Blue Jays Opposing Pitcher Report: Max Scherzer
On Saturday, June 16, the Blue Jays play the middle game of a three game set against the Washington Nationals. The Blue Jays draw a match-up against one of the best pitchers in the major leagues, Max Scherzer. Marco Estrada has the unenviable task of matching the Cy Young winner’s start.
Max Scherzer began his career with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2008. However, he was shipped out of the desert, to Detroit, in a three team trade with the Diamdonbacks, Tigers, and Yankees. Interestingly, this was the deal that saw current Blue Jays outfielder, Curtis Granderson, go to the Bronx Bombers.
Mad Max had five great seasons in Detroit, winning one Cy Young award. His work in Detroit earned him a great 7 year, $210 million contract with the Washington Nationals. The right-hander has only improved in DC, winning two Cy Young Awards—and on pace for another this year. If he wins his third consecutive Cy Young this year, he will join Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson as the only pitchers to win three consecutive Cy Young awards.
This season, Scherzer could be described as dominant, un-hittable, or unfair. Through 14 starts and 94 2/3 innings, the right-handed hurler has posted a 2.00 ERA, 1.87 FIP, 0.845 WHIP, and insane 201 ERA+. Overall, the starter has been worth a ridiculous 4.0 fWAR—just two points behind his total last year. The big fireballer leads the league, or is tied for the league lead, in wins, H/9, K/9, strikeouts, shutouts, and FIP.
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The right-hander mixes between a fastball, slider, change-up, cutter, and curveball. Interestingly, he relies heavily on his fastball, at a time when the rest of the league is relying more on off-speed and breaking pitches.
Scherzer fires home four seam fastballs 50.2% of the time. The heater is quick, averaging a velocity of 94.73 mph, but not overpowering. However, the righty spots the pitch perfectly, and, as a result, batters have hit for a paltry .153 BAA and .255 SLGA.
The veteran has used his terrific slider 15.8% of the time this season. The slider is hard, averaging a velocity of 85.1 mph, and breaks sharply to the glove side once it reaches the plate. Amazingly, batters are actually more likely to miss the slider than make contact. This season the slider has produced whiffs at an unfair rate of 51.49% of swings. The former Cy Young winner only throws sliders to right-handed hitters, though. Through fourteen starts this season, no left-handed hitter has ever seen a slider from the Nationals starter.
Scherzer has offered up change-ups 15.3% of the time this season. The off-speed pitch averages a velocity of 83.7 mph and produces great arm-side drop. As a result, the change has allowed a miniscule .206 SLGA, and an even smaller .048 ISO against.
The right-hander has thrown cutters 11.2% of the time this season. The cutter is not that fast, averaging a velocity of 88.81 mph, and has not been effective. Case-in-point, the cut-fastball has been responsible for a terrible .643 SLGA, .381 ISOA, and three home runs.
Scherzer completes his offerings with an occasional curveball. The hook, which maintains an average velocity of 78.5 mph, maintains normal 12-6 movement and drop. The curve has easily been the right-hander’s worst pitch—posting a .313 BAA, .813 SLGA, .500 ISOA, and four extra base hits.
This season the Nationals’ ace has posted an extreme fly ball rate of 47.2%. Despite the high rate of fly balls, he has limited home runs well. Across 14 starts, he has posted a 7.6% HR/FB rate and allowed just seven home runs. However, while these numbers are excellent, his HR/FB rate should eventually regress to around 10-11%. His SIERA suggest that this regression will inflate his ERA to, a still excellent, 2.20.
Scherzer has finished in the top three in strikeouts among pitchers since the beginning of the 2012 season. This season has been no different for the right-hander, posting a crazy 38.8% K-Rate, 13.50 K/9, and 142 total strikeouts.
Despite his high strikeout numbers, the three-time Cy Young winner stays late in games. This season he has just one five inning start—in April against Atlanta. For good measure, he followed up this short start with a complete game shut out five days later against Atlanta.
The Blue Jays have performed admirably against the Missouri native. Curtis Granderson owns a .390 OBP and .920 OPS in 34 career at-bats, Kendrys Morales owns a .940 OPS in 12 at-bats, and Kevin Pillar is perfect in three at-bats, including two home runs. However, Justin Smoak has struggled against Scherzer, managing just one hit in thirteen at-bats.
The Blue Jays have drawn a difficult match-up for Saturday afternoon. Max Scherzer has been, arguably, the best pitcher in the majors over the past three seasons. The key to victory is forcing Scherzer into a high pitch count by working the count. As well, Marco Estrada will need to keep the game close.