Max Scherzer Throws Us A Curve

It’s a little painful to look back and see that pre-season, Max Scherzer was ranked just barely within the top 20 of all starting pitchers. His price tag wasn’t appreciably different from R.A. Dickey, C.C. Sabathia, and Jered Weaver and his ADP was several rounds after all of them. Of course, hindsight is 20-20 but then again, I’m not sure that that his 2013 wasn’t telegraphed pretty clearly.

As we know, 2013 worked out pretty well for Scherzer. He finished the season with a 2.90 ERA (2.74 FIP), 0.97 WHIP, 29% strikeout rate, and a career low 6.7% walk rate. He went 21-3, leading the Tigers to the playoffs and managed to take home some hardware for the effort. In fantasy circles, he epitomized the proverbial “ace,” the starting pitcher who carried a team across four categories and no doubt headlined rosters of many championship squads.

The year prior, he wasn’t so shabby either. In 2012, Scherzer posted a 3.74 ERA (3.27 FIP), 1.27 WHIP, and a 29.4% strikeout rate. Many prognosticators pointed to his fantastic second half, which it was. But it’s not just the second half that was great, it was pretty much the entire season outside of April. Sans April 2012, Max Scherzer went 15-4 with a 3.14 ERA, a 31% strikeout rate, holding opposing batters to a .232/.289/.392 slash line. So in essence, all he did in 2013 was continue what he’d been doing for the last five months of service.

Something that Scherzer did improve upon in 2013 was his ability to get left handed batters out, which he has historically struggled with. In 2012, LHB slashed .290/.366/.465 off Scherzer, but in 2013 that was cut to .218/.278/.367. Why? Scherzer credits his curve, which was pretty much brand-spanking-new in 2013. And it’s not that he threw it particularly often, but rather that he had one at all. Chalk it up to the “keeping hitters honest” concept, I suppose — but Scherzer threw his curve just under 8% of the time. Versus lefties, he threw it 11%, and when ahead in the count he went to it 15% of the time, which I suppose isn’t insignificant. Against this curve, left handed batters hit just .180 with a .231 slugging percentage and .051 ISO. That’s 253 curveballs, surrendering two doubles.

For anyone that owned Max Scherzer in 2011, it might be difficult to trust him and pay for an expectation of elite production. Over the course of that season, he was anywhere between decent and awful, never registering an FIP lower than 3.60 in a month, having one as high as 5.00, and everything in between. He was, essentially, the unpredictable starter the Diamondbacks dealt in order to net Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy.

This notion of not forgetting the past seems to show up in the projections. Both Steamer and Oliver project a step back in strikeouts and walks, regression in BABIP, leading to an ERA somewhere in the 3.30 to 3.40 range. And I suppose that’s reasonable.

But when it comes to Scherzer, you might have to ask yourself if he resembles the same inconsistent starter he has been in the past or if he’s found a way to harness his stuff (not to mention the addition of a fourth pitch vs. LHB) enough to warrant the cost. I tend to be in the camp of the latter, although it might be unrealistic to expect an ERA of 2.90 again. But I don’t see enough in the tea leaves that suggests he can’t maintain the strikeouts and his improved walk rate, and even if he regresses a tad in the batted ball territory, Max Scherzer is almost sure to be a top five pitcher in the American League.

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Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.

10 Responses to “Max Scherzer Throws Us A Curve”

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  1. murph3699 says:

    I was wondering the same thing so I traded him and Holland for Cano and Springer. I can always flip Cano and I now have four years of Springer and his draft weight costs me nothing.

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  2. dirck says:

    Needing pitching in a 16 team dynasty points league before the season started last year and having a catching surplus ,I traded Mauer and Sal Perez ( I still had Wilin Rosario )for Garza ,Scherzer,and Saltalamacchia . After Scherzer helped me win the league ,this winter I traded him for Anibal Sanchez , Archie Bradley,and Addison Russell and traded Garza and Lincecum for Nick Castellanos .So,in effect I traded Mauer, Perez and Lincecum for one great year of Scherzer plus Anibal Sanchez,Saltalamacchia ,Archie Bradley,Addison Russell ,and Nick Castellanos .I like Scherzer ,but think last year was very likely his career year .

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  3. Scruge says:

    FIP seems to be the only indicator that reported Scherer’s 2011 as sub par. His xFIP and SIERRA were both right around 3.70. It looks more like he was unlucky than inconsistent and with exactly one season with an xFIP over 3.70 and no seasons with a SIERRA over 3.70 it sure looks like we’re more dealing with a pitcher who has always been pretty good and now appears to be excellent. The floor for Scherzer isn’t really very low at all. And we’ve all seen what how high his ceiling might be.

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  4. Dick says:

    .180/.231/.051. Point zero five one slugging!

    Check your math, math boy.

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    • Michael Barr says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      I had math boy check his math and he made changes. And then I flogged him.

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  5. Jon C says:

    You should less at the numbers and more at his process. Max has made his delivery more repeatable. There will probably a slight downtick in his 2014 season, because he was simply fantastic last year, but he will be fantastic again in 2014.

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  6. Jim Rouse says:

    Every time someone projects a pitcher to slide backward after this type of development, I point to Curt Schilling. Through his age 29 season, he was 52-52, with a 3.49 ERA, a 1.19 WHIP, a K/9 of 7.3 and a 113 ERA+. Then, he exploded. Scherzer is 73-45 at the same age, with his numbers at 3.66, 1.229, 9.4 and 116. His K rate is way better than Schilling’s was at this point in his career, and the other numbers are similar.

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    • Bip says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      How does that comparison suggest in any way that Scherzer is going to have a career trajectory similar to Schilling? There’s a reason pitchers at Scherzer’s age are expected to start declining, and it is this: the grand majority of pitchers Scherzer’s age start to decline.

      As for whether he will take a step backward… his peripherals are solid. There is no reason to expect a sharp regression from Scherzer. However, that is another thing entirely from projecting a Schilling-esque reverse age-curve.

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