We are now three quarters into the season and the playoff picture has become slightly clearer. The first place Detroit Tigers visit Citi Field today in the midst of a stretch that has seen them go 23-10 since the All-Star break. Within that same string of games, starter Max Scherzer has gone 5-0 in six starts while upping his season pitching record to 18-1, far and away the best record in the majors. Scherzer is easily the leading candidate to win the Cy Young Award in the American League, a league the Tigers seem to be the favorite to represent in the World Series. On Saturday, he is opposed by Matt Harvey in a national TV game on FOX. Oddly enough, this will be the second time they face each other this year at Citi Field; the first, of course, being the All Star game held there on July 16th. Harvey is also a Cy Young candidate in the National League, but unfortunately for Mets fans not the favorite. Clayton Kershaw, a former Cy Young winner, right now is the front runner for a second award. Does that necessarily mean Scherzer has pitched better than Harvey this year?
Statistics have become a wonderful tool for fans to use as they engage in debates or casual conversation regarding America’s pastime. Over the past few years, the use of saber metrics has expanded the parameters of a discussion almost to the point where analysis takes on a scientific approach. Since I do not agree with their new found place in the forefront of statistical analysis, I will not delve into or expand on them. However, I will point out that both Scherzer and Harvey have an identical WAR of 5.4, which ranks them fifth in MLB. As far as traditional statistics are concerned, one could argue Harvey has been the better of the two pitchers this season. Here are both of their lines as it stands today:
It’s uncanny how similar the statistics are when you lay them out, and because the innings pitched are only two thirds apart, it becomes a cleaner comparison. The only column Scherzer exceeds Harvey is the win column. The gap is a discernible, but much out of Harvey’s control. Scherzer has had an average of 6.0 runs per game compared to only 3.5 of Harvey. This is hardly a surprise to Mets fans who have routinely been witnessing greatness every fifth day without the payoff of a win, mostly with the offense to blame. Evidence to that shocking revelation is the Mets 13-12 record in games Harvey starts. It’s also essential to point out that the two pitchers both have 19 quality starts, a stat that necessitates that pitchers pitch at least six innings while giving up three runs or less. However, if you delve deeper within those starts, for instance in starts of at least seven innings while giving up one run or less, Harvey bests Scherzer 12-to-5.
Any way you look at it, the statistical comparison clearly reflects two elite pitchers performing at an optimal level. Scherzer has built on his breakout season in 2012 with an even stellar one this year. Now at age 29, this perhaps could be the best season he ever has. On the other hand, Harvey’s equal or better season, statistically anyway, seems to be merely just a precursor to a decade of dominance. Hyperbole maybe, but who would argue?
One thing this weekend’s matchup should shed light on is the declining significance of the Win statistic. The pitch and inning counts have become more prominent in today’s game. Starter pitchers are being coddled and molded into six or seven inning beings. Health and longevity are the keys in this decision making of course, but it has made the prospect of winning 300 games a thing of the past. I would think Harvey would be an exception to these trends. In his first full season, Harvey has displayed the “workhorse” trait which teams look for in an ace pitcher. He has stated his main goal was to pitch 200 innings this year, and is on pace to surpass that mark even with the front office doing its best to curb that number. So when Scherzer takes the mound on Saturday, and the broadcasters gush over his 18 wins, be sure to remember that Harvey has been just as good, or better. The stats will back it up… if you look at the right ones.
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