On Thursday, CBS Sports’ Danny Knobler wrote a column with a provocative headline. It read: “Tigers may trade Scherzer this winter before cost skyrockets.” A couple of quick points should be made up front. This story is 100% speculation on Knobler’s part. There are no quotes from Tigers or league officials. There aren’t even anonymous “sources” or “reports,” which you know we hate at New English D. Second, Knobler isn’t someone who normally writes stuff like this, so I don’t mean this to be a critique of Danny’s work in general. But this was a joke.
His argument goes something like this. Scherzer is about to get a huge arbitration payday. Scherzer isn’t going to sign an extension because he’s a Boras client. The Tigers have a ton of money tied up in other stars and can’t keep spending. All of those things are facts, but Knobler ties them together to create a narrative that will generate traffic but doesn’t make any logical sense.
Let’s think about this logically. The Tigers will either win the World Series or they won’t this year. If they win the Series, are the Tigers really going to trade the centerpiece of the pitching staff that led them there to save $15 million? If they don’t win, are they going to trade a player who is likely going to provide 5 wins above replacement or so in 2014 while their roster remains intact to make another run? That doesn’t sound like the Tigers. They will either not care about the money because they value loyalty or they will still feel the pressure of winning and will have to keep Scherzer because you won’t find someone better on the market at any position.
But let’s leave that alone. Let’s assume the Tigers will act without making any sort of emotional calculation. There is no rational case to be made for trading Scherzer.
The only reasonable case would have to be crafted around his cost and a Tigers team that is cash strapped. But there is nothing to suggest that the Tigers are hurting for money. They drew 3 million fans and can count on the postseason revenue bump, not to mention incoming TV revenue from the league’s new deal. Maybe Knobler knows something about the Illitch family bank account, but that seems like a relevant detail to include in your speculation. Scherzer will cost $15 million or so next season, but that’s a bargain if he’s a 5-6 win pitcher. That’s better than you could do signing someone to replace him.
If we assume the trade would push Smyly to the rotation the drop off from Max to Smyly would likely be about 4 wins, plus the cost of replacing Smyly as the relief ace. The Tigers need to replace Scherzer’s 5 wins if they trade him and intend to contend in 2014. I can’t see anywhere on the club they could add five wins short of signing Robinson Cano, and even that is a stretch before you factor in the giant financial commitment. The Tigers could not trade Scherzer and get better for next season without totally overhauling their roster. There is nowhere to find the extra playing time.
So this would have to be about the future. The Tigers would trade Scherzer for a set of prospects and save $15 million. In this scenario, they add the future wins from the prospects but lose Scherzer’s value. In order for that to make sense, the Tigers would need to get enough of a prospect haul to account for the roughly $10 miilion of surplus value Scherzer will be worth in 2014. They need to get something like 3 wins back in the deal.
That’s before you factor in the time value of money (discount factor) and before you factor in the value of the draft pick the Tigers would get when Scherzer rejects the qualifying offer after 2014. Essentially for this to work, some team needs to send the Tigers a stud prospect or a couple of really solid ones and you have to assume the Tigers don’t mind being worse in 2014 as a result.
That just doesn’t make any sense. For trading Scherzer to make sense the Tigers have to intentionally hurt their 2014 chances – as their window narrows – so that they can get a player who will be slightly better than the draft pick they will get as compensation, all so they can save $15 million. This is a team whose owner ponied up for Fielder and Sanchez because he wants to win a title before he dies.
It doesn’t make sense unless you can get a team to dramatically overpay. I guess we shouldn’t put that past Dombrowski, but after the meltdown trade the Royals made this year, most teams should be weary of making a short term gamble on a starter. Max Scherzer is a 5-6 win pitcher at the end of his peak who will be on a bargain-priced one year deal. For some reason, Knobler is suggesting the Tigers will trade him.
To make themselves worse short term. To make themselves marginally better in the long term. To save money they don’t need to save. Without even considering the Tigers overly loyal disposition. Before you factor in the how much the front office adores Scherzer, it still doesn’t make sense.
Knobler wrote this piece without any actual inside info. I know he’s a smart guy, so he should have easily been able to arrive at the same conclusion I did. Why did he write what he wrote? It’s a sexy headline. Everyone shared it and talked about it. CBS got page views and page views are currency. He put out nonsense speculation. The best way for you to respond to this kind of thing is not to read it. Don’t feed the trade-rumor industrial complex and don’t let Danny get away with work that is beneath him.
I think trade speculation is the scorn of the sports world, but it’s even worse when you’re speculating during an exciting playoff series. If you’re bored in November, knock yourself out, but the season is still happening. There is actual baseball to cover. There are more compelling stories to write about Max Scherzer. You know, Max Scherzer? The Tigers star who is likely going to win the Cy Young after making significant improvements in his delivery a year after he dealt with a massive personal tragedy.
But yeah, let’s write about a trade that is never going to happen.
Let’s get the basics out of the way early. We love Max Scherzer. He’s one of our favorites. We like his stuff and his work ethic and his intelligence. He’s one of us and his eyes are different colors. We’re rooting for him to help the Tigers win and for him to be individually successful. He’s awesome. In fact, we’ve written of his awesomeness quite often:
- Three Reasons He Dominated
- Two Reasons He Got Better
- On Becoming an Ace
- On Falling in Love with Max
- And Why You Can Believe in Him (via Gammons Daily)
But here are New English D, we don’t put a lot of stock in wins and losses for pitchers. In fact, we put exactly zero stock in them, so the fact that Max is 18-1 means nothing to us in terms of postseason awards. I’m glad the Tigers win a lot in Max’s starts and it’s nice that he gets credit, but it’s a useless statistic when it comes to actually evaluating individual performance. Which means we need to consider more accurate stats when considering who the Cy Young should be in the AL. Let’s start with the candidates. To do so, I’m going to use Wins Above Replacement (what’s WAR?) as a starting point. I’m going to look at WAR only to determine who should be in the conversation.
Eight AL pitchers currently have 3.5 WAR or higher while the leader has 5.3. WAR isn’t precise, but I don’t believe there is a case to be made that it’s more than win off the mark. Like I always do on the site, those numbers come from FanGraphs WAR because I think it is a better reflection of performance than something like Baseball-Reference’s WAR (rWAR) or a basic runs allowed WAR (RA9-WAR). Remember, I’m only using WAR to draw the boundaries, not to make a decision.
The candidates are:
|Chris Sale||White Sox||4.6|
It’s worth noting that each starter has a different number of starts and innings based on their current spot in the rotation and how many games their team has played, in addition to any injuries. I will not penalize a pitcher because of his team’s schedule, but they will lose credit for injury time. Let’s see starts, innings, innings per start, and WAR per 200 innings:
|Chris Sale||White Sox||23||165.1||7.19||5.56|
Sanchez is clearly the best pitcher inning for inning by WAR and Sale is easily going the deepest into games. Scherzer and Felix are currently tied in WAR despite Scherzer being a start behind based on his team’s schedule and Scherzer leads in WAR/200 IP while having nearly identical IP/GS. WAR gives us these 8 candidates, and the early returns look good for Scherzer. Let’s go deeper.
|Chris Sale||White Sox||2.78||2.86||2.91|
Kuroda, Felix, and Sanchez are all basically allowing the same number of earned runs per nine innings. Sanchez, Felix, and Max are clear the leaders in FIP. Darvish and Felix are your leaders in xFIP. But as you all know, park adjustments are really important. So let’s check out ERA/FIP/xFIP- stats that adjust for ballpark. Remember that 100 is average and everything below that is a percent better than average (ex. 85 ERA- is 15% better than average):
|Chris Sale||White Sox||66||69||73|
With park adjustments, we have a whole lot of guys between 59 and 70 for ERA-. Remember, this doesn’t even factor in defense. Only Verlander is outside of this window. By FIP-, we have Darvish and Kuroda falling back. By xFIP-, Darvish, Felix, Anibal, and Sale are your leaders.
Let’s now take a look at K and BB%, just for some added context:
|Chris Sale||White Sox||26.20%||5.40%|
And I won’t take the time to break these stats down, but if you care about Win Probability Added and Run Expectancy 24, here you go:
|Chris Sale||White Sox||2.87||29.45|
So let’s make first cuts. It’s obvious we can get rid of Verlander. I’m also getting rid of Holland because he isn’t a leader in anything. That leaves us with six choices. All of which could win the award based on the final month and a half, but who is in the lead right now? That depends on what you value in a pitcher. Since this is a Tigers site, we’re going to look at this through the prism of #37.
The Case for Scherzer
Pitchers can only control certain aspects of the game. They can’t control their defense. They can’t control their run support. They have some control over where the ball is hit, but only in broad terms. They can induce ground balls, but they can’t decide if it’s directly at a player or ten feet to his right. They control strikeouts, walks, and homeruns. Their ballpark matters.
Scherzer is tied for the league lead in fWAR which is based on FIP. Adjusting for park and league average, based on Scherzer’s Ks, BBs, HRs, and innings, he’s tied with Felix for the best WAR in the AL. If we assume that they would both pitch at this level over the course of an entire season, Scherzer is on a better pace, as seen through WAR/200 IP. Only Sale goes deeper into games than Scherzer. Max and Felix are essentially tied in FIP- and Scherzer throws more innings per start just barely. Only Sanchez is above them in FIP- and he missed starts due to injury, so he takes that hit. Looking at which pitchers induce the fewest hard hit balls, Scherzer and Sale are the two leaders among AL starters on this list at about 13%.
If you care about what a pitcher can actually control, the award belongs to Scherzer. He has a higher K% and is only a touch behind in BB%. His WPA and RE24 are higher as well. Batters hit fewer balls hard against him. Right now, the worst you could say about Scherzer is that he and Felix are basically even when it comes to the FIP side of things. In my mind, it’s razor thin, but I’m voting for Scherzer if I’m voting based on what a pitcher can control.
The Case Against Scherzer
Five pitchers on this list have lower ERAs. Including Felix, and including the leader, Kuroda. We should at least adjust for park using ERA-, but the message is the same. Scherzer allows more earned runs. Let’s take that a step further, because if we’re talking about earned runs, let’s just talk about all runs. If you’re arguing that a pitcher is responsible for his earned runs, then they are responsible for their unearned runs as well. The argument for FIP is the argument that defense and batted balls are fluky. If you don’t buy that, you have to accept errors too. Let’s see Runs Allowed Per 9 and then let’s convert it to a WAR number based on innings and park.
|Chris Sale||White Sox||3.16|
|Chris Sale||White Sox||4.7|
|Chris Sale||White Sox||5.7|
So if you care about runs allowed, other numbers be damned, the case for Kuroda gets pretty strong. Darvish shows up too. Max and Felix are still in the conversation, but a step down. If you just care about the outcomes and not the process, Kuroda has a solid case.
I’m not saying this because I’m a Tigers fan, but at this moment, Scherzer has my vote over Felix by an eyelash. You can’t go wrong with either. Everything you’ve seen at this site supports a FIP style approach that factors out defense and luck. We only care about what a pitcher controls and those two guys are the class of the AL based on that. Sanchez falls out because he missed time with an injury, otherwise he’d likely be the guy. The case against Max is also a case against Felix. If you are going to talk about his ERA or RAA, you have to then credit Kuroda. The argument for Max is that he’s limited walks and homeruns while striking out a lot of guys across a lot of innings and going deep in games. He’s allowing more runs, but runs are a team stat. The pitcher takes some responsibility, but not all of it. Some is luck, some is defense.
Today, I would vote for Scherzer, but with 7-8 starts left, lots of these guys have a shot. Max is going to win because he’s 18-1, but I couldn’t care less. His record doesn’t tell you anything of value. He’s the Cy Young for me in spite of his record, not because of it.
A thing of beauty.
Tigers 2, Mariners 1 (14 innings)
For my birthday, baseball got me a Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez pitching duel. It was exactly what I wanted. Both were dazzling on Wednesday in Seattle. They each allowed single runs, Felix in the 5th, Scherzer in the 7th, and dominated the rest of the evening. Scherzer went 8, allowed 6 hits, 1 run, 1 walk, and struck out 12. Felix, not to be outdone, went 8, allowed 4 hits, 1 run, no walks, and struck out 12. It was a thing of beauty in every way. One of the better pitched games on both sides that you’ll see this season. I said yesterday they could combine for 25 strikeouts, they nearly did, topping out at 24. It was so much fun. Eight innings of magic, and then they handed it off to the children who allowed more baserunners, but no runs until Brayan Pena delivered an RBI groundout in the 14th inning to give the Tigers a 2-1 lead. Benoit handled the bottom half of the inning and a game that featured 40 strikeouts came to a glorious end at 237am in the east as Torii Hunter gunned down Justin Smoak at the plate via Prince Fielder’s relay to Brayan Pena, who had to withstand a serious collision. There are probably a great many subtle storylines worthy of discussion from this game that is an early contender for Game of the Year, but I’m simply too exhausted to analyze them. I left it all on the couch tonight. Tigers improve to 9-5 and go for the sweep behind Verlander later today.
The Moment: All of it. Just all of it.
Strange, but fun.
Tigers 8, Yankees 4
On this day, Max Scherzer was Max Scherzer. He struck out many Yankees, but allowed some hard contact, including a Vernon Wells homerun. Additionally, there was very little offense at times and explosions of offense at others. The Tigers put up a big number in the bottom of the 5th. The Yankees answered in the top of the 6th. The Tigers came back with more in the bottom half of that inning. Every Tiger but Santiago had a hit and many had multi-hit games. Jackson and Hunter continued their torrid starts and Cabrera’s 4 hit day launched him near the top of the team’s leaderboards. Scherzer wasn’t at his best, but the bullpen held it together and the bats carried him. One of the strange moments, other than Vernon Wells homering, was a call that came in the top of the 6th. The bases were loaded with no outs. A line drive was hit to Prince Fielder who caught it and stepped on first for the double play. Except the first base umpire, who was standing not six feet from the base, called the runner safe at first despite being a solid foot away from the base when Fielder stepped upon it. Luckily, the homeplate umpire overruled him, but it was peculiar in the sense that it was such a clear call I could see he kicked it from my kitchen. I didn’t just react as a fan who wanted the call to go our way. In real time, from far away from my television, I saw certain evidence the runner was out. You don’t get to see that too often.
Also of note today was the Alex Avila played the entire game waiting to hear if his wife was going into labor. Seems like a pretty stressful day. New English D is excited to welcome this player to be named later to the Tigers family. Speaking of the Tigers family, we’d also like to plug this fantastic feature from ESPN on Max Scherzer and his brother, Alex, who took his own life last year after a battle with depression. It’s a touching story not just because of our affinity for Max, but also for his brother who suffered from mental illness.
The Tigers climbed to 3-2 on the season and look for the sweep tomorrow behind Justin Verlander at 1pm on Kids’ Opening Day.
The Moment: Prince Fielder turns an unassisted double play in the top of the 6th, despite the best efforts of umpire Brian O’Nora.
Due to the glorious reality that we now have actual baseball to watch and dissect rather than just future baseball to dissect, we can start to look for early seasons indications of how the season is going to turn out.
Here are five Tigers-related things I’ll be looking for in the early days.
1. Rick Porcello’s Breaking Ball
Porcello was the subject of lots of trade rumors and fifth starter battles, but he has silenced his critics with a strong spring for the time being. He dumped his slider for a curveball this season and the results have been great. In 2012, opposing batters hit .394 against his slider for a lot more power, but the early returns on the curveball have been promising. He had a great spring (not that you should put much stock in the numbers) and the curveball was a much better compliment to his fastball. The velocity separation was bigger and it kept hitters off balance. If Porcello can continue to utilize that pitch against bona fide big leaguers, he could tick his strikeout numbers up and turn into the #2/#3 starter that he was projected to be. Frankly, he’s been a 2-3 WAR pitcher over the last few seasons, so he’s already good enough for most rotations. If he develops into anything more (remember he’s still 24), he could be a borderline All-Star.
2. Andy Dirks’ Bat
The Tigers everyday left fielder had a phenomenal slash line last season (.322/.370/.487) but only played in 88 games due to injury. Those numbers are relatively consistent with his minor league numbers, so we have reason to believe the 27 year old lefty can produce like this again, but the MLB sample size is small. Hitting in the midst of a strong lineup should help, but I’ll be looking to see if Andy Dirks is really this good, or if the truth is hiding behind last year’s small sample. A lot of scouts see Dirks as a really good fourth outfielder, but I’m a fan of his skills and think he can stick as a third outfielder on a good club.
3. Torii Hunter’s BABIP
Hunter had his best big league season by WAR and batting average last year, but a lot of that was driven by an unusually high batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Typically, you expect to see a number around .300 with the game’s best hitters leaning toward .330 or .340. You generally don’t see players, especially older ones improving on their BABIPs outside of randomness, meaning any big one year spike should be observed with caution. Hunter had such a spike last year, posting a .389 BABIP on a .307 career mark. Most people see those numbers and think Hunter was the recipient of good fortune last year and was not as good as his numbers indicate. He’s always been a good defender, but is he actually as good as his last season at the plate? Probably not, but that’s okay. He’s a 2-3 WAR corner outfielder replacing Brennan Boesch who was a -1 WAR player last year. Even if Hunter isn’t a 5 WAR player this season, he’ll still be good. But keep an eye on Hunter’s BABIP. If it’s high and stays that way, it may indicate a change in approach in his old age for the better.
4. Alex Avila’s Power
The difference between Avila’s 2011 (4.6 WAR) and 2012 (2.4) is twofold. One was health (141 games to 116). The other was power (.506 SLG to .384). A lot of people focus on batting average, but walking is such a big part of his game that average obscures the truth. Even last year, he got on base at a .352 clip, which is very good despite a .243 average. He’s probably not going to be the .295 hitter he was in 2011, but if he gets some of that power back, he’ll be as good as he needs to be. A catcher who gets on base at a .350 to .360 rate with .440 to .460 slugging is a hugely valuable asset given his quality defense. If Avila is driving the ball for extra bases early and his knees aren’t sapping his power in April, the Tigers can rest easy knowing 2013 will look more like 2011 than 2012 for Avila.
5. Max Scherzer’s Delivery
I’ve said on many occasions that the key to Scherzer taking the leap from really good stuff and pretty good results to top flight starter was his ability to keep his delivery in line pitch after pitch. Last season, he started to put it all together and led qualifiers in K/9. If he can keep on that path, he could be an All-Star with borderline Cy Young stuff. If he gets out of whack, we’ll know he’s likely always going to have that flaw. He has a lot of moving parts when he winds up, so an early season showing that Scherzer can repeat his delivery will bode well for the Tigers’ fortunes this year.
What are some other important things to watch in April? Let us know what you think in the comments or on Facebook.
The previous eight weekends have featured lists of The Nine best players at each of the main field positions for the 2013 MLB season. You can access these lists here all season long and I will provide status reports of these lists as we proceed through 2013.
There will be no list for relief pitchers because there are so many of them and their range of performance is so small that making a list isn’t very interesting. There will also be no DH list because there just aren’t enough full time DHs to make it worthwhile. Only 15 teams can have a DH and some of them employ platoons. Picking 9 DHs out of like 13 guys seems silly.
But starting pitching is a place of great interest and I struggled to decide how to break it down. With more than 150 players receiving starts in a given season on the hill versus a number closer to 30 for the field positions, I’ve decided to break it in half. I thought about lefties and righties, but decided American League and National League would be more fun.
Here, without more nonsense, are The Nine best American League starting pitchers for 2013 according to SABR Toothed Tigers. The list is difficult to make because there are many excellent candidates, so as always, don’t get too worked up about it.
9. Max Scherzer (Tigers)
Scherzer will turn 29 during the upcoming season, which will be the fifth full one of his career. The strikeouts shot up last season and he kept his walk rate below 3.00 per 9 for a second straight season. He had some arm issues late in the season, but pitched well enough in the playoffs to make us think the winter off was enough to reset his aching body. He’s a flyball and strikeout pitcher, which will work well with the Tigers defense and last season was his most complete effort in the sense that he didn’t go through long stretches of poor performance. I still wonder if he can repeat his delivery and keep his awkward mechanics in line, but if he can continue on the path he started last year, he has a shot to be a force in the AL.
8. R.A. Dickey (Blue Jays)
Dickey is coming off two and a half very good seasons and an NL Cy Young. We can’t worry too much about his age given his knuckleballing ways, but we should worry that he’s moving to a less pitchers’ friendly Rogers Centre and slightly better AL East. Dickey won’t do quite as well under those conditions, but we can control for those context type factors. I don’t think he’ll be a Cy Young again, but his ability to make the ball dance should be enough to keep him on this list for another season.
7. C.C. Sabathia (Yankees)
Sabathia showed signs of aging in 2012 for the first time after 11 above average to great seasons leading up to it. He’s still a workhorse with great control and hasn’t had an ERA above 3.38 since 2005, with much of that time spend in the tough AL East. CC is probably making his final appearance on this list for his career, but he will remain one of the best pitchers in the AL for 2013.
6. Doug Fister (Tigers)
Fister had a higher WAR than all but 12 AL pitchers last season, despite only making 26 starts due to a nagging oblique injury during the first half of the season. Had he pitched at the same rate over 34 starts as he did over 26, he would have easily been a top nine pitcher last season. There is no reason to think anything but injuries would stand in his way. The strikeout rate is on the way up and his control has been excellent in a Tigers uniform. He’s only 29 and could easily be poised for another fine season. He also happens to be my favorite pitcher to watch. His mix of modesty and control with great fastball movement makes for excellent viewing. He’s also super tall. That’s fun too.
5. David Price (Rays)
The reigning Cy Young winner in the AL is fifth on this list, not because I don’t like him, but because I like his opponents more. Price has three straight 4.0+WAR seasons and is right in the middle of his prime. All signs point to another great year from Price, but I think he’ll be just shy of Cy Young conversation in 2013.
4. Matt Moore (Rays)
So when I previewed the AL East, I said Moore would be the Cy Young of the division. In doing so, I also decided he would be a better pitcher than his teammate David Price. Perhaps that was foolish, but I’m bullish on Moore and think people overlook him. He was a top three prospect entering last season and had made an excellent late season cameo in 2011. A year of control issues later, and everyone seems to be looking past him. I’m not. Moore is not yet 24 and has a lot of developing left to do. He throws gas from the left side with two solid offspeed pitches. He was a solid #3 starter in his first big league season. I don’t see any reason to think he can’t make the leap to #1 a year after he was the best prospect in the league.
3. Yu Darvish (Rangers)
Darvish tied Price last season for third in the AL in WAR and should still be on his way up. The strikeout rate was superb and if he can limit the walks at all, he’ll be an elite starter. After a year in the states, he should be poised for a better season because he won’t be adjusting to life in America and can focus solely on pitching. The stuff is great and his first year of results matched that.
2. Felix Hernandez (Mariners)
Felix is about to turn 27 and already has 38.3 career WAR and four straight 230 IP + seasons. The velocity ticking down is the only thing to worry about with the game’s richest pitcher, but he’s shown the ability to be effective at all speeds and is coming off one of his best seasons as a pro. He’s an ace and a stud and any word you can think of to describe a top pitcher. The only thing he isn’t is number one on this list.
1. Justin Verlander (Tigers)
I’m not sure what needs to be said about Verlander. His first three seasons were very good and his last four have been phenomenal. He has a ROY, Cy Young, MVP, and has never missed a start in seven seasons. He’s entering his age thirty season as the game’s best and more reliable starting pitching. With four above average to elite pitches, the two time no-hitter thrower is every hitter’s worst nightmare.
How would you rank the AL’s arms? Sound off. Check back next weekend for the NL list.