Will the Real Max Scherzer Please Stand Up?

The Tigers enter play on Tuesday night mathematically behind the Cleveland Indians, though its clear the club has positioned itselfquite well thus far this season as Baseball Prospectus’ playoff odds favor Detroit with a 58.6% chance of playing in October.

A big part of the team’s success has been the stellar performance of staff ace and early Cy Young favorite Justin Verlander, who leads the majors in WHIP with a microscopic mark of 0.85.

Since baseball went to the divisional format in 1969, only two pitchers have pitched to a WHIP below 0.90 in at least 15 starts and both of them (Greg Maddux in 1994-95 and Pedro Martinez in 2000) went on to win the Cy Young.

Even with other starters like Jered Weaver, James Shields, and Josh Beckett having great years anyone would have to think that most of the votes would go Verlander’s way at this point.

Verlander’s teammate Miguel Cabrera learned how difficult it is to take regular season awards home without making the playoffs last year as despite a six month assault on American League pitching Josh Hamilton won the AL MVP while missing most of September because his teammates stepped up and clinched the division.

Had the Tigers done the same, its entirely possible that some voters would’ve filled out their ballots differently. It’d be a shame for Verlander to suffer the same fate as Cabrera, but he likely won’t if he continues to pitch like this and his partner at the top of the rotation can get back to the level he was at last year.

The man I’m referring to is Max Scherzer, who enters tonight’s start against the Los Angeles Dodgers with a 4.32 ERA and 1.41 WHIP, which tops only Brad Penny in the Tigers rotation.

A year ago, Scherzer entered his June 20th start against the A’s with an even worse 6.14 ERA and 1.54 WHIP. We all remember what happened after that. Scherzer retired 14 of the 25 A’s he faced that day on strikes and he never looked back. He was the Tigers best pitcher the rest of the way throwing a 2.15 ERA in 129.2 innings with 125 strikeouts.

Though Scherzer is tied for the team lead with Verlander in wins with nine, it really is about time that the real Scherzer present himself. His win total is a reflection of his run support as he’s received double digit support three times already this year. Only Yankees starter CC Sabathia has had ten or more runs of support more often.

It’s not that Scherzer hasn’t pitched well this year. He certainly has and two starts in particular stick out in my mind: April 24th when he shutout the White Sox for eight innings, and May 4th when he did the same to the Yankees. Having been in attendance for the latter performance, I can tell you that I left the ballpark that night thinking Scherzer was poised to go on tear just like he did last year. But, since that start he’s hanging on to a 5.52 ERA with opponents hitting .295 off of him.

A big part of his struggles this season have been on the road, where he carries a 6.21 ERA in six starts. His peripherals aren’t completely out of whack on the road as his K/9 on the road is 9.7, which is actually higher than his 7.0 at home, and SO/BB is 2.40 yet his WHIP is 1.68 (!). It’s a small sample, but on the road Scherzer has a 5.66 FIP and 3.58 xFIP. Even if you aren’t big on advanced numbers, the fact that he’s given up more earned runs (23) in his six road starts than he has in nine home starts (20) should give you pause. That is something that absolutely can’t continue.

Scherzer has the entire rest of the season to prove that his struggles on the road are just a rough start and that begins tonight against the Dodgers. Los Angeles slugger Matt Kemp has carried that offense, but he’s 0-for-13 with 4 strikeouts against Scherzer in his career.

Last year, Verlander and Scherzer racked up more strikeouts than any other duo in the league (403) while combining for a 3.43 ERA in 420 innings. That is the type of production the Tigers need to get from those guys to have the best rotation in the AL Central, which they probably need to win the division.

Nick Shlain, a Journalism student at Eastern Michigan University, writes for Detroit Baseball Page.com. You can follow him on Twitter @nshlain.

2 Comments

  1. Scherzer has no mental discipline. I don’t think that will change.
    Can I dream for a second of how good the Tigers would be if they hadn’t traded Jurrjens for Renteria?
    Also, Verlander has 19 games of 10 strikeouts or more.
    Lolich had 54. 54! Some props to my favorite Tiger of all time, the lefty with the enormous gut, enormous stamina, a rubber arm and a slider that dove 5 feet!

  2. It’s not just Scherzer. The entire pitching staff. Expecting your pitchers to keep it to 4 runs or less is not an overly ambitious expectation, in my book. For the season, of the 46 times the pitchers (and fielders) have allowed less than 5, the Tigers are 35-9. In the 35 times they have failed, he Tigers are 8-27.

    Almost 2/3 of the games have been decided by three or more runs, so it is not like we are routinely seeing pitching battles or hitting battles, either. Of the 28 that are decided by 1 or 2 runs, the Tig’s are a perfectly equal .500 (14-14).

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