ANYONE WHO THINKS KERSHAW ISN’T THE BEST PITCHER IN THE NL ISN’T SPEAKING SANITY.
And is Madison Bumgarner MLB’s Bill Ranford?
Now that we have seen the back of 2014, maybe we can finally stop hearing about the Giants. Rarely as a team ridden two players to a World Series like the Giants did Madison Bumgarner and Travis Ishakawa (hey, look it up). Yes, they are World Series champs. No I still don’t like the Giants, in fact I dare say that after the Red Sox they are my least favorite team in baseball. That said, two of my favorite individual ballplayers, Bumie and Posey (Bumgarner once gave his future wife a gift of a cow, how can you not love a guy like that), play for them. But jeez, I am so sick of seeing that highlight with Panda squeezing that pop-up.
Look, Madison Bumgarner had a great run this playoff season, and in fact has been a great pitcher in the playoffs in general (7-3, 2.14 ERA, though clearly this year helped those numbers overall. But I have been hearing people now say that Bumgarner is a better pitcher than, ready for this, one Clayton Kershaw. Okay people, step back from the insanity.
I grew up playing and watching hockey (okay, I played anything that people would let me, short people have a complex to prove themselves), and as an American kid getting introduced to hockey in the early 1980s you had to love the style of the Edmonton Oilers. I loved the Oilers. Couldn’t believe they dealt away both The Great One and Marty McSorely. Then after the collapse in the 1989 playoffs and the ensuing salary demands and then injuries led the Oilers to rely on a former third-round pick acquired from the Oilers some years ago in a trade with Boston. Bill Ranford mans the goal that season, one of disappointment for the Oilers, not least because he had an .890 saves percentage in the regular season (for those uninitiated, that is really really bad), explaining their distant second place finish that year in the Smythe Division (don’t ask me where the names came from) to the hated Flames. While they were the second seed in the playoffs, playoff hockey relies on great goal playing.
As the playoffs began that year Ranford struggled in goal, giving up 7 goals in the opener of the first round of the playoffs and a total of 21 in the first round to a weak Winnipeg team. But beginning with the seventh game of that series Ranford caught fire, and despite a pourous defense he guided the Oilers through round and after round, including a 3 overtime master-piece to open the Stanley Cup Finals, and was named the MVP of the playoffs. Everyone suddenly named him the greatest goalie in the league, and indeed was a solid to good goalie the rest of his career, but nothing like what we saw in that playoffs. Good goalie, but best in the game?
Which brings me back to the sudden claiming that Bumgarner is Sandy Kolfax. Poppycock as they say in the old Agatha Christie stories. One of the best ways to measure pitchers across their careers and taking into account stadiums and the overall era of their era. A great example of how this shows dominance is to look at Pedro Martinez in 1999-2000, where his ERA+ was 243 and 291! An ERA+ of 100 is league average. Yes, that is right, Martinez was that much better than the average pitcher those two years. For his career his ERA+ was 154! Wow. Before the modern era the top three pitchers in ERA+ (minimum 10 years) were Lefty Grove, Walter Johnson, and Hoyt Wilhelm. Three all-time greats. The current leader is Mariano Rivera (not sure relievers should qualify), Pedro, and currently #3 – Clayton Kershaw.
Now, Madison has had a nice career. His current stats (pitching in a solid pitchers park) are:
67-49, ERA 3.06, ERA+ 110
A nice start to a career, and who knows, with more years of 16 or 18 wins (his two highest years in wins) maybe even a HOF career. But better than Clayton Kershaw? Look ERA+ of 110 is pretty good. But you know who is almost at the same level? Since his arrival in Colorado, Jorge De La Rosa has an ERA+ of 108. In other words, Bumgarner over his career is essentially Jorge De La Rosa, granted the greatest Rockies pitcher ever but that is sort of like being the best ballet dancer in Wichita – a good for sure but not exactly note-worthy. And to give even more credence, DLR’s two best ERA+ years are 130 and 128. Bumgarner’s are 131 and 124.
Ah, but fans say, Kershaw chokes in the playoffs, making him unreliable and after all, this game is about winning World Series, not games in the regular season. Not sure I buy that totally, but for the best place to begin I would like to take this year’s playoffs as a good example of Kershaw’s struggles. He pitched in two games against the Cardinals (the team against which he has his worst record, at 5-5 and 3.46 ERA with a 1.268 WHIP, granted not awful but a team that seems to know how to hit against him). So, Clayton draws the Cardinals again this year (before the past 2 year’s Kershaw had been okay in the playoffs, throwing 6.2 innings of 2 run ball against the Cards back in 2009 before bombing against the Phils that year giving up 7 runs in 6.2 innings thanks to a weird 5th inning that was punctuated by a Ruiz homer and an Ibanez homer in the 7th. In 2013 he threw 6 innings of 3 runs (only 1 ER) against the Braves to bring them up against the Cards, where he flamed out (the fact he had already thrown 250 innings that year after throwing 230+ the prior 2 years was what Dan Mattingly blamed his poor performance in 2013).
Then came this year. Now we have proof – Kershaw stinks! After all, 0-2, 7.82 ERA (granted with a 1.105 WHIP). But I want to propose something that will make me sound even stupider than many of you probably think of me – if Clayton Kershaw was playing for the Kansas City Royals this year, he, not Bumgarner, would likely have been the WS MVP. Why do I say this? Well, let me say first anyone who has watched the Royals defense and the Dodgers defense (which us Rockies fans who watched the whole season and the World Series have) know the Dodgers had a simply awful defense (Ramirez only decided to play sometimes, Kemp was dreadful, and the rest aside from Adrian Gonzalez and Ellis, below average. The Royals had plus defenders aside from Aoki in right (Infante is only so-so at 2nd, but Dee Gordon’s defense wasn’t much liked by the Dodgers or Fangraphs). I mention defense because through 6 innings of Game 1 vs. the Cardinals Kershaw had only allowed the 1st and 6th inning homers to Grichuk and Carpenter (the later in the 6th and perhaps sign that Kershaw was tiring). Then came the deluge in the 7th, and only the last pitch of the entire inning was hit anything like hard, that the double that scored three (the last of Kershaw’s runs scored on the homer allowed by the reliever who came in). Now, with a 6-1 lead going into the 7th, most teams, well, any team that had a bullpen better than even the Rockies would have pulled Kershaw at that point. But the Dodgers with their simply awful pen (aside from their closer) were forced to stick with Kershaw. Had the Royals bullpen been in place? Dodgers would win 8-1, and Kershaw’s line would be 6 innings, 2 ER, 2H, WHIP of .333. Anyone want to call that performance awful? Aside from the 2 homers I think we can agree to call that masterful (oh, and 8Ks, 2 more in the 7th we won’t count since he shouldn’t have been there). Now yes, Bumgarner went 7 innings in each of his games aside from the shutout against the Pirates in the wild-card play-in, but on any given night a pitcher may fatigue earlier rather than later (Kershaw was only on 75 pitches through 6, so you can see why Mattingly stuck with him, but once dinked and dunked the first few batters, he should have been pulled, and again, the Royals likely would have taken the 6 and been excited).
Then there is the second game. Kershaw was even better through 6 innings in the second game, throwing a shutout, allowing only the one hit but with two walks this time. Which leads to a WHIP through 6 innings of .500, and a line like this 6.0 1H 0R 2BB 8K. Again, had the Dodgers had even a decent pen, not even the Royals but a decent pen, they could have taken the performance and relied on their bullpen to get the last 6 outs in a 2-0 game.
Yes, Kershaw did give up the runs he is charged with in the two games. Yes, he allowed 3 homers in 2 games, including one to a lefty. But had he been taken out of those two games after 6 innings, his line for the NLDS would be
2-0, 1.50 ERA WHIP .420 and I think we can agree, NLDS MVP.
That is the difference having a good bullpen and solid defense makes. It also helps if you are not facing the team that you struggle most against (every player has one, just the way things happen). This is not the way that things turned out, but pardon me if I am not willing to call Kershaw a playoff disaster and Bumgarner the best pitcher in baseball (he does play for the best manager, and Kershaw…not so much).
For my money, over 162, I will take Kershaw…and you can even argue De La Rosa, over Bumgarner.