Diamondbacks overrated Joe Saunders by focusing on his inflated winning percentage

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Last night in my instant analysis of the Dan Haren trade I suggested that the Diamondbacks were overrating Joe Saunders by focusing on his win-loss record instead of his ERA, secondary numbers, and raw stuff.
Sure enough, interim general manager Jerry Dipoto basically confirmed that in his press conference announcing the deal:

We achieved by maintaining major league quality with a 2008 All-Star in Joe Saunders and a guy who quite frankly has been one of the winners in Major League Baseball. I think he trails only Roy Halladay among major leaguers in total wins. He’s won 63 percent of his games since coming to the major leagues, pitched in the postseason on two different occasions. He’s a quality, durable, steady major league starter. We feel like this club needs that, and a guy with a good deal of playoff experience.

Dipoto quoted his career winning percentage several other times and said stuff like “he goes out and he wins.”
In reality Saunders “went out and won” with the Angels because he got very good support from the lineup and bullpen, which enabled him to accumulate more victories than his 4.29 career ERA warranted on its own. To think that Saunders will automatically continue to win more games than his ERA warrants now that he’s in Arizona shows a lack of understanding about evaluating pitching performances.
Last season Saunders received the most run support of any starter in all of baseball, and so he went 16-7 despite a 4.60 ERA. This season his run support has been merely average, and so he’s just 6-10 despite a 4.62 ERA. He didn’t suddenly forget how to win, he suddenly stopped getting the runs necessary to make him look much better than he actually is.
Diamondbacks fans should hope that Dipoto is simply talking up Saunders’ victory totals and winning percentages as a way to spin the trade in the team’s favor, because if he truly believes those two things are crucial elements to evaluating a pitcher’s future value … well, things may be getting even uglier in the desert.

Battle of the Aces: Max Scherzer takes on Clayton Kershaw tonight

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I hope you don’t have any plans tonight at around 10PM Eastern time, because that’s when we get a pitching matchup for the ages as Max Scherzer will take on Clayton Kershaw at Dodger Stadium. When they meet tonight it will be the first time two pitchers with three or more Cy Young Awards have matched up since 2006. That year, and in 2005 and 2000, Roger Clemens faced Greg Maddux. In 2001 Clemens faced Pedro Martinez.

Kershaw won his hardware in 2011, 2013 and 2014, with an MVP award in 2014 to boot. Scherzer collected trophies in 2013, 2016 and 2017. Each has started the 2018 season in Cy Young form. Kershaw is 1-2, but that record is due to poor run support. He has a 1.73 ERA and has struck out 31 batters and has walked only three in 26 innings. Scherzer is 3-1 with a 1.33 ERA and a whopping 38 strikeouts to only 4 walks in 27 innings.

This will be the third time that Kershaw and Scherzer faced each other if you include the playoffs. The first meeting was a decade ago when both were rookies. They most recently faced off in Game 1 of the 2016 NLDS, way back when Scherzer only had one Cy Young Award to his credit. Kershaw beat Scherzer in that playoff game and the Dodgers beat Scherzer’s teams in the two regular season matchups, with neither guy setting the world on fire. As so often happens in baseball, the hype hasn’t been matched by reality.

Still, there’s always a chance it will. And even if, in the end, this turns into a slugfest, the first couple of innings should at least give us some hope of something good. I’ll be watching.