Max Scherzer on His High BABIP and K-Rate

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.

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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.”



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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.


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Tyler
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Tyler
4 years 1 month ago

It’s incredible watching this guy pitch. He either gets a swing and a miss, or they destroy the pitch for a homerun. As a former pitcher myself, I like analyzing his pitch sequencing and decision making out on the mound, and some of his decision confound me. For instance in the 15 K Pirates game, he made Barajas look silly in his first at bat with off speed stuff, yet in the second at bat he decides to try and throw a first pitch fastball by him (to a first pitch fastball hitter no less) and it gets deposited in the left field seats. If it ever clicks for this guy, watch out, he’s got elite stuff and he could be a top pitcher in the game.

vivaelpujols
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vivaelpujols
4 years 1 month ago

Wow, you’re saying that he threw a first pitch fastball!! Holy shit, that is such a big mistake, he deserves to allow a homer there.

chuckb
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chuckb
4 years 1 month ago

You are routinely able to get and complete great interviews, David. Thanks for what you bring to fangraphs.

Brian
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Brian
4 years 1 month ago

It’s so cool that you were able to get this interview David! This site rocks!

CabreraDeath
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CabreraDeath
4 years 1 month ago

I’m sure someone will correct me if the numbers don’t back this up, but, from watching his start against the Bucs (that Tyler references) and against the Twins, the dude’s fastball gets too straight. I think it’s as simple as that. His CH is impressive, though.

He’s the baseball version of the football cliche regarding inconsistent QBs “keeping both teams in the game”….

ThePartyBird
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ThePartyBird
4 years 1 month ago

Can’t say I see that. His fastball has elite movement.

Wobatus
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Wobatus
4 years 1 month ago

I respect his attitude towards the luck factor and babip. I actually think he’s a little better understanding than a lot of folks who would just point to his xfip. That said, he seems a candidate to pull-off what Morrow has been doing this year, getting the traditional e.r.a. down around where the xfip suggests it can be. That may include better luck, but also just better pitching. He’s obviously extremely talented.

He goes against the Red Sox today, who hammered him last year. A good challenge for him, not to emphasize one start too much. He pitched well against the Yankees last year but fell apart against them in a start this year. Didn’t have command.

Benzedrine
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Benzedrine
4 years 1 month ago

Max Scherzer is my favorite pitcher in baseball

Matt Hunter
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Member
4 years 1 month ago

Hearing pitchers talk about BABIP is a good reminded that a bad BABIP is not just bad luck; in fact, much of it is probably not bad luck. That doesn’t mean it won’t regress as the pitcher makes adjustments and whatnot, but to tell a pitcher who’s giving up hard-hit balls left and right that his bad BABIP is just bad luck seems silly. When you leave a fastball over the plate, and a batter hits a screaming line drive single, that’s your fault, even if it doesn’t show up in your FIP.

RC
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RC
4 years 1 month ago

Which is one of the reasons FIP is an extremely incomplete stat. FIP thinks a hit is a better outcome than an out. Thats just silly.

jessef
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4 years 1 month ago

pitchers whose FIP would be improved by giving a hit rather than a walk in 2011:

Roy Halladay
Clayton Kershaw
Cliff Lee
Madison Bumgarner
Brandon McCarthy
CC Sabathia
Matt Cain
Matt Garza
Zack Greinke
Dan Haren
Justin Verlander
Doug Fister

Pitchers whose FIP would be improved by getting an out, rather than a hit: everyone else

jessef
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4 years 1 month ago

gah, the first group of players is obviously the players whose FIP would be improved by giving up a hit rather than an out.

J Walter Weatherman
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J Walter Weatherman
4 years 1 month ago

Pedro’s BABIP in ’99 was .323 – he should’ve made some adjustments

Antonio Bananas
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Antonio Bananas
4 years 1 month ago

Small sample size. Not enough balls were put in play against him that year to actually decide anything.

vivaelpujols
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vivaelpujols
4 years 1 month ago

The point, which Scherzer actually articulates, is that pitchers can only indirectly influence their outcomes. Hits on balls in play occur on a single pitch, so they are much more prone to hitter randomness than strikeouts and walks.

If Sherzer throws a slider down and away and the batter hits a double off the wall, Scherzer is unlucky. Yes the batter hit the ball hard, so he deserved to get a hit, but it was a good pitch and 95% of the time that pitch is going to be fouled off, swung on and missed or hit weakly in play.

payroll
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payroll
4 years 1 month ago

I feel like Scherzer is a good candidate to develop a split finger.

Big Daddy V
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Big Daddy V
4 years 1 month ago

That might make pitching somewhat painful.

A Guy From The World of Tomorrow
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A Guy From The World of Tomorrow
4 years 1 month ago

Call up the Tigers! They’re dying t be told how to do their job better!

j6takish
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j6takish
4 years 1 month ago

Where would you go from here? Max has a FIP of 3.99, elite strikeout rate and decent control for a guy who strikes out as many as he does. He’s always been homer prone. The Tiger defense behind him is pretty bad, but I watch almost every Tiger game and when Max gets hit, he gets hit hard. Line drives galore and his fly ball outs are usually to the warning track. I’m looking at his ERA and his BABIP, and I’m not so sure whether it’s going to trend down

RC
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RC
4 years 1 month ago

“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.”

This stuff always irritate me.

His BABIP should regress to HIS mean. Not the mean

J Walter Weatherman
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J Walter Weatherman
4 years 1 month ago

Given that the SD of true talent BABIP is 7pts, regressing to THE mean is a safe bet. How can we be sure of Max’s true talent? Is there something suggesting that we should change the mean we are regressing towards?

vivaelpujols
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vivaelpujols
4 years 1 month ago

This. There is very little variation among major league in their ability to control BABIP. That’s why Jeff Suppan and Roy Halladay have career BABIP’s with .005 of eachother.

People seem to conveniently ignore this when they wanna try to say that “so and so deserves to have a .387 BABIP and should be expected to be far worse than league average going forward”. This myth was refuted 10 years ago, yet there are idiots who keep saying it everytime FanGraphs has a pitcher BABIP article.

blwfish
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blwfish
4 years 1 month ago

Refreshingly objective about his own situation – not that many people can do that. I have the sense that he could be like Randy Johnson, Sandy Koufax and a few other elite pitchers. That is, he has the chance to “figure it out” – and if he does, look out world. It’s clear that he has the basic raw materials.

A high BABIP that has a large component of seeing-eye ground ball singles, dying quails, balls that hit the bag, broken bat doubles and swinging bunts is going to naturally regress toward common experience. A high BABIP that endangers the pitcher with whiplash isn’t going to regress without the pitcher (or, less probably, his team) doing something pretty active about it. The times I’ve seen Scherzer this year he’s clearly been in the latter category, not the former. Either that or he’s mowing ’em down, but nobody except the opposing batters is complaining about that.

vivaelpujols
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vivaelpujols
4 years 1 month ago

How many guys in baseball have maintained a .380 BABIP? How many guys in baseball have maintained a .320 BABIP long term?

Atothe
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Atothe
4 years 1 month ago

He’s Brandon Morrow 2.0 do you guys see that.

KerryHofmeister
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KerryHofmeister
4 years 1 month ago

Outstanding article- another reason why this site is awesome.

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