Max Scherzer is having a Jekyll-and-Hyde-type season. The Detroit Tigers right-hander has the highest strikeout rate (12.0) of any American League starter, but he also has the highest BABIP (.394) and has a 5.67 ERA. According to a major-league scout who has seen him multiple times this season, the numbers aren’t misleading: “He has either been striking guys out or giving up hard-hit balls.”
Scherzer is stat-savvy enough to know that his BABIP should regress to the mean, but he also isn’t in denial about the hard-hit balls. He addressed the subject, as well as the increased velocity of his slider and his changeup, prior to Wednesday’s game at Fenway Park.
Scherzer on his high BABIP: “My stuff, right now, is where I want it to be. I’m able to attack the zone with my fastball, and [throw] my slider and changeup in the zone and out of the zone. That’s how I’m generating swings and misses. But throughout my outings, I’m constantly making a few mistakes and I’m getting punished for it. You can’t put a number on that. It’s how my outings have been going and I have to minimize those mistakes.
“I’m aware of the luck in [BABIP], but at the same time, you can’t directly influence it. You can just keep mixing your patterns, executing and locating, That’s the human element of this game. Hopefully you can get some weak contact and your defense will field those balls.
“Will it improve? Maybe, maybe not. The games I’ve played are over with. You can’t sit there and say that because something happened in the past, something is going to happen in the future. That’s why you take everything with a grain of salt and go forward.
“Have I had some bad luck? I can think of a few times I have and a few times I haven’t. As a pitcher, it’s hard to say that you’ve pitched in bad luck, because you know that you’ve made some mistakes. I can’t sit here and slouch those mistakes off.”
On his slider and changeup: “There have been times this year where my slider has gotten a little bit too hard. I’m conscious about where the velocity is. If I stay through it too long, it’s too much like a fastball — it almost gets to be like a cutter. When that happens, what I have to do is add a little curveball to my slider. I have to turn my fingers over on the ball a little to help generate more break on it.
“My catchers and pitching coach have said that they like it in the mid-80s range more than when it’s in the upper-80s range. From what I’m able to see from the mound — and from the feedback from my catchers — my slider has had some sharp break to it. More consistency is something I’ve been striving for the past couple of years.
“My changeup always gets good action, so as long as I’m getting depth on it, I’m not concerned. The velocity will fluctuate a bit, as does my fastball velocity.”
On his high strikeout rate: “I don’t get too caught up in strikeouts. I kind of see them as where I am physically, and where my stuff is. Right now, I feel very good about where my stuff is. Whether I get more strikeouts, or fewer strikeouts, is something I really can’t control. All I can control is my walks, and when I’m doing a good job of that is when I’m usually pitching my best. I have to throw quality strikes.”