaw.
  • You can argue Max has become a better strikeout pitcher than Kershaw. I would completely agree here. Sure it can be a matter of approach and what they are trying to do, but Max strikes out more guys. End of story.
  • You can argue that so far in 2017 Max has been a better pitcher than Kershaw. That's completely reasonable. It's only 40% of the season but I'd listen to this. I might even agree.
  • You can argue that you like Max's future more than Kershaw's. This is a little tougher because Max is almost four years older than Clayton but I suppose Kershaw's recent brush with injury could worry you. I would probably disagree here. 
That's it. Those are the comparisons you can make as we stand right now.  If we get to the end of the year and Max has had a better 2017? Then we can argue that he can take the crown away as the "best pitcher now" if he's better in 2018. That would give him two straight years of better pitching and three straight years of more value (since Kershaw pitched better in 2016 but only 150 innings). But right now? Kershaw is the King.

*Strasburg? 126.  Not saying at all he's better than Max right now. Max's Nats ERA plus is close to 150, but again it shows Strasburg has been really good and can definitely accumulate stats into a Hall of Fame career with luck. 

**It's kind of funny that all the live ball era pitchers I pulled out around Max are guys that I immediately thought "Hey that guy is kind of like Max!"


Anonymous said...

Max v. Kershaw over their entire careers simply is not a contest. As I said on your last post on the topic, the difference between Kershaw and Max (at 1 vs 2) is larger than the difference between Max and whomever you like as the 10th best pitcher over the last four or five years. Kershaw has been much much better than Max. Is that going to continue? I don't know. It's hard to project pitcher performance given the inherent riskiness of the activity.

The ONLY thing that gives me pause about Kershaw's undeniable statistical superiority is whether the stats accurately capture how good a pitcher's park Dodger Stadium is. I know ERA+ tries to do it. And I know the gap is so large between Max and Kershaw that making the stat more precise isn't going to close it. But it's at least possible in my mind that better analysis in the future ends up making Kershaw look a little worse statistically than he looks now.

Fries said...

No doubt about it in my book, Kershaw will go down as one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history. In baseball's modern era where pitchers don't accumulate 300 innings/year, he'll likely be only second to Roger Clemens in WAR, maybe as low as 5th behind Tom Seaver, Greg Maddux, and Randy Johnson if he drops off a bit more than I'd suspect. This assumes he pitches about 10 more years though. If not, I have to think he catches Pedro at 86 WAR (Kershaw's at 55 right now) which would put him in the top 10 among modern pitchers.

Now the bullpen looked pretty ugly this weekend, but the offense looked worse. Against a roughly 27th ranked Rangers club, the Nats put up 2, 3, and 1 run. That's just not acceptable. Friday you can argue delayed impact of travel and such. But with the heat/humidity this weekend, the Nats should've been dumping the ball in the upper deck all afternoon.

Anonymous said...

Boy did you fall for Boz's troll like a large mouth bass at dawn or what Harper!

You win Harper, Kershaw is better. Now can we get on to more important things like how F'ing terrible our pen is and how Not fun it is to schlep your family 160 miles round trip to watch a great pitched game turn to shit as soon as Perez et AL comes in.

Baseball is not fun again.

Ole PBN said...

Kershaw is better, end of story. I think the better argument is whether Kershaw has surpassed Koufax. But we aren't Dodger fans, so who cares.

I'm disappointed in the bullpen, big time. Guys we counted on cannot be counted on. One pleasant surprise is Albers, but its not enought to wipe away the rest of the garbage out there beyond the right field fence. I think Glover is a good piece to have, but no way is he THE GUY. Kelley and Treinen should be on the grounds crew, but I think they'd find a way to screw that up. Blanton... oh man. I don't know how you fix this group with the addition of one good arm. We need 3-4, which isn't going to happen. So we have to bank on one of these fools to pitch like Tim Hudson just insulted their manhood - which is unlikely.

In the end, we'll cruise to a division title by 7-10+ games, but crash and burn in the first round. Its really a shame because Scherzer/Stras/Gio look great so far and the offense is STACKED. Such a shame.

Anonymous said...

The bottom line: Rizzo's failure to acquire Greg Holland is going to singlehandedly cost us what should have been our best chance to win a World Series. It really is that simple. Whoever he ends up getting won't be anywhere near as good, I can promise you that.

PotomacFan said...

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. What if Holland never recovered from his injuries? Then you would be cursing Rizzo. In addition, the Nats are not one closer away from having a good bullpen. When Gio pitches, you need someone for the 7th and 8th (if not more). Who are those pitchers right now? Fat Matt Albers? (He did look terrific on Saturday) Enny Romero? Because all of the following have been consistently terrible this year: Blake Treinen, Shawn Kelley, Joe Blanton. And it will be a miracle if Koda Glover stays healthy for more than a month.

Josh Higham said...

Anon - that is a remarkably bold ex post claim. There was no way that anyone, including anyone in Colorado, could have known that Holland was going to be this good. Also, his saves numbers are obscuring the fact that he's been a very good reliever, but not nearly as elite as jealous Nats fans might think. He's 18th in fWAR among relievers. 26th in FIP. 142nd in xFIP. He's walking worse than 4 guys per 9 (worse than Treinen). Is he better than anyone the Nats have coming out of the bullpen? Yes. Did the Nats give him a good offer but refuse to overpay for a risky player? Yes. Would he have single handedly made the Nats bullpen great? Likely not, because absolutely no one they have has been great.

It's a bummer the pen has been so bad, but "single handedly cost what should have been our best chance?" That sounds like a grand pronoucement, but it what you're actually saying is "Given everything else that happened, including Jansen taking a pay cut to stay in LA, and the gift of hindsight, Rizzo not overpaying for Holland probably reduced the Nats' chances of winning a world series from 14% to 12%." A lock down closer (and it's unclear that Holland actually is that) is nothing like certainty.

Keith Watts said...

Nacho cheese chicken chalupa for me, Harper :) Lots of Fire sauce!

Robot said...

There's no way I'm clicking on that podcast link. If Harper doesn't have a sexy-low, authoritative rumble of a voice, reading this blog will be forever ruined for me.

Robot said...

But yeah, I'm a big Max fan but Kershaw is clearly the superior pitcher. Max is likely Hall of Fame quality; Kershaw is easy first-ballot at this point.

Harper said...

Robot - I'll have it redone with Idris Elba for you. His American accent is probably better than mine despite me being American.

Anonymous said...

Some Fangraphs love for Strasburg:

JE34 said...

In March, what was the likelihood that both Blanton and Kelley would be so very bad? At the time, Holland was asking for a lot of kablingy, and had diminished velocity. Not crazy of Rizzo to think he would get better results than these:

Kelley: 19 appearances, 15.2 innings, 17 hits, 13 ER, 9 BBs to 20 Ks, 8 HRs.
Blanton: 15 appearances, 13.1 innings, 20 hits, 13 ER, 5 BB to 13 Ks, 6 HRs.

That is A LOT OF HOMERUNS. There will be quite the hue and cry if no deadline deal happens to improve upon this state of affairs.

Anonymous said...

Please just spare me all the excuses and the bullcrap about Hollland. I simply don't want to hear it.

Anyone with half a brain in his head knew way before the season started that the bullpen wasn't good enough, and was out there waiting to be had.

Jay said...

Two words. Mark Melancon. Most likely he pitches well and opts out after the next 1.5 years. That give time for Glover to either figure it out or flame out. A bullpen of Melancon, Glover for the 8th if he can stay healthy, Kelley and Blanton from the right side and Romero and Perez, and hopefully eventually Solis from the left side for the 6 and 7th inning. Things look much better with a lock down guy at the back end. I think you could get Melancon for not a lot of money if you pick up his entire salary. I get the sense from the papers that the players, manager, and GM are all getting very frustrated with the Lerner family for not fixing this problem.

Plus I wouldn't sit on the closer problem forever. The Mets have won 3 in a row and just got Cespedes back. The Nats need to drop the hammer. Get it done.

Nats Fan in Brazil said...

For the year I think Max is better, however we cannot forget how historically great was Kearshaw last year, even if he only logged 150 innings

Ryan DC said...

(Mostly) unrelated tangent:
Giolito first six 2017 AAA starts: 7.31 ERA, 6.13 FIP, K% 23.1, BB% 13.4
Giolito last six 2017 AAA starts: 2.86 ERA, 3.81 FIP, K% 22.3, BB% 9.4

Bet he would look pretty good out of the bullpen right now, lol. Not to mention Felipe Rivero, wow. Not knocking either trade btw, it's just funny how quickly things change in baseball.

Anonymous said...

@Ryan DC

Rivero's lights out thanks to the coaching he got in Pittsburgh. We all knew he had that kind of ability, but he's made some fundamental shifts in his approach to get reproducible mechanics that Rivero would never have gotten with our coaches...

As for Giolito, his last 6 starts are only good, not great. Not saying he won't become great, but past performance in the big leagues and current performance at AAA are pretty indicative of the fact that he wouldn't actually look all that great out of the bullpen

Bjd1207 said...


Josh Higham said...

Anon, if you're going to say that people like me who thought the bullpen would be serviceable don't have half a brain, please at least use a username so that I don't get mad every time I see an Anonymous comment. If you'd do a google search for articles about the nats bullpen in March most of them would say "this is intriguing and could turn out really well" or "no closer, but these guys are very good" with an occasional "Idiot Nats need tons of new pitchers with all the money the Lerners like to spend." There was no way to predict with any factual basis that we'd be looking at this kind of dumpster fire.

The Nats got outbid on Melancon, who was been good but not great. Fine. They were the high bidders on Jansen, who has been great. They tried to get Holland but not hard enough apparently. They got Blanton, who was great last year, and brought back a bunch of guys who were good-to-great. No, they didn't do enough, but this pen should have been pretty good.

Finally, "I don't want to hear it" is not a particularly powerful way to respond to someone who presents facts that don't agree with your argument.

Jay said...

I don't disagree on Melancon. I do think they should have bid higher on Jansen, who was happy in LA and it showed when he went back. Part of my frustration with the Lerner's is that I admit I just don't understand them. Why is it ok to overpay on Werth and Soriano but not on Jansen?

My point with Melancon is that I think he would be fairly cheap to get bc of his contract and the Nats know they love him in the clubhouse. I think it would provide a huge lift to the team at this point. Not just from a talent perspective, but also from a nebulous team morale (?) perspective as well. Sorry I could 't think a better term for nebulous rah rah rah stuff.

Josh Higham said...

Jay, I hear you. To some degree anyone is better than who we've got. But Melancon's contract is sort of risky. If he's only pretty good for a reliever but not Closer (TM) great in the time from now to his opt out, then the Nats are stuck with his higher than-they-were-initially-willing-to-go salary in addition to giving up prospects for the later years on that contract. I wouldn't complain if the Nats did it, but I'd rather they get someone younger if they're going to pay a lot of money/prospects.

Josh Higham said...

And on the Lerners. Notably, neither of Jansen and Melancon is a Boras client. I hate to say it, but I think that's the best answer to "who is worth splurging on?"

PotomacFan said...

I don't think anyone could have anticipated that Shawn Kelley would be AWFUL this year. He must be injured or his mechanics must be totally messed up.

@Josh Higham: good point re: Boras. Does Boras represent any good - great relief pitchers who might be available?

And BTW: the $28 million, 2-year deal for Soriano was unnecessary and unwise.

Froggy said...

2017 salaries:
Perez - $4mm
Blanton - $4mm
Kelly - $5.5mm

That's $13.5 million the Nats could save some pro-rated amount right now by letting them go stink up someone else's bullpen.

I'd rather see prospects pitching for league minimum than these guys.