I like Max Scherzer. I mean, I've never met Max Scherzer. But what I've read and seen of Max Scherzer, I really like. Wednesday, Scherzer showed up on MLB Network's MLB Now, and Brian Kenny asked him which statistics are the most important. Scherzer's response:
You know what? It's all of 'em. You can't sit there and say one statistic's more important than the other. You gotta look at 'em all and take 'em appropriately. It's great being 19-1. It's great having great strikeout numbers. It's great to do a lot of things. For me, I think the biggest thing I've done this year that is a reflection of something where I've grown is pitching deeper into games.
Just to quibble for a moment, of course some statistics are more important than others. But the basic sentiment is something Bill James wrote a long time ago, which stuck in my head: EVERYTHING COUNTS. If you're not taking a holistic approach to baseball analysis, you're going to miss something and it might be something important. Scherzer strikes me as someone who thinks deeper about the game -- and perhaps life, generally -- than most baseball players, and for that matter most people.
Or maybe I'm just projecting.
Anyway, later came this exchange:
Kenny: If you could pinpoint one thing that made you go from above-average to great, what would it be?
Scherzer: It's for me to be relying on the curveball this year. Left-handed hitters have always had a lot of success off me in the past, and it's because I've always been fastball/change-up to 'em, which allows them to sit on just two pitches. Something I tinkered with last year, of developing a curveball to disrupt the timing, I've gotten better at this year, so that I can be more consistent with it. And I really feel like I have a good three-pitch mix, to face left-handed hitters, and I feel like that's why I'm having so much more success.
Fact Check: He's right about those left-handed hitters. They've never exactly hammered Scherzer, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio is literally twice as high against right-handed hitters as lefties: 5-to-1 against the righties, just 2.4-to-1 against the lefties. This year, though? He's still striking out righties five times more than he walks them ... but he's got a 4-to-1 ratio against the lefties, too. Which of course is a huge improvement. And his overall numbers reflect that.
Scherzer is throwing a lot more curveballs this season ... but he's not throwing nearly as many as I suspected. Depending on your source, Scherzer's gone from throwing zero-percent curveballs to throwing them roughly seven percent of the time. You wouldn't think so few pitches -- we're talking just seven or eight per game, on average -- would make a real difference. But if Scherzer thinks they do, we have to allow for the possibility.
Something else we have to allow for, even if he doesn't: luck. Most of the the time, when you find a player who's doing something he's never done before, you also find some luck. And even leaving aside his incredible record, it's not difficult to find a lot of luck inseason.
His career BABiP allowed is a perfectly normal .302, and this year it's .247.
His career home runs per fly ball is a perfectly normal 10.5 percent, and this year it's 7.4 percent (or was before Jed Lowrie took him deep, Thursday afternoon).
The only thing that's missing is an abnormal number of runners left on base; his percentage this season is right in line with his career numbers. Otherwise, just about everything that could go right for Scherzer has gone right for Scherzer.
None of which means he's not having a great season. Just a few days ago, I wrote that Scherzer's the No. 1 Cy Young candidate in the American League (which became only more true Wednesday afternoon when Felix Hernández gave up eight earnies). It does mean that even if he pitches exactly as well next season, is exactly as talented, his ERA will jump at least half a run. And the smart money, once again, will be on Hernández or Yu Darvish or Justin Verlander for the Cy Young Award.
For much more about the Tigers' great rotation, please visit SB Nation's Bless You Boys.