When the Nationals handed out a 7-year/$210 million contract to Max Scherzer, it definitely raised some eyebrows. Scherzer’s contract was only $5 million less than 2-time reigning NL Cy Young, Clayton Kershaw, but though Scherzer was obviously a great pitcher in his own right, he did not have the same dominant track record as Kershaw. Also, Kershaw was 26 years old when he signed his mega deal, while Scherzer was 30. So the Dodgers figure to get all of Kershaw’s best years in this contract (and already have received one of his best), but the Nationals will have Scherzer, barring a trade, through his age 36 season and he could very well begin to digress in a couple seasons.
But for the time being, Scherzer has been worth every penny and it is best exemplified in his near perfect start on Sunday at Milwaukee. Scherzer had a perfect game through 6 innings until Carlos Gomez hit a bloop single that barely got over the glove of a leaping Anthony Rendon at second base. Scherzer did not let that phase him though, as he went on to finish the rest of the game for a complete game 1-hit shutout with an amazing 16 strikeouts. If you’re into the game score stat, Scherzer finished with a game score of 100, which is the best pitching game of the season (Corey Kluber and Chris Heston both had 98) and it is the highest score since Kershaw’s score of 102 nearly one year ago when he pitched a no-hitter with 15 strikeouts. For the season, Scherzer is now 7-5 with a 1.93 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, and 113 K/14 BB in 93.1 IP.
We all knew that Scherzer was one of the best pitchers in the game coming into the year, but let’s take a look at what is making him even more amazing this season. First, and probably most important, is his huge improvement in his walk rate. Coming up through the Diamondbacks Minor League system, Scherzer was the typical hard throwing prospect with some control issues and he compiled a walk rate of 4.13 BB/9. When he first entered the Majors, he had a little bit below average control, but steadily improved over the years to be above average in the area, and his career best came in his 2013 AL Cy Young season with 2.35 BB/9. But this season, he has taken it to the next level with a current 1.35 BB/9. He is doing so by throwing a first pitch strike a whopping 70.3% of the time, which is the third highest in the league and is shattering his previous career best of 64.5%.
Another reason for his continued dominance is that he is working with a lowered BABIP of .268, but even though that mark is much lower than his career rate of .303, there is some belief to it given that he is inducing more fly balls than ever this season being in the top 5 in the Majors in fly ball rate and fly ball/ground ball ratio. Fly ball pitchers are able to maintain a lower BABIP than ground ball pitchers because fly balls are more easily caught for sure outs. And even though he is allowing more fly balls, not many of them are leaving the stadium for home runs as he has allowed only 6 in 13 starts.
With these improvements this year, Scherzer is going to be able to continue to baffle hitters in his first season in the National League and is looking like as “Scher” of a thing as any pitcher out there. It is going to be a great race for the NL Cy Young.
Let’s check in on the rest of the Sunday card of games!