Jordan Zimmermann, Wins, and Brian Kenny

 

Jordan Zimmermann pitched seven innings and allowed two runs in yesterday's 11-2 thumping of the Phillies. He was also awarded his league leading 18th win. That was the part of the game ESPN choose to highlight in their headline. This caused MLB Network's Brian Kenny to pronounce that this headline was proof that there are still people that believe the win is the best tool for analyzing starting pitchers. I do not think that is true but we'll get to that in a moment.  

For most of the season the main target of Brian Kenny's witch hunt against the win has been Max Scherzer. He talks about Max Scherzer like he is 19-3 solely because the Tigers have a good offense. That could be the case, as the Tigers do have a good offense, but Scherzer is the current MLB leader in fWAR, he has a 2.95 ERA, 2.68 FIP, 10.15 K/9, and 2.19 BB/9. Max Scherzer is very clearly having a great season and should be the leading candidate to win the AL Cy Young. Arguing against him because he is 19-3 is as dogmatic as arguing against Felix Hernandez because he is 12-9. It simply isn't the right battlefield unless the battle were different, but it is to kill the win, not make people understand the components that go into a win.

Now back to Jordan Zimmermann. He has had a good but not great season. He is 14th in the NL in fWAR with a 3.33 ERA, 3.39 FIP, 6.84 K/9, and 1.79 BB/9. The big thing with this is that no one is talking about Jordan Zimmermann for Cy Young. Jordan Zimmermann is having the best season of his career and no one wants to reward him with the Cy Young, because even at his best he isn't close to Clayton Kershaw or Adam Wainwright when it comes to straight pitching dominance. Jordan Zimmermann is a very good pitcher, and he has looked like an Ace at times this season, but he also pitched a July where he had a 7.18 ERA. It wasn't a good month for him and it took him out of Cy Young contention, but because he was very good before July, and pretty good after as he is leading the NL in wins.  

None of that matters because today's analyst understands the win. Not one person has brought up Jordan Zimmermann's name when it comes to the Cy Young. The NL Cy Young is going to Clayton Kershaw. Matt Harvey may have had a chance, but even if he didn't get hurt he was getting shut down, and one of the reasons Kershaw is going to get the Cy Young is that he has already pitched 223 innings with a 1.94 ERA. Kershaw is on the mound more than any other pitcher in the NL and allows the least amount of runs when he is out there. That is sheer dominance; it will earn him a Cy Young and probably a $200 million extension in the off-season.  

Jordan Zimmermann has had a great season, and is a good pitcher. He was won his 18 games in part because of how well he has pitched in every month that isn't July (he had one win that month). When he has been the winning pitcher his stats look like this 1.89 ERA, 6.5 K/9, and 1.55 BB/9. In other words he has deserved the wins he has gotten. The Nationals have also scored over 4.5 runs a game when he pitches and that has contributed to his record. Nationals’ fans need to look no further than Stephen Strasburg's win-loss record to understand the importance of run support, but I think most baseball fans understand this.  

Brian Kenny would have a much greater point if people were talking about Jordan Zimmermann for the Cy Young or if Max Scherzer was a lucky pitcher, but both Scherzer and Zimmermann have their win-loss records because they are having good seasons. A pitcher's win is a product of a pitcher being a good pitcher on a team that scores them runs, and most people in modern times understand this. The pitcher's win is a poor analysis tool, but that isn't the same as it meaning that a pitcher with lots of wins is just a lucky fellow with a horseshoe up his ass. In fact if you look at the MLB wins leaders this season only one stands out as being more lucky than good: the Orioles Chris Tillman who is 16-6 with a 3.70 ERA, but even that doesn't seem that egregious. Maybe Lance Lynn of the Cardinals who is 13-10 with a 4.23 ERA, but again I look at that and I think most baseball fans will look at that and understand what components go into that record.  

Perhaps Kenny got tired of preaching to the choir and decided to see how far he could push the line, or he really was hired by MLB Network to play the heel and his over the top attitude and dogmatic zeal in killing the win is part of that. I don't really know the answers. What I do know is that Jordan Zimmermann has had a good, but not great year and it is neat that he is leading the NL in wins. I also know that it is also not as meaningful as what Clayton Kershaw has done, and because of that Kershaw will win the Cy Young and Jordan Zimmermann will be lucky to get some down ballot votes. I am pretty sure most baseball fans would agree with me, because I feel most baseball fans are smart enough to know how a pitcher's win comes into being.   

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