It’s never been a question of Max Scherzer’s stuff. It’s been a series of questions about consistency and harnessing that stuff (there used to be durability questions as well, but after two seasons in Detroit in which Scherzer has been the picture of health, those seem to have faded). WHen he has his fastball, changeup, and slider working, he’s deadly. If everything stays up, he gets punished.
By all accounts, Scherzer’s 2011 should have been better. His strikeout rate dipped, but coupled with a noticeable drop in his walk rate, his K/BB ratio was actually better than it was in 2010, where he posted a 3.50 ERA. Scherzer’s problem last year was the gopher ball – his HR/FB rate was an above-average 12.6%. xFIP projected a 3.68 ERA with a normalized rate. Scherzer pitched well, but at times, he had a hard time keeping the ball in the ballpark.
Scherzer is still honing his craft, however – at age 27, he’s still coming into his own. An example of this is how he’s taking a more Verlanderian approach to pitching this year – instead of coming out firing at 95 MPH like he’s capable of, he seems to be trying to ease back into the 92 MPH range in the early innings until he needs it. Taking cues from Justin Verlander on pitching is never really a bad thing, is it?
What he needs to work on
Obviously he needs to keep the ball in the ballpark. He gave up 29 home runs in 195 innings last year (after giving up 20 in virtually the same number of innings in 2010), which largely accounted for his inflated ERA. Scherzer is a fly ball pitcher, and these things tend to normalize, but he does need to keep the ball down, keep it moving, and try to keep things in the ballpark.
What he needs to do to improve
The drop in walk rate is a really nice sign, but the drop in strikeout rate is a bit disconcerting and he might have to bump the K rate a bit closer to the 8.46 he posted in 2010. Similarly, pitch counts have been a bit of an issue for Scherzer – he has three seasons of 30 starts or more now, and he has yet to throw 200 regular season innings. It’s not all pitch counts that are responsible for such, but it’s part of it. For Scherzer to improve, he’s going to need to stop the bleeding with the strikeout rate, keep the walks down, and be more efficient with his pitching. Of course, if efficiency means giving up a few strikeouts in favor of outs early in the count, the strikeout rate won’t be as much of a concern. In addition, many of his problems with home runs last year stemmed from left-handed hitting, which also hit .278 against him, with 41 walks and 84 strikeouts in 105.2 innings (by comparison, his numbers vs. righties were a sterling 15 BB and 90 K in 89.1 innings). If Scherzer can do a better job neutralizing lefties, he’s more than capable of taking a noticeable step forward.
What he will do
As I mentioned, HR/FB rates tend to normalize themselves, and Scherzer does pitch in a park with a huge center field. I’m a believer in the talent and think his ERA will dip back below 4 – though maybe not quite as low as it was in 2010. I think the 3.60-3.80 range is a reasonable ERA expectation for Scherzer, but there’s room to grow there. Worth noting that his BABIP was a slightly inflated .314 last year – hopefully that proves to be an aberration as well.
Walkoff Woodward Bubblegum Card Prediction
IP 199, K 188, BB 63, 16-8, 3.72 ERA