Max Scherzer's next scheduled start is Thursday against the A's. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
At this point it would almost take a miracle for Max Scherzer not to win the Cy Young Award for the American League.
He’s leads baseball with 19 wins. He’s second in baseball with 196 strikeouts. He ranks fifth in the AL with a 2.73 earned run average.
There will be people out there who want to make an argument for Rangers ace Yu Darvish or Mariners ace Felix Hernandez -- and some of them aren’t even from the Dallas or Seattle regions of the country.
Don’t be surprised if you hear people discounting pitcher wins -- and, to be honest here, with some pretty good reasons for that.
But attempts to focus the Cy Young debate on the fickleness of the win stat would be doing a disservice to the rest of Scherzer’s body of work.
And that argument, taken to its logical conclusion, would lead not to Darvish or Hernandez winning the Cy Young Award.
It would lead to a different Tiger instead -- Anibal Sanchez.
What’s wrong with the win stat? “The last time I checked, wins and losses go in the standings, not some alphabet soup statistic,” is the typical retort.
What’s wrong with the win stat is actually pretty simple. It’s trying to apply a team stat to an individual.
We know the team with the most runs wins the game. But the pitcher who gets the win might be the one who started off the game and held his opponent to eight scoreless innings. Or he might be the closer who blew the lead, only to be the pitcher of record when his team reclaims it.
Or maybe he’s the reliever who came into the game earlier, faced one batter and got the out before his team took the lead.
Of course, if the starting pitcher doesn’t go five innings, he’s not eligible for the win. In that case, the scorekeeper gets to choose which reliever to award it to -- even if the reliever pitches fewer innings than the starter.
We haven’t even talked about the run support component. Pitching for a team with the highest run total in baseball, the Tigers, sure increases the odds of a pitcher winning compared to putting him on a low-scoring team, wouldn’t you think?
So yes, when someone says pitcher wins is a ridiculous stat, they’re right.
Wins are just one piece of the puzzle. Peripherals are another.
Here’s something interesting about Scherzer: He doesn’t even have the best ERA on his own team. That 2.43 figure belongs to Sanchez.
Yet Scherzer has one loss and Sanchez seven. Sanchez also has the lower Fielding Independent Pitching figure, a statistic that measures what a pitcher is said to control: strikeouts, walks and home runs. Sanchez’s is an American League-best 2.34; Scherzer’s 2.61.
But Sanchez doesn’t deserve the Cy Young Award. Scherzer does.
That’s because you can’t just seize one or two choice stats to make a choice. It’s a complete picture.
Scherzer has the highest rate of quality starts in the AL (81 percent). His average start of 6.9 innings has been surpassed by only one pitcher in the AL -- Chicago’s Chris Sale -- saving the bullpen and giving his team more time to score runs in his favor.
He has a higher rate of strikeouts per plate appearance than Sanchez, and in fact, trails only Darvish in the stat, and he has a lower rate of walks issued than either.
And yes, he has more wins than anyone else, too.
Sanchez, Darvish, Hernandez -- they’re all having great seasons.
But to argue any of them are more deserving of the award at this point than Scherzer is little more than pedantic.
Scherzer has 19 wins because he’s having the best season, overall, in the American League. And for that, he’ll be the American League’s Cy Young winner.