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September 17, 2012

Fantasy Beat

Scherzer's Resurgent Second-Half

by Jason Collette

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Nearly two months ago to the day, I wrote an article about Max Scherzer’s rather unique season. At that point, he was striking out 11.0 per nine innings and had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.6. Despite that, his 4.84 ERA and mere eight wins were driving fantasy owners crazy.

Since that time, Scherzer has been a fantasy marvel, winning eight of 11 decisions with a 2.30 ERA while continuing his historic pace. In 74 1/3 innings, he has permitted just 57 hits while striking out 95. His rate stats during the run are as follows:

H/9 = 6.9
HR/9 = 0.8
BB/9 = 2.4
K/9 = 11.5
WHIP = 1.04
ERA = 2.30
K/BB = 4.8
BABIP = .298
FIP = 2.68

Scherzer’s overall run of success still places him among very elite company when looking back at the history of dominant seasons. Only four pitchers have ever completed a season with a K/9 of at least 11.0 and a walk rate below 3.0 while qualifying for the ERA title, as the table below illustrates:

YEAR

NAME

IP

W

ERA

SO

BB

SO/9

BB/9

HR/9

2001

Randy Johnson

249.7

21

2.49

372

71

13.4

2.6

0.68

1999

Randy Johnson

271.7

17

2.48

364

70

12.1

2.3

0.99

2000

Randy Johnson

248.7

19

2.64

347

76

12.6

2.8

0.83

2002

Randy Johnson

260.0

24

2.32

334

71

11.6

2.5

0.90

1997

Curt Schilling

254.3

17

2.97

319

58

11.3

2.1

0.88

1999

Pedro Martinez

213.3

23

2.07

313

37

13.2

1.6

0.38

1997

Pedro Martinez

241.3

17

1.90

305

67

11.4

2.5

0.60

1995

Randy Johnson

214.3

18

2.48

294

65

12.3

2.7

0.50

2000

Pedro Martinez

217.0

18

1.74

284

32

11.8

1.3

0.71

2012

Max Scherzer

176.7

16

3.77

220

55

11.2

2.8

1.17

Scherzer’s run of success has somewhat flown under the radar while the bigger names garner the Cy Young attention. Scherzer’s season is unique but not exactly award-worthy; the high ERA will be impossible for mainstream voters to overlook. That said, Scherzer’s second-half numbers stack up with the best in baseball on both a surface and peripheral level while satisfying fantasy owners as well:

PLAYER

ERA

FIP

HITS/9

HR/9

BB/9

K/9

Max Scherzer

2.30

2.68

6.0

0.8

2.4

11.5

David Price

2.13

2.95

6.6

0.7

2.3

9.0

Justin Verlander

3.19

3.03

8.3

0.7

2.7

9.6

Felix Hernandez

2.63

2.84

7.0

0.5

1.5

7.2

Jered Weaver

3.82

4.52

8.2

1.5

2.2

7.3

Chris Sale

3.61

4.07

8.6

1.5

2.4

9.3

James Shields

3.22

3.42

6.1

1.0

2.0

8.7

Scherzer’s player card shows that he is throwing five percent fewer fastballs this season, has increased his slider usage by the same amount, and is throwing both pitches a tick harder than he has in the past.

In one start a few weeks ago, Scherzer credited Gerald “G-Money” Laird with the sequencing and usage patterns of his pitches, which led to some very vexed Angels’ hitters.  In looking at Scherzer’s player card, we can visualize how his pitch usage has changed this season:

All Years Percentage Pitch Usage

2012 Percentage Pitch Usage

In the past, Scherzer leaned heavily on his fastball and less on his slider in later innings, but that has changed this season as he has looked to his slider more frequently as the game progresses.

If we look at his splits, he has been just as bad as he has ever been against lefties due to his arm angle. The story has changed in a dramatic way against righties, however; Scherzer has been downright dominant against same-handed hitters. In his previous three seasons as a starter, Scherzer’s OPS against versus righties was over .700, but this season it is just .587. Additionally, he has struck out 116 while walking just 13 in 334 plate appearances—both career bests.

Overall, Scherzer has been one of the better pitchers in baseball this season. He went for $8 in Tout Wars Mixed and $14 in Tout Wars AL, earning $14 and $19, respectively. It may be the first time that Scherzer’s performance has exceeded his potential. Hopefully it is not the last.

Jason Collette is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

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