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Max Scherzer’s Unprecedented Strikeout Rate

In his first eight starts of the year, Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer faced many problems. In 2009 with the Diamondbacks he struck out 9.19 batters per nine innings, which ranked eighth among NL starters. This year, in a move to the AL, he struck out just 5.57 per nine. That, along with an inflated home run rate and very low strand rate, boosted his ERA to 7.29, well above his 6.01 FIP and 5.04 xFIP. Still, those numbers aren’t good, hence Scherzer’s demotion to AAA. After a pair of absolutely dominant starts there he returned to the Tigers on Sunday. It was quite the outing.

Scherzer faced 24 batters in 5.2 innings, only five of whom made contact. Kevin Kouzmanoff fouled out in the first, Ryan Sweeney grounded out in the third, Kouzmanoff lined out, Jack Cust doubled in the same inning, and Landon Powell singled in the fifth. Other than that, everyone else either walked, got hit by a pitch, or struck out. Scherzer’s day ended after he plunked Mark Ellis in the sixth, before which he struck out 14 Athletics. Even more impressively, 11 of those strikeouts came on swings and misses, including all three batters in the second. His four walks and one HBP topped off a mostly contactless day.

With the performance Scherzer becomes the 209th pitcher in the past 30 years who has recorded at least 14 strikeouts in a game. Yet he separates himself a bit from the pack. Of the 98 pitchers with 14 strikeouts, only five have done it in six innings. None have done it in fewer, meaning Scherzer has the quickest 14 strikeouts in the past 30 years. In fact, no pitcher in baseball history has struck out as many as 14 in 5.2 innings. In 1994 Kevin Appier struck out 13 in 5.2 innings. Only A.J. Burnett did it with Scherzer’s wildness. He walked four and struck out 14 in six innings for the Marlins in 2005.

Final fun fact: Since 1920 there have been 87 pitchers who have struck out at least 14 and walked at least four in a start. Twenty-five of them did it in greater than nine innings. The real fun fact is that only 30 have done it without allowing a run. The shortest such appearance was 8 IP, by Jason Bere of the White Sox in 1994. Scherzer held the A’s scoreless, and Phil Coke cleaned up his bequeathed runners.