*** Since writing this, I have looked again and again, considering more and new (to me) stats, and I have changed my mind about this year’s winner. Originally, I dubbed Arrieta my “Three Finger Brown” winner, and I still think it’s not a BAD pick. He was amazing, obviously. But looking more closely, I found that Clayton Kershaw was actually the best in 2015. He lead all of baseball in:
Sure, Greinke and Arrieta finished higher in ERA and bWAR. But a large helping of luck got them to that point. Not that they didn’t pitch incredibly well, too. But consider the fact that Greinke and Arrieta were #1 and #3, respectively, in BIP-Wins (accumulating 3x the value from BIP than Kershaw got, and FAR above their previous career highs), and it’s pretty obvious that Kershaw pitched the best, while Greinke and Arrieta pitched really, really well and had a handful of extra luck. ***
How do you not give the award to a pitcher with 300 strikeouts and a minuscule 2.13 ERA? On the other hand, how do you not give it to the guy with a 1.77 ERA? Or the 1.66 ERA? This has truly been a remarkable season for great pitching; Max Scherzer, with a 2.79 ERA, 276 K and two no-hitters isn’t even in the discussion.
While David Price and Dallas Keuchel both had fantastic years over in the American League, the race for top honors really comes down to three NL pitchers: Clayton Kershaw, Jake Arrieta and Zach Greinke. Each has been historically dominant during different stretches of the season. All three are neck-and-neck in several of the most important statistics. All three are on playoff teams.
Let’s take a look at the too-close-to-call stats first:
BAA (batting average allowed), with MLB rank in parenthesis:
Arrieta .184 (1)
Greinke .185 (2)
Kershaw .193 (3)
Greinke 0.84 (1)
Arrieta 0.86 (2)
Kershaw 0.88 (3)
While these three pitchers are the best in the league, the differences between them here basically come down a to a couple of singles and walk every 10th start. In other words, nothing that gives us a definite answer.
How about a few that give us – a least within the stat category – a bigger separation?
Greinke 1.66 (1)
Arrieta 1.77 (2)
Kershaw 2.13 (3)
Kershaw 301 (1)
Arrieta 236 (6)
Greinke 200 (18)
Kershaw 29.3% (1)
Arrieta 21.6% (8)
Greinke 19.0% (13)
So what do we have now? Arrieta and Greinke have the clear lead in ERA, and Kershaw has the clear lead in total strikeouts and in strikeout to walk ratio.
Let’s get into some of the more advanced metrics, and see where that puts us:
Kershaw 8.6 (1)
Arrieta 7.3 (2)
Greinke 5.9 (7)
Greinke 10.0 (1)
Arrieta 9.4 (2)
Kershaw 7.9 (4)
Again, we have separation, but unfortunately, it’s not the same player on top each time. The same happens when we look at Win Probability: WPA ranks them 1-3, Greinke, Arrieta, Kershaw and WPA/LI ranks them 1-3, Kershaw, Arrieta, Greinke .
Kershaw is a clear #1 in both xFIP and SIERA, but honestly I think those are more useful for predictive comparisons, not for giving recognition for what actually happened during the season.
What can we do then? All three have had noticeably long scoreless streaks at some point during the year. What if we compare 2nd half and September numbers? “Down the stretch” with all of the “pressure situations” that come with it?
Arrieta 0.75 (1)
Kershaw 1.31 (2)
Greinke 1.99 (3)
Kershaw 4.9 (1)
Arrieta 4.0 (2)
Greinke 2.5 (8)
Now we’re starting to get somewhere. Despite a brilliant second half, Greinke has fallen to a clear 3rd in this race. And Arrieta’s 0.75 ERA is hard to ignore.
Arrieta 0.39 (1) over 6 GS
Kershaw 1.70 (6) over 7 GS
Greinke 1.87 (8) over 6 GS
Kershaw 2.1 (1)
Arrieta 1.9 (2)
Greinke 0.8 (26)
What a crazy year, when the obvious choice is to drop the player with a 1.87 ERA in September!
As much as I love Kershaw, and inasmuch as his numbers would have earned him top awards in almost any other year in recent memory, I have to give the 2015 Three Finger Brown Award to Jake Arrieta.
He matched or came close to Kershaw in almost everything, but really separated himself from the pack (actually, he had the lowest second half ERA in history) as the end of the season came. For a sparkly bonus, throw in his no-hitter and the Cubs’ playoff run and you have an unquestionably great pitching season.