Max Scherzer has spent the last several seasons as one of baseball’s best pitchers, no more so than this season. Tim King knew it was coming five years ago.
Max Scherzer was never supposed to be this good. After the 2007 season, “Mad Max” was ranked as the #4 prospect on Arizona’s farm, and #66 in Major League Baseball. Any player ranked inside Baseball America‘s top-100 is worth keeping an eye on, but Scherzer was no uber prospect. After two solid seasons with the Diamondbacks, the pitcher with two different colored eyes was shipped off to Detroit, and that’s where the story really begins.
Scherzer’s tale was not rare; he possessed very good raw stuff, but often had trouble controlling where his pitches went. Striking batters out was something he was always going to do. Whether or not he could learn how to harness his abilities and pitch, that’s where the uncertainty lay.
We knew about the wiffle ball-like action on his pitches:
We knew about his blistering velocity:
And we knew about the fire with which he plays the game:
Well, we all know now that Scherzer not only learned how to command, he’s become one of the best pitchers in baseball. His recent run of success is more than impressive, and he’s making Washington’s management team feel pretty good about the contract they signed him to over the winter, which represents that of a small country’s GDP. Should we have known this was coming?
Scherzer already possessed the talent, the tenacity, and the track record of health. He’s also clearly developed the control tool. He was even two outs away from becoming the 24th pitcher to ever throw a perfect game if it weren’t for Jose Tabata and a bogus hit-by-pitch (it looked like he may have even leaned into it):
Scherzer wound up with the no-hitter anyway, and has generally been dominant in the majority of the starts he’s made since the beginning of 2013.
Sorry about burying the lead here. The day I knew Max Scherzer would be a star was May 30, 2010.
If you are a new fan, or just never got a chance to watch that game, you’re in luck. I found a condensed version of the May 30th, 2010 contest between the A’s and Tigers at Comerica Park:
In this one, Scherzer was only able to get through 5 and two-thirds innings, due in large part to a climbing pitch count, but his pitches looked sharp, even if he did walk four. Scherzer’s first inning wasn’t out of the ordinary for him at the time. A leadoff walk (and stolen base allowed) to Rajai Davis, but Scherzer was able to get out of the jam, recording one strikeout on a high 96-MPH heater.
Scherzer struck out the side in order in the 2nd inning, ending it with an absolutely filthy changeup to Gabe Gross. In the third, Scherzer was back to his old tricks, allowing two walks and a stolen base, but once again he got out of trouble by inducing a swinging strikeout on a good changeup and a weak grounder to 2nd base.
Moving onto the fifth inning, Scherzer once again fanned the side, this time after allowing a leadoff bloop single, ending the inning with yet another excellent changeup. Tiger’s Manager Jim Leyland was obviously prepared to let Max finish the sixth, but after getting two quick strikeouts, Scherzer promptly walked and then hit a batter, and that was the end of his day. He walked off the field to a standing ovation from Detroit’s faithful. Scherzer flashed his velocity throughout, doing so with what looked like relative ease. If you watch the recap, you can see the sharp and defined bite on his offspeed pitches.
Scherzer came into this contest with a 7.29 ERA, and in his three previous outings, had recorded just one, four, and one strikeout leading up to this performance. Even though Scherzer struggled in June and July of that season, he pitched well in August and September, and wound up finishing the year with a 3.50 ERA and 184 punchouts in just shy of 200 innings.
In my 10+ years of obsessing over baseball, 15-strikeout games are rare. Even rarer are pitchers without special stuff throwing them. Scherzer went on to use 2011 and 2012 to harness his abilities, and since the start of 2013 he has looked unhittable an awful lot. I’m not completely sure what it was that I saw that made me think there was something special in him. Maybe it was the nasty bite on his changeup. Maybe it was that I had picked him up that morning in one of my fantasy leagues and had a special interest in rooting for him (I’m kidding). Maybe it was that he passed the eye test with flying colors.
What I do know is that Max Scherzer has already been worth every penny of the $10 million dollars he is to earn in 2015, and he gives the Nationals something they have lacked in each of the last several seasons. Seasons which MLB’s “experts” have picked them to win the World Series.
He has heart. He has energy. He has one hell of an arsenal. Max Scherzer: superstar.
Statistical credits: ESPN.com, Baseball-Reference.com, Blessyouboys.com, Hardballtalk.nbcsports.com, MLB.com, YouTube.com, Baseballamerica.com, Fangraphs.com