Kershaw v Scherzer: The Sabermetric Side

The age long question: is anyone better than Kershaw? Yes it's that time of the year in which we ask ourselves which pitcher will have dozens of articles written about him, claiming to have dethroned the reigning greatest pitcher on the planet. It's been Arrieta, Lincecum, embarrassingly RA Dickey, and now it's Scherzer's time to shine. I am a man of Sabermetrics, and will use Sabermetrics to break down this debate for you. I understand not all of you are sabermetricians like myself, but I will try my hardest to help you understand these stats and if you find yourself being confused by these stats, I encourage you to read their respective descriptions on FanGraphs.

 

 

wOBA: created by the fantastic Tom Tango, Weighted On-Base Average is one of the most important stats in the sabermetric world. It shows how good a batter is at producing runs for his team, or how good a pitcher is at preventing runs. Without getting into the nitty gritty of it all, it assigns values to BBs, 1Bs, 2Bs, 3Bs, and HRs as to what their true worth is, because using total bases doesn't measure the worth, or effect, that having a double over a single has for a team. The lower a player's wOBA, the lower their ability to produce runs, or in the instance of pitchers, the higher their ability to limit runs. Naturally, higher indicates a batter is better at producing runs, and a pitcher is worse at preventing runs. Typically, a league average hitter would have around a .320 wOBA, while an elite player would produce around a .40O wOBA, and your worst players would hover in the high .200's.

 

BABIP: Batting Average on Balls in Play measures the batting average of only all non-HR balls put in play.

 

K/9: Strikeouts per 9 is a stat that shows how many strikeouts a pitcher has for every nine innings they pitch.

 

WPA: Win Probability Added measures how much a player has actually done for a team rather than what they're value is, because a walk off home run is far more valuable than a home run when your team is down 15-0. It doesn't entirely tell you how well they performed, but more how valuable their performance was. The scale traditionally ranges from about -3.0 (Worst) to 6.0 (Best), with 1.0 representing an average performance. Unlike the other stats, it is a stat you add up, most comparably to WAR. It shows factually what a player did in a season, compared to their worth like WAR, as it takes in conditional situations into account unlike WAR.

 

Clutch: Clutch is a sub stat of the WPA stat which declares how much better from his baseline of performance when he is in high leverage situations. Not overall dominance, and doesn't take postseason into account (Sorry Giants fans)

 

2015 Clayton Kershaw: 0.281 BABIP, 11.64K/9, 4.96 WPA, -0.45 Clutch, 0.231 wOBA

2015 Max Scherzer: 0.268 BABIP, 10.86K/9, 3.22 WPA, -0.56 Clutch, 0.259 wOBA

2016 Clayton Kershaw*: 0.254 BABIP, 10.39K/9, 4.57 WPA, -0.11 Clutch, 0.204 wOBA

2016 Max Scherzer: 0.268 BABIP, 11.19K/9, 4.24 WPA, 0.48 Clutch, 0.267 wOBA

2017 Clayton Kershaw**: 0.248 BABIP, 10.81K/9, 3.11 WPA, 0.88 Clutch, 0.246 wOBA

2017 Max Scherzer**: 0.226 BABIP, 12.13K/9, 3.05 WPA, 0.16 Clutch, 0.226 wOBA

*Did not have enough innings to qualify for ERA or WHIP titles

** Season still in progress

 

Now I don't want to tell you which is better, I'll let you decide that for yourself. But from this data, I can tell you factually who did more for their team. Kershaw’s WPA is superior to Scherzer's in each of the past three seasons, including 2016 in which he pitched about 80 fewer innings than Scherzer.

 

From this data, I can also tell you Max Scherzer is having a better season than Clayton Kershaw, based on skill, not worth or Win Probability Added. But a pitcher is defined by more than half a season. Kershaw has the track record to beat Scherzer, with an MVP, 3 Cy Youngs, ranking 3rd in Cy Young voting in the Zack Greinke vs Jake Arrieta season, and displaying more worth than Scherzer in Scherzer's NL Cy Young year.

 

I would love to hear about what you all took away from these stats, and encourage you all to engage me on Twitter to discuss (@LiveBreatheLA).