Regional debates: Best NY ace? Best LA duo?

August 2nd, 2020

The all-regional Major League Baseball schedule for 2020 sparks added Interleague intrigue -- and added debate.

Let’s look at a few instances in which two teams in the same city or state make for challenging -- but fun -- choices.

(All stats are from the start of the weekend.)

Best New York ace: Cole or deGrom?
With back-to-back National League Cy Young Awards, was the undisputed ace of the Big Apple until a certain $324 million man arrived to the Bronx. Now the conversation is a little more complicated.

If we’re going off achievements, to date, there’s still no question here. deGrom not only has the hardware but the edge in several key career statistical categories:

deGrom vs. Cole
ERA: deGrom, 2.61; Cole, 3.21
ERA+: deGrom, 141; Cole, 127
WHIP: deGrom, 1.05; Cole, 1.13
K/BB: deGrom, 4.73; Cole, 4.24

The differences in homers per nine (0.8 for deGrom, 0.9 for ), hits per nine (7.3 for deGrom, 7.7 for Cole) and strikeouts per nine (10.2 for deGrom, 10.1 for Cole) are all negligible, and the difference in innings pitched (1,122 2/3 for deGrom; 1,206 2/3 for Cole) isn’t a big deal, either. deGrom has simply had the better career, to date.

The argument for Cole is that he’s two years younger (30) than deGrom (32) and has only relatively recently tapped into his transcendent talent. The repertoire changes he made in Houston have made him a monster, and his lack of Cy standing is nothing more than a technicality (Cole was every bit as deserving of the honor as teammate Justin Verlander last year, and his 185 ERA+ was better than deGrom’s 165 mark, in a tougher league).

deGrom, on the other hand, has already reached a level that is difficult to improve upon (although you wouldn’t know that from his first two starts, in which he’s posted a 1.64 ERA with an uptick in velocity on his fastball and slider). But the age issue is less concerning than it might otherwise be, given that he converted to pitching his junior year of college.

Verdict: deGrom.

Best L.A.-area duo: Betts-Bellinger or Trout-Rendon?
When you compare with anybody else, the answer comes easy. When you make it a doubles match, it’s more interesting.

Let’s dispense with the disparities in career lengths and just focus on combined Wins Above Replacement (FanGraphs version) for last season and this season:

Trout-: 15.9

That’s a clear edge for the Angels. And while what we’ve seen so far in 2020 is too small a sample to derive any meaningful conclusion, the Steamer projections coming into the year, based off track records and trends, called for a 5.0 combined WAR for Trout-Rendon and a 4.4 mark from Betts-Bellinger. Halo again.

But Trout is in his age-28 season (he turns 29 next week), with Rendon in his age-30 year. Betts is 27 and Bellinger just turned 25. Those age discrepancies make a meaningful impact in what you can expect from each pair moving forward. And that’s a major factor to consider, given that all of these players are under the contractual control of their current clubs for the foreseeable future (Bellinger, under arbitration control through 2023, is the only one of the four without a long-term contract).

So we need to have two versions of the question: Which duo is the best right now? And which would you rather have in the long run? The first answer is Angels, the second is Dodgers.

Verdict: Push.

Best Ohio rotation: Indians or Reds?
In one corner (the northeastern corner), it’s , , , and (with as the next man up).

In the other corner (the southwestern corner), it’s , , , and (with , the next man up … and currently up, as Miley is dealing with a groin issue).

For what it’s worth, the FanGraphs preseason projections for these two units gave a miniscule edge to the Indians (5.7 WAR, vs. 5.5 for the Reds), but that’s little more than the equivalent of a rounding error.

I put the Reds just ahead of the Indians in my top 10 rotations to start the year, but that was nothing more than a coin flip. If we’re living in the moment, the Indians are ahead of the Reds … and everybody else. The first turn through the Tribe rotation was ridiculous, and Bieber has been the most dominant starter in baseball so far this season. For the Indians to be in this position despite trading Bauer and Corey Kluber in the past calendar year is a testament to their impressive player-development pipeline.

But the Reds’ rotation has been pretty darn good, too (3.68 ERA, 36 2/3 innings) and is similarly loaded with pedigree and potential. It will be interesting to see if Cincinnati can pull even in this “race” over the course of the short season, though the Reds will have their challenges in keeping their great group together with Bauer and DeSclafani approaching free agency.

Verdict: Indians.

Best Chicago lineup: Cubs or White Sox?
There’s a lot of mixing and matching these days, but these are fairly representative lineups for the North Siders and South Siders:

*Has been out so far this season for undisclosed reasons but is the projected regular in right.

Despite notable challenges in finding a leadoff hitter (challenges that led to the bold step of putting Bryant in that spot this year), the Cubs have accomplished more together as a group (though not as much as expected when this championship window opened) and are off to a great start this season. They went into the weekend having scored 6.29 runs per game, with a .254/.359/.470 slash line. The Sox were at 4.29 runs per game with a .238/.298/.431 slash.

The big difference is on-base percentage. Both clubs have a lot of swing and miss -- combining this season and last, the Cubs have a 23.7% strikeout rate (11th-highest in MLB) and the White Sox have a 25.6% mark (third-highest in MLB). But whereas the Cubs have a top-10 walk rate in that span (9.4%), the White Sox rank dead last, at 6.3%.

The Sox’s look, however, is evolving. They added Grandal, who ranked in the top 10% in MLB in walk rate the past two years, and they just promoted Madrigal, who basically doesn’t strike out (3% K rate in the Minors). The Cubs’ lineup has been lengthened this season with the early performance of Happ and the rookie Hoerner, hence the terrific early returns. But because Moncada is 25, Jimenez and Madrigal are 23 and Robert is 22 (and living up to the enormous hype), the Sox have more upside.

Verdict: Cubs … for now.