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Entries in Detroit Tigers (64)

Thursday
Aug222013

Killing the Win won't kill Max Scherzer

For those of you who are not on Twitter, get on Twitter. There is a trend that was started not too long ago by MLB Network's, Brian Kenny. That trend is aptly titled, "Kill the win." And it is a sentiment that I fully endorse. Especially in the cases of pitching analysis, projection and, in November, hardware handouts. 

Pitchers rarely actually deserved his team's "win." But I think even Brian Kenny would agree that when Clayton Kershaw, in his Opening Day start for the Dodgers, threw a complete game shutout while driving in his team's only run that day with a home run, truly earned the "W" next to his name. 

But in most cases, pitching wins are silly.

Let me show you what I mean. 

Let's compare two pitchers:

  • Pitcher A is fly ball pitcher and has a slight upper hand in the strikeout department.
  • Pitcher B is getting more outs on the ground but is better at limiting free passes. 

Neither of them is separating himself from the other, and are close enough to be considered similar. 

Let's go a little deeper 

  • Pitcher A has an advantage in OPS against by 82 points. Which is pretty significant.
  • But he also has a BABIP-against that is 43 points higher than Pitcher B, also significant. 

Luck has played a major factor in the success of Pitcher A.

And not to spoil the surprise, but that .248 BABIP-against is 56 points below Pitcher A's career average. Just saying.

Let's go a little broader

 

The wins and losses should be a telling sign of, at least, who Pitcher A is. If you haven't figured it out, Pitcher A is Tigers starter, Max Scherzer

Pitcher B, is Chris Sale

Why is it important that I compare these two pitchers?

Because Max Scherzer is the front runner for the American League Cy Young Award. And rightfully so. He has been dominant all season long. But Sale has been almost equally as dominant.

The biggest difference is run support. 

 

  • The Tigers average 5.9 runs per game when Pitcher A Scherzer is on the mound.
  • When Pitcher B Chris Sale makes a start for the White Sox, the Pale Hose average 3.1 runs per game.

 

Who would you rather pitch for? 

 

  • The White Sox have scored two runs or less in support of Chris Sale eight times this season in 24 starts. That's more than one-third of his starts.
  • That has happened only twice in the 26 games that Max Scherzer has started. 

 

 

  • The Tigers have scored more than five runs 17 times in support of Scherzer.
  • Chris Sale has received similar support only seven times this season.

 

Unfortunately for Sale, this is a matter of circumstance. He pitches for a bad team. The White Sox have the third worst record in baseball, and are only four games better than the Giancarlo Stantons Miami Marlins. Chris Sale would have had to have pitched like Clayton Kershaw this season to overcome what is one of the weakest offenses in baseball (they rank 29th in baseball in runs).

But aside from ERA - and maybe WHIP - Cy Young voters aren't going to be worried about whether or not Sale's K% was on par with Scherzer's when they fill out their ballots at the end of the season. They are going to see the numbers "19-1" and "9-12."

For as far as the BBWAA came when they handed the CYA to Zack Greinke and Felix Hernandez in 2009 and 2010, respectively, they still have a long way to go before they would look at two pitchers like Sale and Scherzer and find any similarities. 

Kill the win? 

Maybe not "kill it." But I would advocate beating it until it is in a vegetative state and unable to sway awards voters one way or another.

Monday
Jul222013

Max Scherzer Platoon-Proof in 2013

With apologies to Justin Verlander, Detroit has a new ace. Max Scherzer has taken the great leap forward that both scouts and statheads have long prophesized, establishing new full-season bests in ERA+ (133) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.90). The 28-year-old righty with one blue eye and one green eye had been a totally different pitcher depending upon which side of the plate the hitter toed, dominating same-handed batters but getting pummeled by left-handers. That has changed during Scherzer's breakout season, as he has cut his opponent slugging percentage against lefties from .465 in 2012 to .357 in 2013.

How has Max become practically platoon-proof? Here's a closer look at what he's doing diferently against lefties this season.

  • Scherzer is throwing fewer fastballs (65% in '12, 57% in '13) and sliders (9% in '12, 5% in '13), relying more upon his changeup (26% in '12, 29% in '13) and a newly implemented curveball (thrown 8% of the time). Scherzer's curve has been particularly effective -- hitters are 4 for 23 (.174) against the pitch, with just one extra-base hit. Perhaps Max's less predictable mix has helped his fastball play up. Lefties are slugging .356 versus Scherzer's fastball this year, down from .480 in 2012. For comparison's sake, lefty hitters are slugging .431 against righy starters this season.
  • He's getting ahead of lefties from the get-go, boosting his first-pitch strike rate from 57% in 2012 to 61% in 2013. The MLB average for right-handed starters against lefty hitters is 58%.
  • Scherzer is challenging lefties more often, increasing his rate of pitches thrown in the strike zone from 43.7% to 45.4% (46.7% average for righty starters against lefties). The difference is more pronounced on the first pitch of the at-bat (Scherzer threw 48.4% of his first-pitch offerings to lefties over the plate in 2012, and 52.5% in 2013).
  • He's not getting squeezed as much against lefties this year. In 2012, Scherzer got a called strike on a pitch thrown in the strike zone and taken by the batter just 72% of the time (the average for righty starters versus lefty batters is about 81%). This year, his called strike rate on in-zone pitches is 79%. In particular, Scherzer is getting more credit for in-zone pitches thrown high and away.

Scherzer's called strike rate on in-zone pitches versus lefty batters, 2012

Scherzer's called strike rate on in-zone pitches versus lefty batters, 2013

Monday
Jul012013

Posey, Molina, Miggy Among MLB's Best Junk Ball Hitters

In general, swinging at pitches thrown out of the strike zone is about as sound a strategy as playing in traffic. Batters are hitting a paltry .177 and slugging .238 this season when they go after stuff thrown off the plate -- not far off the .148 average and .195 slugging percentage that pitchers have managed when swinging themselves. Put another way, taking a cut at junk thrown out of the zone makes you about as effective a hitter as the man throwing the pitch.

While swinging at would-be balls is disastrous for most hitters, some still manage to do damage even when they go after pitches only Vlad Guerrero would think are strikes. Buster Posey and Yadier Molina aren't just the best catchers in baseball -- they're also the game's best bad-ball hitters in 2013. Miguel Cabrera, whose league-leading 203 OPS+ is highest for a Tigers hitter since Ty Cobb, has also been excellent when he goes fishing out of the strike zone. Posey, Molina and Miggy rank in the top five in slugging percentage when swinging at pitches thrown out of the zone.

Highest slugging percentage vs. out-of-zone pitches (through Friday's games)

Posey doesn't chase pitches all that often -- 21.9% of the time, which is well under the 27.3% MLB average. But when he does, he usually expands his zone horizontally and hammers pitches thrown in on the hands or off the outside corner.

Posey's slugging percentage by location against out-of-zone pitches

Molina, meanwhile, chases at a slightly higher than average clip (28.3%) and inflicts pain on pitchers who venture too far inside. Eight of his nine extra-base hits on stuff thrown out of the zone have come against inside pitches.

Molina's slugging percentage by location against out-of-zone pitches

Cabrera goes after more off-the-plate pitches than Posey or Molina (28.8%), but he's similar to San Francisco's All-Star backstop in that he crushes stuff thrown inside or off the outside corner. Miggy has four home runs on pitches thrown out of the strike zone, tying him with Paul Goldschmidt, Chris Davis and Adrian Gonzalez for the major league lead.

Cabrera's slugging percentage by location against out-of-zone pitches

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