Monday, November 26, 2012

Mizzou Baseball in the Majors 2012: Max Scherzer

Max Scherzer strikes out Albert Pujols
Former Missouri Tiger - now Detroit Tiger - Max Scherzer reached a new level of public awareness in 2012.  He persevered through an up-and-down season to take his team all the way to the World Series, he posted incredible - even historic - stats, and he dealt with unimaginable personal tragedy, all in the stretch of a single season.

♦ Max struck out 231 batters in 2012, good for 2nd in the MLB - outpaced only by his teammate Justin Verlander's 239.  And he accomplished this in spite of slumps and injuries. He led the Majors with his 11.08 Ks per 9 innings pitched.   Detroit Tiger Tales put Max Scherzer's strikeouts in perspective, back in August:
When Tigers right hander Max Scherzer struck out nine batters in today's 5-2 win over the Angels, it was the 11th time this year he had nine or more strikeouts in a game. How good is that? One clue is that Tigers ace Justin Verlander has done it only five times this year and nine times in his 2011 MVP campaign. Scherzer is no Verlander, of course, but he sure does rack up a lot of strikeouts. In fact, he leads the majors with 195 whiffs and is a hair ahead of Nationals fire baller Stephen Strasburg with 11.35 strikeouts per nine innings.

If Scherzer keeps up his pace for the remainder of the season, it would be the 13th highest strikeout rate for qualifying starters (162 or more innings) since 1901. It would also be the highest rate ever for a Tiger. Table 1 below shows that the amazing Randy Johnson is the king of high K rates with a remarkable 13.4 strikeouts per nine innings for Arizona in 2001. The Big Unit also had five other seasons with 11.6 or more strikeouts per nine innings.

Baseball In Depth piled on with Max Scherzer's unusual Season:
Max Scherzer is having an unusual season that would put him in exclusive territory. With another start, he would be one of only a handful of pitchers ever with at least 150 innings pitched in a season and an average of over 11 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched.

7 pitchers have combined for such seasons:
Dwight Gooden (1984)
Nolan Ryan (1987, 1989)
Hideo Nomo (1995)

Randy Johnson (1995, 1997-2002)
Pedro Martinez (1997, 1999-2000)
Curt Schilling (1997)
Kerry Wood (1998, 2001, 2003)
Max Scherzer (2012)

♦ In spite of those fantastic statistics, Detroit Tiger fans continute to struggle with The Max Scherzer Conundrum (Turn2Tribune)
Baseball’s version of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, it seems that we never
know which Max we will get on any given night, good Mad Max or bad Mad Max, but that isn’t actually true.

He’s the league leader in K/9 and one of only two pitchers in the American League whose K/9 is in the double digits. Scherzer posts a boastful 11.29 K/9 and a measly 3.04 BB/9 and can seemingly have a 15 strikeout night at the drop of a hat. So where does Scherzer get this reputation of being a volatile and highly inconsistent

It all stems from 24 poorly pitched innings. In the opening months of the 2012 baseball season. Scherzer posted a 7.77 era while allowing opposing players to hit for a .346 AVG, .438 OBP and .510 SLG. A truly terrible month to say the least, but that’s all it was, one month. In May Scherzer’s ERA dropped down to 4.04 in 35.2 innings, in June it dropped to 3.86 in 30.1 innings, in July to 3.62 in 32.1 innings, August to 2.25 in 32 innings, and in his only start in the month of September Scherzer pitched 8 scoreless innings...
♦ In June, the unimaginable happened.  Max's brother, Alex, known by many Mizzou Baseball fans, unexpectedly died.  The St. Louis Post Dispatch's Bernie Miklasz wrote a great piece about Alex and Max, Scherzer shows uncommon courage
Alex Scherzer had a love of statistics and was adept at analyzing advanced baseball metrics. Alex helped his big brother by identifying statistical patterns and tendencies that Max could put to use.

Alex never interfered with the guidance given by Max's coaches. More than anything, Alex just made Max aware of the value of analysis, and how the extra knowledge could be turned into an advantage. When Max had a bad start, Alex would find the positives. He'd come up with a report that had the numbers detailing what had gone right. And Max was appreciative to receive positive information that he could take forward.
. . .
Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh, Scherzer took the ball only two days after Alex's death, living up to the vow he'd given Tigers manager Jim Leyland. And there Max was, walking to the mound at PNC Park in the bottom of the first, to make the most challenging, difficult start of his career.

Max's parents, Brad and Jan, were in the ballpark to be with their oldest son. They wanted to be there for him. The family would get through this together. And Mr. and Mrs. Scherzer drew strength by watching Max pitch. And their support, with Max knowing his mom and dad were sitting in the stands, probably helped to lessen his burden.

We can't imagine what he was feeling, or thinking. We can't imagine how much he was hurting inside. But Max showed up for his team, took that ball and put his entire heart into the assignment...
♦ Max and the Tigers battled through the ups and downs to march their way through the playoffs and into the World Series.  At one point, Pin Striped Bible outlined the keys to Solving Max Scherzer, only to witness would be one of Max's greatest games of the season, shutting down the Yankees to win the American League title.
And then there is Scherzer, who would be an ace on most staffs. If his eyes look like they belong on two different faces, then think of it this way: One eye was on the Yankees. The other one was fixed on this stat line:

2 1/3 IP, 6 ER, 5 H, 4 BB, 1 K

That was Scherzer's line when the Rangers eliminated his Tigers in Game 6 of last year's American League Championship Series.

2 1/3 IP, 6 ER, 5 H, 4 BB, 1 K

"That stung the whole offseason," Scherzer said "I worked my butt off. Every single day, that's what I thought about, was Game 6 of last year's ALCS."

On Thursday, he only allowed two hits and one run. He probably would have pitched past the sixth inning if he had not had recent shoulder trouble, and if the Yankees had the courtesy to put the ball in play once in a while. Scherzer faced 22 batters. He struck out 10 of them, and left after throwing 98 pitches.

It was strange to see the Yankees look so hopeless. They are many things, but rarely hopeless. Yet Scherzer did not just think he would pitch this well. He knew. They all knew.

"I felt like I was going to have command of three pitches," he said. "The way that my changeup, and the way that my slider's been lately, I knew if I was going to be able to execute that, I knew I was going to pitch well." (Sports Illustrated)
The Tigers were over-matched and out-played by the San Francisco Giants int he World Series, but it was still great to see Max pitching in the World Series.

There's always next year.

♦ For an incredible collection of photos, animated gifs, quoted tweets and other random acts of blogging related to Max Scherzer, check out the Max Scherzer tagged posts on tumblr.

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