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Stock Watch: Can't win W-L debate, but Scherzer's mark is spectacular

Does a pitcher's win total count for something? And does it even matter if that pitcher is Max Scherzer, who has a lot more going for him than that shining 19-1 record?

There's a #killthewin movement going on among the stat set, with some folks suggesting that starter wins shouldn't matter. Or apparently that we shouldn't even count them anymore (thus the "kill" part of the campaign).

Well, not just suggesting.

It seems to be a life's work for some.

The first thing I would suggest to these folks is this: There's a better way to spend one's time.

Second: Wins do matter (though clearly not nearly as much as we once thought -- and I give the stat guys credit for pointing this out.) No starter gets to 19-1 only because they are lucky, or because they "happened" to be "standing on the mound" when his team scored a ton of runs, as some would have you believe.

It's fair and right that the value of win totals and winning percentages for starters has been greatly diminished over the years (we long ago knew they didn't necessarily mean so much for relievers), and that's OK. I believe Scherzer has a slim lead now in the AL Cy Young race after favoring Felix Hernandez at the All-Star break, thanks to Scherzer's continuing dominance (see below how he won this week's Stock Watch), and mostly because of many, many other numbers.

But his 19-1 record still counts here.

The historic record no longer guarantees he's a runaway winner -- fairly -- but it still says something about his season. It says he has been consistently dominant, and he has contributed to a lot of winning. Nobody gets to 19-1 only by happenstance.

I regret voting for Bob Welch over Roger Clemens in 1990, who was better than Welch (of course, I have to wonder whether Clemens did it legitimately -- though that's a different question entirely). And I don't regret voting for Hernandez the year he won 13 games and lost 12.

The stat set has made its point, and it was a good one. Starters' wins ain't what they used to be.

There are a lot better numbers to illustrate a pitcher's performance over a season than wins and losses.

But does that mean a pitcher's record is now totally worthless?

That's what many folks in the movement would have you believe.

Or that they should be thrown out or "killed?"

That's what they tell you.

I say this. If a pitcher's record isn't as overwhelmingly good as you would expect -- such as Clayton Kershaw's 13-7 this season -- I wouldn't count it against him. But if someone has a historic mark, like Scherzer, it's a bonus.

Many from the stat set reacted to a tweet from me about Scherzer's magnificent record by saying something along the lines of "you're wrong" or "you're dumb" or some variation thereof. But even many of the more thoughtful tweets tended to diminish Scherzer's superb season (never mind me!).

Here's a sampling of the more reasonable tweets received on the subject ...

Those two tweets undersell what a starter does to get a win. He has to pitch at least five innings and leave with the lead. So not only did his team need to score at least a run for him, he needed to give up fewer runs than they scored. So of course, the pitcher didn't just "happen" to be on the mound and he certainly didn't just "stand" on the mound. No one gets to 19-1 by "happenstance."

Well, neither is WAR. Nobody goes to a game and says that was a great WAR I saw, at least not while talking about the stat. (And I suspect most of these folks think WAR is a great stat, and before I get more backlash for that, I'm not saying it isn't.)

Tough critic. It seems that in some cases the #killthewin set goes out of its way to diminish what guys with great records did. Scherzer obviously has been a lot better than "very good," quite a bit closer to "awesome" in fact. In a stat they would like better, he is second in WAR, at 5.7, barely behind King Felix (5.8).

That's only possible in a rare case for a reliever. In Scherzer's case, he has thrown just about as many pitches as anyone in the league.

That may be so. But that doesn't apply to Scherzer, who has been consistently magnificent. Not only has not given up seven runs in a game, only five times has he allowed more than three runs. Also, in his past 22 starts he has gone at least six innings.

Wins clearly aren't among the better stats to determine a pitcher's performance, that's fair to say. And yes, give the stat set credit for pointing that out years ago.

But it's near to impossible for a pitcher to go 19-1 because of luck, or even mostly luck, as some would have you believe. Or that it just doesn't matter.

Did Cy Young's record 511 wins not matter? Should we really stop counting?

Yes, of course there are example of crummy pitchers having winning records and great ones having losing records (Chris Sale for instance). So no, wins aren't close to the perfect measure.

But Scherzer has been nothing short of terrific. And his won-loss record is one of many indicators of his great season.

In the Cy Young race, I give him a slight lead at the moment based on all the stats (with W-L record being a small part of the picture), with Hernandez, Yu Darvish, Anibal Sanchez, Hiroki Kuroda and a couple others still in the running.

And no, I don't believe Chris Tillman deserved to make the All-Star team over Kuroda just because Tillman had 11 wins, as AL manager Jim Leyland explained at the All-Star press conference (Leyland's great, but that was a 1970s cringe-worthy moment.)

In any case, 19-1 can't just be tossed out, as some from the stat set would have you do. It is historic.

In the past 50 years, the only two starters to post a .900 winning percentage for a full season were Greg Maddux (19-2) and Randy Johnson (18-2), and I think we would all agree that neither of them got there by luck (if anyone wants to tell Johnson he was lucky, be my guest) -- though, both might have been aided a bit by doing it in the strike-shortened 1995 season.

Sure, it helps (a ton), that the Tigers are scoring nearly six runs a game for Scherzer, the most support any starter has gotten this year.

But it also doesn't hurt that Scherzer has been so consistently excellent.

To go 19-1, of course you need a little luck on your side. But you also have to be consistently good. You can't have very many bad games at all.

His other numbers are all excellent (though maybe not quite 19-1 excellent). He leads the league in WHIP (0.91), is second in WAR (5.7) and strikeouts (196), fourth in innings (178 1/3) and fifth in ERA (2.73). Better still, he has held opponents to a league-low batting average (.190), on-base percentage (.242), slugging percentage (.313) and OPS (.554). He's 40 points ahead of second-place Darvish on OPS against. So obviously, Scherzer's isn't just "very good."

The goal, ultimately, is to win games when a pitcher takes the mound, and Scherzer has done that better than anybody. Yes, there is a lot of luck involved in getting pitcher wins. But in Scherzer's case, he has pitched great, too, and no one should claim he hasn't.

Here are all the Bulls and Bears in yet another awards version of Stock Watch.

Bull Market

1. Max Scherzer, SP, Tigers: Scherzer went 4-0 (yep, that still counts here) with a 1.56 ERA in August as he took a slim lead in the AL Cy Young race. It isn't over, as Anibal Sanchez, Felix Hernandez, Yu Darvish and Hiroki Kuroda are still among those in the mix. But it's fair to say Scherzer leads at the moment, at least on this scorecard.

2. Jose Fernandez, SP, Marlins: The 21-year-old phenom has gotten better as he has gone along. With an early shutdown on the horizon, Fernandez has about three starts left to try to take a tight NL Rookie of the Year race with Yasiel Puig and others in the running. His stunning August has him right in the middle of things. Fernandez was 3-0 with a 0.82 ERA in the month, and he struck out 42 hitters in 33 innings.

3. Clayton Kershaw, SP, Dodgers: Yes, I know he made it last week, but that was for clinching the Cy Young race. This week he makes it for moving forward in the MVP race, too. He is 3-1 with a 0.90 ERA this month, as his ERA fell to 1.72, the lowest mark since Greg Maddux in 1995 (1.63) and angling to be the best since Bob Gibson's historic 1.12 in 1968 won him both the Cy Young and MVP awards. Andrew McCutchen is hitting .432 and has a .542 on-base percentage and 1.137 OPS in August, keeping it close atop the MVP chart.

Bear Market

1. Chris Sale, SP, White Sox: He was beating up that water cooler because he knew he was headed for the Bear Market. But a rough outing Friday left him with an uncharacteristic 4.58 ERA this month, with 41 hits allowed in 35 1/3 innings. He's the other end of the win debate, as his 9-12 record doesn't reflect how great he has been all year -- well, all year until very recently, anyway.

2. Hiroki Kuroda, SP, Yankees: He went 1-3 with a 4.39 ERA this month and is realistically a long shot for AL Cy Young now, with an 11-9 record, 2.71 ERA and 1.08 WHIP.

3. Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pirates: Some folks had started to mention him as a possible MVP candidate. While he has had by far his best season, an August with a .198 batting average, .255 on-base percentage and .686 OPS isn't going to help him earn top-five MVP votes. Still, a big step forward overall for him.

 
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