Mad Max is back. After a stress fracture in his throwing hand slowed him down, the reigning Cy Young winner will finally take the mound for the Nationals in 2017. He didn’t pitch Opening Day for the Nationals in DC, but he will pitch Opening Day in Philadelphia. As fun as it would be to see Max mowing down batters in DC on the first day of the season, it might be even more fun to see him shutting down the Phillies in their home ball park.
Scherzer took home the Cy Young award in 2016 by being dominant over a ton of innings. He was 8th in ERA on the year, but pitched more innings than anyone ahead of him. He was 3rd in K/9, but pitched at least 40 more innings than the two guys ahead of him. He upped his strikeout rate to a career-high 31.5% with a walk rate of only 6%. Though Scherzer has racked up a lot of mileage on his arm, his velocity has remained remarkably consistent. In fact, he’s actually throwing harder in DC than he ever did in Detroit.
To get those results, Scherzer take a pretty basic approach to pitching. He throws a first pitch strike in 65% of at bats, and keeps pounding the zone after that, daring batters to try and hit his stuff. Now, don’t get me wrong, he still fools hitters into swinging at bad pitches out of the zone pretty regularly. But where Scherzer really thrives is getting batters to swing and miss at pitches in the strike zone. The league average hitter makes contact on pitches in the zone at a rate of 86%. Against Scherzer, batters manage to make contact only 79% of the time.
It’s an approach that has served Scherzer well in the past. As the new hardware attests to, it worked pretty well in 2016, too. However, it wasn’t a perfect season for Scherzer. He mostly limited hard contact, allowing a BABIP of only .255 on the year compared to a career rate of .294. However, Max developed a pretty bad case of gopheritis. As a result of his dedication to throwing strikes, Scherzer has always served up a fair share of long balls, but he has consistently been about league average in his rate of home runs allowed. However, in 2016, Scherzer gave up more fly balls than ever before and allowed home runs at the second highest rate in his career. It’s not a stretch to say it felt like Scherzer was either striking people out, or giving up a home run, with few at bats ending somewhere in between.
If Scherzer can give up a near career high home run rate and still be named the best pitcher in the National League, it’s clear that the home run problem didn’t end up hurting Scherzer too much. Luckily for him, the rate of home runs allowed is not a stat with a strong year over year correlation. It tends to swing wildly from one season to the next. In nearly all other facets of the game, Scherzer is Mr. Consistency. If Scherzer can limit the long balls in 2017 and stay healthy, he will be right back in the running for another Cy Young.Tags: 2017 player previews, Max Scherzer, Nationals, Nats, Washington Nationals