Tigers

The Evolution of Max Scherzer

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Remember 2009? The Tigers were in first almost the entirety of the 2009 campaign, until the epic collapse in the month of September that led to a Tigers faultier and  Carlos Gomez crossing the plate in extra innings as the Twins took the central. In that offseason Dave Dombrowski made a trade that left some Tigers fans scratching their heads and wondering what the future of the Tigers would hold.

The Tigers traded Edwin Jackson and Curtis Granderson in a three team trade that brought Max Scherzer, Austin Jackson, and Daniel Schlereth to Detroit. Edwin Jackson headed to Arizona along with Yankees prospect Ian Kennedy, and Granderson found himself in pinstripes.

Trading a fan favorite like Granderson did not sit well with fans, but there was a lot of promise with this trade. Jackson was touted as a guy who could play great defense, but needed to cut down on the strike-outs. Schelereth was hard on left handed hitters, and featured a good curveball. Scherzer had maybe the most potential of the three. A guy that had a great repertoire of pitches, with ace potential, but needed to work on his mechanics.

In 2010 Scherzer did not start off well. In fact, Scherzer started off his 2010 season so badly, he was sent down after a start (which I was at) against the Red Sox when David Ortiz took him deep three times and gave up six earned runs over five innings inflating his ERA to a robust 7.29.

In his return from the minors, Scherzer struck out 14 A’s and flashed his first bit of dominance in a Tigers uniform. Max did eventually right the ship. Finishing the 2010 season with a respectable 3.50 ERA over his 195 innings pitched, leading a lot to believe the Tigers may have something special here.

In year two with the Tigers, Scherzer took a bit of a step back. His WHIP inflated from 1.247 the prior season to 1.349 in 2011, while his ERA climbed all the way up to 4.43.

2012 started off the same way as 2011 ended for Scherzer. Going into June, Scherzer’s ERA was all the way up to 5.88 and had only made it past the 6th inning three times in 12 starts. But on June 17th, his entire season turned around, and maybe his career.

Scherzer threw a gem against the Colorado Rockies on June 17th, 2011. Throwing eight strong innings, while striking out 12. From there on out, he only gave up more than three runs in a start only three more times the entire season. Scherzer posted a paltry 2.69 ERA in the second half of the 2012 season. He dominance had finally begun.

It had seemed like Max had finally found something he could never quite grasp: consistency. Something he never could harness. Scherzer would strike out 12 in one start, then get lit up the next one. A lot of it had to due with his throwing motion. Where Scherzer’s hands would break and his release point is something he struggled with mightily for a good portion of his young career.

After he found a consistent breaking point and delivery in mid-2012, Scherzer was pitching with ace stuff. His K/9 skyrocketed to 11.1 — which was best in the majors — while his WHIP nearly fell .100 points from 2011 and posted his first 200 strike out season.

2013 has been a year we have seen Scherzer put it all together from the get go. So far on the season, Max is boasting a flawless 9-0 record, while his WHIP is ace like at 0.875. He is also striking out 10.6 hitters per-nine innings, which is also extremely impressive.

Another great sign of Scherzer’s maturity is his ability to now get out left handers. Left handed hitters were to Scherzer as kryptonite is to Superman. In 2012 lefties hit .296 off him, (that’s with the outstanding second half he posted). In 2011, lefties hit .286. This year lefties are having their struggles against Max. Posting only a .191 average. Oh and right handed hitters, a mere .174.

And you better not get behind in the count to Scherzer. Because if you do, you’re toast.

When hitters are 0-2 against Max, they’re hitting .171 with 19 strike outs. In a 1-2 count Max is posting a .098 average with 33 strike outs. No, that is not a misprint. And in a 2-2 count, it gets even worse for hitters as they average .093 with 31 strikeouts. Ah, what the hey, I’ve already gone this far… Full count, hitters have a .067 average and have struck out 17 times.

While his strike outs have gone up, his walks have fallen way down. Right now Scherzer has a career low BB/9 of 2.2 and is averaging nearly six strike outs to every walk he gives up.

From a “stuff” stand point, Scherzer has never looked better. Hitters are swinging and missing at Scherzer’s change-up and slider at the highest rate ever in his career. On top of his mid-90’s fastball that seems like it has more life than ever.

Right now we are lucky as Tigers fans. Verlander hasn’t had the Cy Young year we expected, but Scherzer is pitching like a bonified ace. Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez are pretty good, too. But lets save that for another article. Just sit back and marvel at how good Scherzer has become. I know I am.

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