Let’s send World’s No. 2 Starting Pitcher to Cincinnati!
Would you agree that a majority of baseball fans think the “best” players belong in the All-Star Game? I would. Agree. Granted, we can agree to disagree about the best way to define “best” … but is there any sort of reasonable definition of “best” that doesn’t cover Clayton Kershaw? And yet here is Clayton Kershaw, reduced to the indignity of a last-minute Internet competition for the LAST SPOT ON THE ROSTER. To which we might all agree to say, harrumph.
Kinda like this, except with fewer pretty words:
The Best Pitcher In The World isn't in the game meant for MLB's stars. Column on how the All-Star Game lost its way: http://t.co/vJzBjsaBqgArticle continues below ...
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 7, 2015
I don’t even have to read Passan’s column to know he’s right! Because yes, when Kershaw’s not even on the roster you know the Game has lost its way, just as you know the process has lost its way when Albert Pujols gets outvoted on the Internet by Justin Smoak.
So yes, of course Passan’s right. And of course Ken Rosenthal’s right when he bemoans Kershaw’s absence, and beseeches us to go ahead and do whatever’s necessary to get Kershaw on the team.
What should be done to keep this from happening again? Well, one obvious solution would be limiting the number of pure relief pitchers per squad to—oh, I don’t know. Maybe three? That would mean more starters, and more excuses to—oh, I don’t know, ignore silly things like wins and losses and just get the best guys?
There is one thing wrong with this brilliant line of reasoning, and it’s an obvious one: Almost any solution to the Clayton Kershaw Problem will result in another problem, just as annoying.
Hey, welcome to the Paradox of Consciousness! Which has been so well expressed by so many grumpy old men for so many years so prosaically: There aren’t any free lunches. Turns out there’s really just one way to wind up with perfect-in-every-way All-Star teams: Let me take control of every detail.
Granted, you might find some fault with even my infinitely considered justice.
Of course I’m (mostly) kidding. The real reason I brought up this whole subject – after all, Jeff and Ken have done all the heavy, God’s-work lifting already – was to mention something that just came up again last week…
It’s not ridiculously obvious that Clayton Kershaw’s still the best pitcher in the world.
Which doesn’t contradict Passan’s notion at all; when you capitalize Best Pitcher in the World, you’re talking about an official title. Kershaw earned that title a year or more ago, and nobody’s yet taken it away from him. He’s won three Cy Youngs in four years and he’s still strong and healthy, throwing the same pitches that he always has.
Unofficially, I did start wondering earlier in the season if someone else might have a claim on the title. First it was Bumgarner. Then Harvey. And finally, when it became obvious that he wasn’t going anywhere, Scherzer got tossed into the mix.
When I compared all those guys, I was just sorta fooling around. Four years ago, Bill James got all serious and stuff, constructing a framework for ranking every starting pitcher at any moment, based on past-performance game scores and accounting for inactivity, park effects, and (uniquely, I think) postseason games. He doesn’t call it The Best Pitcher in the World Rankings. No, Bill calls it the World’s #1 Starting Pitcher Rankings. And guess who just took over (by a hair!) as #1:
1. Max Scherzer (588.4)
2. Clayton Kershaw (588.0)
3. Chris Sale (567.3)
4. Zack Greinke (557.7)
5. David Price (546.6)
6. Felix Hernandez (546.5)
7. Madison Bumgarner (545.4)
Those are the only guys with scores higher than 540, but the next three guys (all above 520) are Johnny Cueto, Cole Hamels, and Corey Kluber, and there are five more who—shoot, you can see the whole list for yourself.
Now, this list isn’t meant to be wonderfully predictive. You probably wouldn’t draft a team straight from it. Adam Wainwright’s still 19th, and Dallas Keuchel opened the season at No. 55 (he’s since moved all the way up to 14th). But looking at the top seven, pretty hard to go wrong there. Obviously, the system would “work” even better if game scores were fielding-independent. Hey, feel free. This is what we’ve got. And you can make a pretty reasonable case that Max Scherzer really has supplanted Clayton Kershaw as World’s Bestest #1est Starting Pitcher.
Which would still leave us with this: Doesn’t the World’s Second-Bestest, #2est Starting Pitcher belong in the All-Star Game, too?