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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