Max Scherzer: More Than Meets The Eye

Strikeouts. Max Scherzer has never wanted for strikeouts. 2011 was his worst season as a professional in that regard, and he still struck out about 21 percent of the hitters who faced him. He doesn’t get enough groundballs and he doesn’t throw a lot of complete games, but at the end of the day, Scherzer sends a staggeringly high number of opposing hitters shuffling back to their dugout in shame.

Scherzer’s downsides – an ERA over 4.00 and a WHIP north of 1.30 for his career – were never enough to prevent owners from deriving value from Scherzer, but they absolutely pushed him down draft boards and suppressed his trade value. After his move to Detroit, Scherzer added double-digit wins to his profile, which helped his value in theory, but since most owners know how fickle wins can be, it didn’t do much for his long-term value or perception.

2012 was different. His ERA came down under 4.00, his WHIP dropped under 1.30, and he did it all despite allowing a career-high BABIP of .333. Excluding his wretched start to the season – he had a WHIP over 2.00 in five April starts – Scherzer’s season looks even better with a K% of 31 percent, an ERA of 3.14, and 1.16 WHIP in his 27 subsequent starts.

Perhaps most interesting about Scherzer’s success this season was how wide his platoon split was. Pitchers who put up numbers as good as Scherzer’s were typically don’t show profound difficulty with half the hitters they face, but that’s exactly what happened. Scherzer dominated righties, striking out 35 percent of them and holding them to a .588 OPS with a .201 average. Lefties, on the other hand, mangled him: He struck out “just” 25 percent of them and allowed a downright respectable .831 OPS. Put another way, every lefty he faced turned into Jason Kubel and every righty became Robert Andino, the gulf was that wide. Fortunately, most of the trouble that he got himself into he got out of with a strikeout or two.

There is still a few problems that Scherzer could stand to clean up, he allowed far too many home runs this year for example, but we’re more or less at the point of simply hoping that he can sustain this run of success rather than worrying too much about the minutiae that isn’t quite perfect.

Much of the hesitation I have regarding Scherzer’s 2013 comes from the fact that Scherzer had almost exactly this type of season in 2010 before falling off in 2011. His line drive rate has climbed steadily since 2009 and is now over 22 percent, he allowed a career high 41 percent flyball rate, and even though his HR/FB rate was a little lower than last season, Scherzer still saw plenty of balls leaving the yard. I expect his BABIP to drop from .333, but if he continues to yield line drives at an alarming rate, there’s just no guarantee of that.

A strikeout rate in excess of 30 percent will cover a myriad of woes, and so, once again, Scherzer’s value comes down to his ability to set down hitters with nary a ball in play. Beyond the obvious fantasy utility of strikeouts, Scherzer’s rate stats are largely dependent on his ability to skip away from danger, meaning that even if his strikeout rate drops down to 23 percent, his ERA could see a rather unsightly upturn, which is an unpleasant double whammy even if his raw strikeout numbers are still above average.

The good news is that Scherzer saw a huge upturn in his swinging strike rate, which is more stable than an unforeseen jump in his called strike rate. His slider was particularly effective against righties this year and if he can continue that trend, he has a fighting chance of continuing to work out of the trouble his line drives put him in.




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Dan enjoys black tea, imperial IPAs, and any competition that can be loosely judged a sport. Follow him on Twitter.

11 Responses to “Max Scherzer: More Than Meets The Eye”

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  1. Aaron Murray says:

    The shoulder is all that I’m worried about from Scherzer. If that was just a bit of fatigue at the end of last year then 2013 should be very good for him.

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  2. Pat G says:

    he’s a robot in disguise????

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  3. Patrick says:

    I don’t know what to expect in 2013, besides tons of K’s and the constant rambling from my brother because Scherzer and my son each have different colored eyes…As a Tigers fan it will be interesting to see how this season folds out as a Vegas favorite to win it all…He has always been a high homer giver and high E.R.A. and Whip, BUT in most 5×5 leagues the wins and K’s override that and he becomes what he’ll be again at this draft….a 15-22 Starting Pitcher drafted.

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  4. jake says:

    “he doesn’t throw a lot of complete games”

    In fact, he has zero complete games in his career. His 52 wins without a complete game are the second most in MLB history for a starting pitcher. Tony Armas, Jr. had 53.

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  5. Swfc-dan says:

    What also must be mentioned is that Max lost his brother halfway through the season. From that point on it seems, he started to really deliver on his potential.

    Im sure losing his brother made him reevaluate life and baseball is only a game, and he probably started putting less pressure on himself, but became more determined than ever to succeed for his bro.

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  6. Dan says:

    I have him at $6 in a standard format league (ESPN, $260, 5 keepers total). Would you keep him over Beltre at $25 or Jay Bruce at $24? Scherzer would be the only pitcher I keep, but I feel like his price is quite excellent for what kind of return I could get next year. Then again, he’s definitely a pitcher that could just blow up and suck. I kinda feel like I’ve got to keep him, but not sure if I should keep all hitters, even though Scherzer has huge upside.

    His walk rate was the reason I stayed on his train, as well as his astronomically high babip, and I feel as though he can continue at about the same rate next year, which made him successful.

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  7. Humpty Dumpty says:

    Max Scherzer 231 Ks

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  8. Andrew says:

    I love Scherzer this year.

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