At a glance, Max Scherzer would appear to be a pretty significant regression candidate heading into 2014. While the Detroit Tigers hurler was certainly no scrub heading into 2013, his Cy Young winning season did seem to come from out of left field, especially when compared to what he did just one year prior.
Max Scherzer: 2012 & 2013
Remember, Scherzer isn’t exactly a rookie, so while 2012 was certainly good, that 2013 season really just came out of nowhere, didn’t it? If we again go back to his 2012 splits and break it down a little more specifically, the upward trends are outwardly apparent, meaning 2013 may not have been as “out of the blue” as it might have seemed.
Max Scherzer 2012: Month-by-Month
Just eliminating that ugly first month, we’d get a 2012 stat-line of this:
Max Scherzer 2012: May-September
All of a sudden, that leap from 2012 to 2013 doesn’t look quite so monumental, does it? His 2012 stats are why you can’t overreact to a pitcher’s final stats, and also why you shouldn’t go crazy for them on draft day. One bad run can really skew the final product. It’s why when you’re evaluating pitchers, the best thing that you can do is look at their stuff, the outside factors (quality of team, quality of bullpen, home park), and hope that the numbers come together at the end of the season.
So, how do those factors work for Scherzer? Let’s look at some of them and rate them on a 1-10 scale, 1 meaning it looks bleak, 10 meaning it looks great.
- Scherzer’s stuff
This has rarely been an issue for Scherzer. Even at his worst, he was always part of the Nuke LaLoosh, or Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn school in that he could be dominant for a hitter, inning, or even game, but had issues stringing things together. He entered the 2012 season with 617 innings pitched and a career K/9 of 8.7.
So, what changed in 2012, and again in 2013? Well, according to his Fangraphs page, he added some pitches. In 2012, he began throwing a two-seam fastball. In 2013, he added a curveball, and began using his change-up more.
As a result, he began allowing fewer hits and even walking fewer guys.
A case can certainly be made that the hitters now know what he has to offer and it’s not likely he’ll add yet another pitch. True enough, but I’d also say that as he begins to be more used to those pitches — especially the curve — that Max will throw them more and probably better. He only threw the curve 7.8% of the time in 2013.
Stuff Factor: 8
- The Tigers
This really boils down to two things: Run support, and bullpen help.
– Run Support: Detroit made some changes in the off-season, namely getting rid of Prince Fielder and acquiring Ian Kinsler. We also won’t be seeing Jhonny Peralta in Motown, while we will get a full year of Jose Iglesias and Nick Castellanos.
While there is some uncertainty with the Tigers, my overwhelming sentiment is that they’ll support the pitchers with plenty of runs. They have Miguel Cabrera, who impacts a lineup more than any hitter since Barry Bonds. Miggy’s presence goes well beyond his phenomenal numbers, but his looming presence changes how teams pitch to the hitters around him.
As long as he’s on the team, the Tigers should be a Top-10 or even Top-5 offense in all of baseball. They’re pitchers will get plenty of runs.
That not only opens their starters up for high win totals, but also allows the pitchers to be free on the mound, knowing that their bats will supply more than 3 runs.
Run Support Factor: 8
– Bullpen: Alas, the train of good vibes had to stop somewhere and with the uncertainty around this bullpen, it’s not a gentle stop.
Their 4.01 bullpen ERA gave the Tigers a ranking of 24th in baseball in 2013. While they did add one of the best closers in the game in Joe Nathan, the Tigers also lost one of 2013’s only bright spots — Joaquin Benoit — to the San Diego Padres.
So, why is that such a big problem? Well, Scherzer took the ball 32 times in 2013 and pitched 214.1 innings, which works out to about 6.2 innings per start. If that happens again in 2014, we’d still need to find an average of four outs between Scherzer and Nathan, and I don’t like that. Obviously, the fewer innings he averages, the more outs we’ll need to find.
It certainly could be worse with Joe Nathan looming, but a bridge between starters and closers is incredibly important in this era. Right now, it’s a big question mark for the Tigers.
Bullpen Factor: 4
There is good news in all of this. Even if the Tigers bullpen is an absolute flop, it would only hurt Scherzer’s potential win total. Logically, it shouldn’t have much of an impact on his ERA, WHIP, or strikeout rate. Wins is such an unpredictable category to predict that it’s just not wise to draft for wins anyway. That’s where you let the season get going and practice some streaming.
At best, the bullpen is an iffy factor for Scherzer, but it won’t drain his potential anywhere near as much as the other factors will help it.
- Comerica Park
Let’s just see what ESPN Park Factors tell us about the Tigers home park.
Park Factors: Detroit
It’s not quite like AT&T Park or Dodger Stadium, but Detroit is certainly a far cry from what pitchers in places like Colorado, Detroit, and Cincinnati have to deal with.
Comerica has been a pretty fair park over the years, and I don’t expect it to have a big say in the kind of year Scherzer has in 2014.
Comerica Park Factor: 6
With all of that being said, let’s take a look at some projections for Scherzer this year with the help of Tanner Bell from Smart Fantasy Baseball.
Max Scherzer: 2014 Projections
I actually see that ERA as being fairly conservative, although it only takes a few earned runs to sway that in a pretty big way.
Scherzer is a good guy to remember on draft day, especially if people in your league are dismissing him as a one-year wonder. There’s some uncertainty at the front end of the drafts, which will cause people to reach for guys like Clayton Kershaw and Yu Darvish. That’s just a huge mistake with pitchers. It’s also a huge mistake to think of Scherzer as a fluke who’s guaranteed to regress. It’s true that he probably won’t be as good in 2014 as 2013, but the May-September range of 2012 is more than reasonable.