Max Scherzer is Better Than Clayton Kershaw… Easily
Baseball is the most quantifiable of all sports. It is why we have regular statistics like ERA, BA, and RBI, and why we also have advanced statistics like ERA+, UZR, and BABIP. Because there are so many different statistics, people can argue over whom is the better player/pitcher and engage is these arguments ad nauseam. If you find the right statistic, that statistic can substantiate your claim. It is also why intellectual honesty goes a long way in baseball arguments… and why intellectual dishonesty makes you look like a fool. It makes you say things like, “Nope, Max Scherzer Still Isn’t Better Than Clayton Kershaw,” and proceed to write an article explaining exactly why Max Scherzer is so much better than Clayton Kershaw. With that in mind, I present to you the dumbest article on the internet right now; Michael Baumann’s “Clayton Kershaw is an Article of Faith.”
Two things before we journey on into the depths of sports writing hell: (1) Clayton Kershaw is a tremendous pitcher and his first ten years are some of the best in major league baseball history, and (2) I enjoy Michael Baumann’s writing, and have done so since he started contributing at Grantland. As always with any compliment I hand out, time to immediately negate it.
This article is stupendously dumb. The objective is clear; prove to the reader that Clayton Kershaw is better than Max Scherzer. Here is the problem; anybody that has paid attention to National League pitching this year knows that Scherzer is a F-5 tornado out on the mound while Kershaw is having a down year. With that knowledge, how does an intelligent baseball writer create a theme that flies in the face of reality? The answers are time frame, sample size, and pure unwillingness to live in reality.
Clayton Kershaw has become the Pied Piper for baseball writers trying to prove they are smarter than everybody else. Buster Posey wrote the baffling inept “Clayton Kershaw is the Best Pitcher of All-Time” article just a few weeks back and now we have this from Baumann. Olney’s was intellectually dishonest, and Baumann’s is even more of a travesty.
Baumann details how Max Scherzer has been a more reliable pitcher (notching four straight 200+IP seasons) than Clayton Kershaw (only two such seasons, although one of 198.1), how Scherzer can be more single-game dominant (“in 2015, he had a 16-strikeout, one-hit, one-walk complete-game shutout and a 10-strikeout no-hitter in back-to-back starts, then finished the season with a 17-strikeout no-hitter in which the only base runner reached on an error. In May 2016, he became just the fourth pitcher (after Roger Clemens, Kerry Wood, and Randy Johnson) to strike out 20 batters in a nine-inning game,”), and then follows that up with the coup de grace, “But that durability and penchant for single-game brilliance wouldn’t matter if Scherzer hadn’t been out-pitching Kershaw this year, and he is, conclusively, outpitching Kershaw this year.” (Emphasis added).
If that sounds like a guy that just did a great job arguing why Max Scherzer is currently a better pitcher than Clayton Kershaw, you would be right. But what do the numbers say? Well, the numbers say Max Scherzer is wiping the floor with Clayton Kershaw (who, again, is still pitching really well).
However, despite literally making the argument for why the premise of his article is flawed (AND EVEN PROVIDING THE STATISTICS!!!) Baumann wants you to take it on faith that Kershaw is somehow better than Scherzer. The only way he can make his argument is by using a timeframe that makes no sense for the question, who is the better pitcher right now. When I like to make arguments about who is currently the better player, I like to use completely nonsensical timeframes as well. I even made up a name for the timeframes. I call them (and get this because I thought it was a pretty cool title) “the current and most recent season.” Catchy right? Well, that is not good enough for Baumann. Let us take a gander at what inane argument he comes up with:
When I first read this article I honestly believed Baumann was dabbling in satire. This is the strawiest of Straw Man arguments. Nobody has ever, in the history of baseball, asked who the best pitcher was on June 28, 2012 or some nonsense like that. Who was the best pitcher of the decade? Sure. Who was the best pitcher of his generation? You bet. And of course, who is the best pitcher in baseball? I.E. who is the best pitcher in baseball, right now, this season? Yeah, that one definitely gets asked, they even have an award for it, it is called the Cy Young, I believe you may have heard of it.
When discussing the question of best pitcher in baseball, the question is always with the caveat that we are talking about right now, this very season. In 2017, if you wanted to win a game, who would you take? That is the question, that is always the question. That is why when you are asking a different form of the question it is always prefaced with, “who is the best pitcher of all-time,” or “if you had to win one game, what pitcher would you take?”
So Baumann, in an attempt to make his leaky boat argument hold water, asks instead, “track record matters. The question is how much?” His answer? HE TAKES THEIR ENTIRE CAREERS!!! The entire premise of your article is wrong because you are answering a question nobody asked! The question you seemingly proposed was, “who is the better pitcher?” The answer to that question in 2017 is Max Scherzer. If you wanted to ask, “which pitcher has had the better career?” Yeah, duh. Kershaw. He has had one of the best starts to a career ever. But that is not the question you are purportedly answering.
Even when he goes full-on uber statistics and brings up FiveThirtyEight‘s ELO statistics for pitchers (a method for calculating the relative skill levels of players in competitor-versus-competitor games), Kershaw is no longer the best pitcher in the game; “Even the FiveThirtyEight Elo rater, which is in its third week in a row with Scherzer in the top spot, had Kershaw there for 37 of the previous 38 weeks, and 106 of the previous 139.” Even with all of the evidence pointing Baumann to say, “Max Scherzer is currently a better pitcher than Clayton Kershaw,” he cannot bring himself to do it. Again, the point here is a simple one. Who is the better pitcher, Max Scherzer or Clayton Kershaw? The answer, by pretty much every available metric with the exception of debating literally their entire careers, is Max Scherzer.
Actually no, maybe that ELO rater is flawed. Maybe it is just a small sample size… “But Elo is a rolling weighted measure, so if Scherzer’s on top now, it doesn’t just mean that he’s better right this instant, he’s been better over a long period of time.” Holy good GAHD! Reading this article, and recognizing the premise flies in direct opposition to pretty much every statistic found therein, legitimately makes the reader dumber. The reason for Scherzer’s climb in ELO rating and other statistics is two-fold: Kershaw got injured last year so only threw 149IP compared to Scherzer’s 228.1, and Scherzer is dominating the competition this year. These are literally two of the most important qualities a pitcher can have when discussing who is the better pitcher. Is the guy reliable, and how is he doing most recently. The answers to both of these questions when comparing Scherzer to Kershaw are, Scherzer is much more reliable and Scherzer is much better than Kershaw.
Baumann continues to make arguments pro Kershaw throughout the rest of the article. He mentions how the recent “Scherzer is better” talk is only because Scherzer has turned into peak Pedro over the past five weeks while Kershaw has looked more mortal. The argument is stupid because, again, he asked the question “who is the better pitcher?” The answer is simple. It is Max Scherzer. No matter how you want to look at it; the eye-test, old school statistics, new school statistics, the best pitcher in baseball in Max Scherzer. So yes, yes Michael Baumann, Max Scherzer is in fact better than Clayton Kershaw. You (currently) have the dumbest article on the internet (see how this works?). I award you no points, and may the baseball gods have mercy on your soul.