Max Scherzer in Motown

Right-hander Max Scherzer looked poised to team with Dan Haren for years to come, giving the Diamondbacks an elite one-two punch at the top of the rotation. However, after January’s three-team headliner between the Yankees, Tigers and D-Backs, Scherzer now heads to Detroit to miss scads of bats alongside Justin Verlander.

Taken out of Missouri with the 11th overall pick in the 2006 amateur draft, Scherzer didn’t sign on the dotted line right away. The 6-5 power pitcher had a good, not great junior season for the Tigers, missing a run of starts with biceps and shoulder tendinitis. Baseball America said that Scherzer “only flashed” his mid-to-upper 90’s fastball velocity, generally sitting at 91-92 MPH. Scouts also had concerns about his herky-jerky delivery, as well as his promising-but-inconsistent hard slider and changeup.

With Scherzer still seeking top-line cash, negotiations between Arizona and agent Scott Boras moved at a glacial pace. This was before baseball instituted a mid-August signing deadline in 2007-prior to ’07, teams retained the rights to a player up to one week prior to the next year’s draft. Scherzer kept sharp by pitching for the independent Fort Worth Cats. Eventually, Arizona ponied up $4.3 million in guaranteed money, with $1.5 million in incentives.

Max finally took a pro mound in 2007. He started his career in the High-A California League, scorching hitters for a 30/2 K/BB ratio and a 0.53 ERA in 17 IP and quickly earning a promotion to the Double-A Southern League. In 14 AA starts covering 73.2 frames, Scherzer struck out 9.3 batters per nine innings. His control left something to be desired (4.9 BB/9), but he posted a 3.46 FIP.

Following the ’07 season, Baseball America named Scherzer the fourth-best prospect in a loaded Arizona system (Carlos Gonzalez, Jarrod Parker and Brett Anderson ranked ahead of him). BA gushed over his fastball, which hit the “mid-90’s with sinking action at its best.” Scherzer’s upper-80’s slider also impressed, though it was inconsistent.

However, they also noted that “some scouts who saw Scherzer as a starter at midseason wondered what the fuss was about.” His heater sat in the low-90’s, and “his overall stuff, command, feel and delivery all drew questions.” A dominant showing in relief in the Arizona Fall League (18 K in 12.2 IP) seemed to reinforce the concept that Scherzer could end up as a closer instead of a starter.

Scherzer began the 2008 season starting at Triple-A Tucson of the Pacific Coast League, but he was summoned to the majors in late April. He oscillated between the rotation and the ‘pen before being sent back to AAA in mid-June. Unfortunately, he came down with a case of shoulder inflammation, missing a month of the season. After a few relief appearances with the Sidewinders, Scherzer transitioned back to the minor league rotation in late July. Recalled to Arizona in late August, Max had a pair of relief stints and then spent September in the major league rotation. Whew-got all that?

In AAA, Scherzer simply outclassed the competition. He whiffed 13.4 batters per nine with 3.7 BB/9. Max’s FIP was a microscopic 2.07 in 53 innings. When batters weren’t swinging and missing wildly, they were chopping the ball into the ground (51.7 GB%).

With the Diamondbacks, Scherzer made seven starts and nine relief appearances in 56 IP. Overall, he displayed an impressive combo of power (10.61 K/9) and control (3.38 BB/9). Scherzer’s xFIP was just 3.19.

His stuff was as wicked as advertised. Scherzer sat at 94 MPH with his fastball, tossing the pitch about 73 percent of the time. That gas was supplemented by a mid-80’s slider (thrown 17 percent) and changeup (10 percent). Scherzer’s fastball had a +0.63 run value per 100 pitches, and his slider bucked knees for a +3.79 mark. The changeup lagged behind, though the sample size was small (-3.29). Scherzer pounded the strike zone, placing 54.7 percent of his pitches over the plate (51.1% MLB average in ’08), and his 72.9% contact rate was well below the 80.8% big league average.

In 2009, Scherzer began the year on the DL with shoulder fatigue and tightness. Max became a full-time starter after his activation in mid-April, taking the mound 30 times and throwing 170.1 innings. The 25 year-old was extremely hard to hit, punching out 9.19 batters per nine innings. His 76.9% contact rate was 14-lowest among starters, and his 10.4 swinging strike rate placed 16th among starters (7.8% average for SP).

Scherzer’s control was solid as well. He issued a modest 3.33 BB/9, while getting ahead of batters with a 61.3 first-pitch strike percentage (58% MLB average). With a 3.88 xFIP, Scherzer placed in the top 20 among NL starters.

Max’s fastball didn’t lose much zip while making all of his appearances as a starter, sitting at 93.6 MPH. He still called on the pitch heavily: Scherzer’s 71% fastball usage was seventh-highest among starters. That heater was slightly below average on a per-pitch basis (-0.11 runs/100). Scherzer’s 85 MPH slider (thrown 12 percent) posted a +0.58 runs/100 value, while his changeup checked in at -0.61.

The high-octane righty subdued same-handed batters, holding right-handed hitters to a 92 sOPS+ (he performed eight percent better than the league average vs. RHB). Lefties fared better, with a 103 sOPS+.

In moving from Chase Field to Comerica Park, Scherzer goes from a hitter’s paradise to a park that still favors offense, though not to the same extent. According to the 2010 Bill James Handbook, Chase inflated run-scoring by 15 percent compared to a neutral ball park from 2007-2009. Over that same time period, Comerica boosted runs by five percent.

Overall, Scherzer’s first year as a permanent starter was extremely promising. Many have wondered why the Diamondbacks shipped him out of town, preferring two years of team control over Edwin Jackson and six years of Ian Kennedy over five years of Scherzer and six years of Daniel Schlereth.

The most likely reason is that Arizona doubts Scherzer’s long-term health and viability as a starting pitcher. To recap his extensive injury history since 2006: shoulder and biceps tendinitis in ’06, shoulder inflammation in 2008, shoulder fatigue and tightness in 2009. His health certainly bears watching, especially considering that Scherzer’s innings total increased from 109 in 2008 to 175 in 2009 (major league innings plus one rehab start).

There’s little doubt that Scherzer has the talent to become one of the top 20-30 starters in the majors. Few pitchers combine his ability to miss bats with quality control. The question is: can he hold up physically?

Injury information taken from the Fantasy Pitch F/X DL Tool





A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

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opisgod
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opisgod

http://blogs.phoenixnewtimes.com/valleyfever/Max%20Scherzer.jpg

If you get it, good for you.

If you don’t, too bad.

CircleChange11
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CircleChange11

Ah, The “Inverted W”, ala Mark Prior & Anthony Reyes. Along with the “Inverted L” of the Carpenters & BJ Ryan’s of the world, it’s generally considered a high risk of injury motion.

2 things …

[1] Scherzer did not consistently go deep into games, and his stuff seemingly lost its overall effectiveness as he neared 100 pitches (IMO, the team set the 100 pitch limit on him not to be cautious, but because he did not pitch well as he neared the number), which too frequently was in the 5th inning or early 6th (5.2 IP/GS). I closely followed a reliever of AZ throughout the 09 season, and got to see Max pitch a lot. Great stuff (Saw him outduel Grienke in KC), but not consistent. I hope Max puts it all together, but he also has the potential to drive pitching coaches crazy.

[2] Schlereth is a walk machine (7.36/9 in MiLB). If you look at other AZ pitchers and their MiLB history, such as Scherzer (15.88 K/9 in A, 9.29 in AA, 13.42 in AAA) and Zavada (13.75 K/9 in A, 9.35 in AA), they ALL racked up HUGE K/9 rates, so there’s something to that. Schlereth is walk heavy, and is behind Zavada, Slaten, and Schoenweiss as lefties in AZ’s pen.

With losing Garland, AZ needed 2 starters more than they needed another LH reliever and a SP. That’s basically the gist of it right there. Jarrod Parker isn’t turning out to be the prospect he was once thought to be. If he was once a 5* prospect, he’s likely now a 4* guy, and Billy Buckner (nor Petit) is not ready to be in the rotation fulltime.

Petit, Buckner, and Scherzer drained a bullpen that also struggled at times, with the 8th inning being a nightmare for the Snakes.

In 2010, the Snakes show a rotation of Haren, Webb, Jackson, Davis, and Kennedy … with Ian being the only one that has not thrown 200 IP in a recent season. THAT is going to HELP the bullpen (thus, the team overall) greatly.

Scottwood
Member
Scottwood

He had a tOPS+ of 86 from pitch 101 and on. And his OPS against from pitches 76-100 was better than it was from pitches 1-25 and 51-75. He also pitched better the 3rd time through the order than he did the 2nd time through the order. Maybe he did lose his stuff as he pitched later in games, but there is no statistical evidence to suggest it did. This is where Pitch f/x could come in handy…

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11

That’s very interesting. If that’s the case, then my “observations” would be incorrect. I watched him quite a bit with the “How does this guy NOT throw a shutout every time out” type of amazement only to be convinced “Oh, that’s how” as his stuff would waver.

Are there similar BF or IP (sample sizes) for the pitch groups (1-25, 26-50, etc). I’m guessing there probably are.

It’s also possible that he went “all out” on his last 20 pitches knowing that he was coming out at 100 pitches too. Obviously, I do not recall specific bat-by-bat situations (I’m not that talented) and could be attributting his 3rd and 4th inning performance to “later innings”, once his pitch count and chance to make it into the 7th was already shot to heck.

Thanks for the correction, and the way you went about it. I’ll be sure to check out the pitch FX data.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11

Interesting, Max averages 23 p/IP (2969p/170.33 IP). That’s amazing.

So on average:

1st: 23p
2nd: 46p
3rd: 79p
4th: 102p
5th: 125p
6th: on and on …

So, I don’t doubt what you presented. My guess is that the games he gets through a lineup three times are the games he is ON. Because on average, there’s no way (given his ERA, etc) that he gets pulled for getting hammered by the 5th IP (but rather gets pulled because he’s at 100p in the 5th. Meaning: On days where he’s struggling big time, he probably doesn’t see the lineup the 3rd time through.

He’s one of those guys who due to “quality of stuff” and some “wildness” couldn’t ‘pitch to contact’ even he wanted to (or even if the philosophy existed in reality).

Is there pitch FX data elsewhere than FG? I’m interested to see how many games he did not make it through the 5th, as compared to how many games he made it through the lineup 3 times (likely pitching into the later innings).

My guess is he’s as inconsistent as a I remember.

JMB
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JMB

Check your math. 46 + 23 is what now?

hennethannun
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hennethannun

I never understood why it is called an inverted W. I mean, the english alphabet already has a perfectly good letter that IS an inverted W…(M)

Having said that, Scherzer’s delivery has always been flagged by scouts as high risk. It still seems like the diamondbacks could have gotten more for him, but maybe this is like the cliff lee situation where a guy who seems like he should have a ton of trade value just never gets that much interest from GMs.

opisgod
Member
opisgod

It sounds cool.