Michael Hurley of CBS Boston has a column up criticizing Sam Miller’s quite good piece for ESPN.com about the ascendance of WAR. It’s your standard anti-sabermetric rebop. Hurley attempts to paint himself as a sensible moderate type, but make no mistake, the guy is definitely threatened by advanced metrics.
But that’s not a big deal. There are a lot of people like that. What separates Hurley is this little rhetorical flourish:
The blurb on ESPN’s homepage read, “After WAR helped heat up the 2012 AL MVP debate, it’s now a permanent part of looking at player performance.”
That’s certainly a bold claim, considering it wasn’t more than 65 years ago when the color of a man’s skin was a determinant for selecting an MVP, and also considering Miguel Cabrera won in a landslide over Mike Trout, the man with the significantly better WAR last season.
Can someone help me out here? Is Hurley equating WAR and segregation? Does he believe they are both artifacts of their time, with one thankfully being cast into the dustbin of history and the other, hopefully, soon to be? If that’s not his angle, what is it, exactly?
Whatever. If, in my own assessment of players, I’ve cited WAR more than a couple of times in past three years I’d be shocked, so it’s not like I’m on the front lines of the WAR war. I’m a stathead sympathizer and fellow traveler but I risk hurting myself and others when I attempt to actually calculate anything.
But I think I can say this much: if WAR is eventually set aside and considered a not-particularly useful stat, it will be because another, better stat is devised to replace it, not because enough people have yelled and screamed about the folly of trying to quantify player performance in the first place.
Last night the Detroit Lions played the New York Giants. During the game Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford called an audible. The call itself referenced Stafford’s childhood friend and high school baseball teammate, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. From the Freep:
Matthew Stafford stepped to the line of scrimmage late in the third quarter and surveyed the Giants defense.
With five pass rushers across the front and three Giants cornerbacks showing a press-man look, Stafford looked at his two receivers to the left and invoked the name of his childhood friend, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw.
“Give me Kershaw here, Kershaw,” Stafford said, repeating his friend’s name two more times as he spun around at the line of scrimmage.
The audible did not result in a pick-4 to Aaron Altherr. It called for a run up the middle. And it worked nicely, gaining eight yards.
You may suggest the results of other starting pitcher-themed audibles in the comments. I’ll start: “Harvey! Harvey!” is where the QB fakes a handoff, drops back, looks deep and then his arm falls completely off. Damndest thing.
Matt Harvey‘s season was mostly a loss due to extended time on the disabled list. He’s been given a chance, however, to end the season strong and make a case for himself in the Mets’ future plans. Unfortunately, he has been unable to make that case. He was shelled again last night, and his late season opportunity has been a disaster.
Last night Harvey gave up seven runs on 12 hits and struck out only two batters in four innings against a Marlins team that, until facing him anyway, had been reeling. It was his fourth start since going on the shelf in mid-June and in those four starts he’s allowed 21 runs, all earned, on 32 hits in 14.2 innings, for an ERA of 13.19. In that time he’s struck out only eight batters while walking seven. His average fastball velocity, while ticking up slightly in each of his past four starts, is still below 95. Back when he was an ace he was consistently above that. His command has been terrible.
Injury is clearly the culprit. He had Tommy John surgery just as he was reaching his maximum level of dominance in 2013. While he came back strong in 2015, he was used pretty heavily for a guy with a brand new ligament. Last year he was felled by thoracic outlet syndrome and this year a stress injury to his shoulder. Any one of those ailments have ended pitchers’ careers and even among those who bounce back from them, many are diminished. To go through all three and remain dominant is practically unheard of.
Yet this is where Matt Harvey is. He’s 28. He’s still arbitration eligible, for a team that is, to put it politely, sensitive to large financial outlays. While his 4-5 start opportunity to end the year may very well have been seen as a chance to shop Harvey to another team, his trade value is at an all-time low. It would not be shocking if, on the basis of his recent ineffectiveness, the Mets considered non-tendering him this offseason, making him a free agent.
Someone would probably take a chance on him because famous names who once showed tremendous promise are often given multiple chances in the big leagues (See, Willis, Dontrelle). But at the moment, there is nothing in Harvey’s game to suggest that he is capable of taking advantage of such a chance. All one can hope is that an offseason of rest and conditioning will allow Harvey to reclaim at least a portion of his old form.