Matt Harvey

Pouliot’s midseason award picks: AL & NL Cy Young

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Yesterday, we took a look at what WAR had to say as far as midseason awards winners. Now, I’m making my own choices, starting with the Cy Young Awards.

First, let’s get the charts out of the way, here are the top 10 in the AL by ERA and both versions of WAR.

ERA

1. Clay Buchholz – 9-0, 1.71 ERA, 81/29 K/BB in 84 1/3 IP
2. Hisashi Iwakuma – 7-3, 2.42 ERA, 101/17 K/BB in 115 1/3 IP
3. Felix Hernandez – 8-4, 2.70 ERA, 123/22 K/BB in 116 2/3 IP
4. Yu Darvish – 8-3, 2.78 ERA, 151/37 K/BB in 113 1/3 IP
5. Bartolo Colon – 11-2, 2.79 ERA, 61/13 K/BB in 106 1/3 IP
6. Chris Sale – 5-7, 2.79 ERA, 114/24 K/BB in 106 1/3 IP
7. Ervin Santana – 5-5, 2.84 ERA, 89/22 K/BB in 111 IP
8. Hiroki Kuroda – 7-6, 2.95 ERA, 75/21 K/BB in 106 2/3 IP
9. James Shields – 3-6, 2.99 ERA, 104/33 K/BB in 117 1/3 IP
10. Alex Cobb – 6-2, 3.01 ERA, 76/23 K/BB in 83 2/3 IP
11. Max Scherzer – 12-0, 3.10 ERA, 131/25 K/BB in 110 1/3 IP
12. Derek Holland – 6-4, 3.14 ERA, 97/27 K/BB in 106 IP

Baseball-reference WAR

1. Chris Sale – 4.3
2. Clay Buchholz – 4.2
3. Hisashi Iwakuma – 3.8
4. Felix Hernandez – 3.4
5. Yu Darvish – 3.3
6. Max Scherzer – 3.3
7. Bartolo Colon – 2.9
8. Anibal Sanchez – 2.5
9. Jesse Crain – 2.5
10. Derek Holland – 2.4

Fangraphs WAR

1. Derek Holland – 3.4
2. Max Scherzer – 3.4
3. Felix Hernandez – 3.4
4. Anibal Sanchez – 3.2
5. Chris Sale – 3.1
6. Yu Darvish – 3.0
7. Clay Buchholz – 2.9
8. Doug Fister – 2.9
9. Justin Verlander – 2.8
10. James Shields – 2.4

Buchholz was in the lead here a few weeks ago, but he hasn’t pitched since June 8 because of neck and shoulder difficulties. If the vote were held today, it’s a given that Scherzer’s 12-0 record would make him the AL Cy Young Award winner, even though he’s just 11th in the league in ERA. And he wouldn’t necessarily be a bad choice. Fangraphs essentially puts him in a tie for the league WAR lead. He’s second in the AL in WHIP behind Iwakuma and second in strikeouts behind Darvish.

Also working in Scherzer’s favor here is that he’s faced a more difficult schedule than most of the alternatives. Here’s some of the top guys by opponents’ OPS:

Holland: .755
Scherzer: .753
Hernandez: .751
Darvish: .746
Iwakuma: .744
Buchholz: .733
Sale: .730

Now, that doesn’t tell the whole story. One reason Sale’s is so low is because quality left-handed hitters sit against him and get replaced by lesser right-handed hitters. That’s not something that should be held against him. However, it’s also true that Sale hasn’t faced any of the AL’s top three offenses to date.

Besides the tougher schedule, Scherzer has also had to overcome a lousy defense. The Tigers are 28th in the majors in defensive efficiency. And despite the Tigers’ struggles, Scherzer has allowed just one unearned run this year, compared to two for Darvish, three for Sale and Iwakuma and four for King Felix.

So, I think I’m in favor of Scherzer, too. Going by RA rather than ERA eliminates some of the gap, and Scherzer has been remarkably consistent. 14 of his 15 starts this year have concluded with the Tigers in the lead, and they were tied in the other.

After Scherzer, I just don’t see much to separate the two Mariners pitchers, two Rangers pitchers and Sale. Darvish has the strikeouts, but he also has issued more walks than the competition and only Iwakuma has allowed more homers. I think I prefer King Felix’s start.

AL Cy Young picks

1. Scherzer
2. Hernandez
3. Darvish
4. Iwakuma
5. Sale

Now on to the NL, where there’s a little more separation after the top two. Here are the leaderboards:

ERA

1. Matt Harvey – 7-1, 2.00 ERA, 132/24 K/BB in 117 IP
2. Jeff Locke – 7-1, 2.06 ERA, 67/41 K/BB in 96 1/3 IP
3. Clayton Kershaw – 6-5, 2.08 ERA, 118/33 K/BB in 121 1/3 IP
4. Adam Wainwright – 11-5, 2.22 ERA, 114/12 K/BB in 125 2/5 IP
5. Patrick Corbin – 9-0, 2.22 ERA, 85/29 K/BB in 109 2/3 IP
6. Stephen Strasburg – 4-6, 2.41 ERA, 90/27 K/BB in 93 1/3 IP
7. Jordan Zimmermann – 12-3, 2.46 ERA, 85/17 K/BB in 120 2/3 IP
8. Mike Leake – 7-3, 2.52 ERA, 67/21 K/BB in 103 2/3 IP
9. Cliff Lee – 9-2, 2.59 ERA, 115/21 K/BB in 125 1/3 IP
10. Jose Fernandez – 5-4, 2.72 ERA, 94/33 K/BB in 92 2/3 IP

Baseball-reference WAR

1. Matt Harvey – 4.6
2. Cliff Lee – 4.5
3. Clayton Kershaw – 4.4
4. Adam Wainwright – 4.3
5. Jorge De La Rosa – 3.8
6. Jhoulys Chacin – 3.5
7. Patrick Corbin – 3.3
8. Jordan Zimmermann – 2.8
9. Kyle Kendrick – 2.6
10. Mike Leake – 2.6

Fangraphs WAR

1. Adam Wainwright – 4.3
2. Matt Harvey – 4.2
3. Cliff Lee – 3.5
4. Clayton Kershaw – 3.1
5. Mat Latos – 2.7
6. Homer Bailey – 2.5
7. Jhoulys Chacin – 2.4
8. Jeff Samardzija – 2.4
9. Jordan Zimmermann – 2.4
10. Patrick Corbin – 2.3

A BBWAA vote right now would be pretty fascinating. It’d come down to Wainwright vs. Harvey, with Wainwright’s four extra wins being weighed against Harvey’s edges in ERA and strikeouts, plus the  Harvey hype factor.

Those aren’t the only stats in conflict between the two, though. Harvey currently has a .253 BABIP, suggesting he’s been quite lucky this season. Wainwright’s is .307, which could be taken as a sign of bad luck. His career mark coming into the year was .292, which is right about the league norm.

It’s that difference being filtered out by the Fangraphs stats, which rates them dead even. In fact, their FIPs (2.01 for Wainwright, 1.99 for Harvey) and xFIPs (2.67 for Wainwright, 2.64 for Harvey) are practically identical.

Also, it should be mentioned here that no one is even close to those two according to Fangraphs stats. The next best FIP belongs to Lee at 2.58, with Kershaw fourth at 2.67.

What also makes the NL race a little easier to judge than the AL race is that the big four have all made exactly 17 starts at the moment and range in innings from Harvey’s 117 to Wainwright’s 125 2/3. Those extra 8 2/3 innings are an edge for Wainwright, but not as big of one as some might think given that Wainwright has four complete games (and two shutouts) to Harvey’s none.

One more thing to look at. Let’s go back to strength of schedule, by opponents OPS:

Lee: .753
Kershaw: .751
Wainwright: .746
Harvey: .722

Harvey lags way behind here, courtesy of his three starts against the Marlins. In all, eight of his 17 starts have come against teams in the bottom four of the NL in runs per game (the Mets are fifth from bottom). Wainwright has faced those teams just twice, plus the Mets twice.

If the two had faced similar schedules, I’d probably give Harvey the edge here, largely because of the outstanding strikeout rate. As is, I have to lean Wainwright. And while I’m not taking it into account here, Wainwright is definitely the better bet for the full season award, since Harvey is probably going to be shut down at some point in September.

NL Cy Young picks

1. Wainwright
2. Harvey
3. Lee
4. Kershaw
5. Zimmermann

The Yankees are paying $86 million for a one-inning reliever

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OXON HILL, MD — The Yankees signing of Aroldis Chapman late Wednesday night came as something of a surprise. And the money — $86 million — was something of a shock. Yes, we knew that Chapman was going to break the bank and likely set a record as the highest paid relief pitcher in history, but seeing it in black and white like that is still rather jarring.

In the coming days, many people who attempt to analyze and contextualize this signing will do so by pointing to the 2016 playoffs and the unconventional use of relievers by Terry Francona and the Indians and Joe Maddon of the Cubs. They’ll talk about how the paradigm of bullpen use has shifted and how relief pitchers have taken on a new importance in today’s game. Chapman’s astronomical salary, therefore, will be described as somehow more reasonable and somewhat less shocking than it first seems.

Don’t buy that jive for a second.

Yes, Andrew Miller and, to some extent, Chapman himself were used unconventionally in the 2016 playoffs, but not long into the 2017 season we will see that as an exception, not the rule. And not just because Chapman showed himself unable to hold up to that level of use in the playoffs. It will be the excaption because the Yankees have shown no inclination whatsoever to deviate from traditional bullpen usage in the past and there is no reason to expect that they will do so with Chapman in the future.

As you no doubt remember, the Yankees had Chapman, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller for the first half of 2016. Such an imposing back end of a bullpen has rarely been seen in recent history. All of them, however, were used, more or less, as one-inning-a-piece guys and no real effort was ever made to break any bullpen usage paradigms or to shorten games the way many applauded Terry Francona for doing in the playoffs.

Miller pitched 44 games for the Yankees, totaling 45.1 innings. He pitched more than a single inning on only three occasions. Chapman pitched 31 games for the Yankees, amassing 31.1 innings. He was used for more than one inning only twice. Betances worked in 73 games, totaling 73 innings. On 11 occasions he pitched more than one inning.  It was unconventional for a team to have three relievers that good, but they were not, in any way, used unconventionally. Nor is there any reason to expect Chapman to be used unconventionally in 2017, especially given that Miller is not around and Chapman has shown no real ability to be stretched for multiple innings for a sustained period.

None of which is to say that having Chapman around is a bad thing or that he is any less of a closer than his reputation suggests. It’s merely to say that the Yankees paying Chapman unprecedented money for a closer should not be justified by the alleged new importance of relief pitchers or that changing role for them we heard so much about in the playoffs. Indeed, I suspect that that changing role applies only to pitcher use in the playoffs. And I do not suspect that this transaction alone pushes the Yankees into serious playoff contention, making that temporary unconventionality something of a moot point in New York for the foreseeable future.

It is almost certain that the Yankees are paying $86 million for the same one-inning closer Aroldis Chapman has been for his entire seven-year career. His contract may or may not prove to be a good one for New York based on how he performs, but don’t let anyone tell you now, in Decemeber 2016, that it’s better than you think because Chapman will somehow transform into a 1970s-style relief ace or something.

Report: Yankees sign Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million deal

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Update (12:02 AM EST): Rosenthal adds that Chapman’s contract includes an opt-out clause after three seasons, a full no-trade clause for the first three years of the contract, and a limited no-trade clause for the final two years.

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Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Yankees have signed closer Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million contract. Mark Melancon recently set the record for a contract earned by a reliever at $62 million over four years. Chapman blew that out of the water and many are surprised he didn’t fetch more.

Chapman, 28, began the 2016 season with the Yankees but he was traded to the Cubs near the end of July in exchange for four prospects. The Cubs, of course, would go on to win the World Series in large part due to Chapman. The lefty finished the regular season with a 1.55 ERA, 36 saves, and a 90/18 K/BB ratio in 58 innings between the two teams.

Chapman was the best reliever on the free agent market and, because he was traded midseason, he didn’t have draft pick compensation attached to him.

The Yankees don’t seem to be deterred by Chapman’s domestic violence issue from last offseason, resulting in a 30-game suspension to begin the 2016 regular season.