Saturday, August 31, 2013

What's Going On With: Max Scherzer

2011 26 DET AL 15 9 .625 4.43 33 33 195.0 93 1.349
2012 27 DET AL 16 7 .696 3.74 32 32 187.2 114 1.274
2013 28 DET AL 19 1 .950 2.90 27 27 183.1 145 0.933
Generated 8/31/2013.

What's The Story? Max Scherzer is the odds-on favorite to win the American League Cy Young Award. The gaudy won-lost record is the main reason, and that number's been juiced by his run support, 6.0 per game, the most in the league. But he's also fourth in ERA (both raw and park-adjusted--that's what ERA+ is), first in baserunners per nine get the idea. He's having a great season, after being viewed as a guy who put up decent W-L records, mostly by virtue of the thumpers playing behind him, but never really being a top-tier pitcher. He's never been Top 10 in ERA, WHIP, or just about anything else until this year.

If You Don't Want to Read all the Rest of This: I think we can attribute Scherzer's success to two factors. One's luck. An unusually small percentage of the balls put into play against him are falling in for hits, and he's getting the best run support in the league. Neither of those are likely to persist. But by laying off his fastball a little, he's keeping the ball in the park better. Batters are going deep against his fastball as frequently in 2013 as they did in 2012, but by throwing more breaking balls, particularly a curve that hasn't left the park yet this year, he's allowing a lot fewer homers, and that's a sustainable skill.

What's He Throwing?
Against Lefties:
Year   Fastball  Sinker    Slider   Curve    Change
2011      65%                6%                30%
2012      63%      1%        6%        2%      28%
2013      57%                1%       12%      30%

Against Righties:
Year   Fastball  Sinker    Slider   Curve    Change
2011      57%               33%                 9%
2012      59%      1%       35%        1%       8%
2013      53%               38%        2%       7%

Year   Fastball  Sinker    Slider   Curve    Change
2011      61%               18%                21%
2012      60%      1%       18%        2%      20%
2013      56%               15%        8%      21%
He's gone to his breaking balls more. Overall, he's throwing his four-seam fastball 55.5% of the time after relying on it for over 60% of pitches earlier in his career.

What's His Velocity?
Miles Per Hour:
Year   Fastball  Sinker    Slider   Curve    Change
2011     93.9               83.6              83.2
2012     94.9     93.4      86.7     81.2     86.0
2013     93.9               85.6     78.6     85.4
Scherzer's pitches are all a tick slower this year. Can't attribute any of his success to throwing harder.

How Much Movement?
Inches, horizontal/vertical:
Year   Fastball  Sinker    Slider   Curve    Change
2011    7.1/7.4           1.9/0.4           8.9/0.4
2012    7.7/7.8 10.2/4.1  1.4/1.5  3.8/2.5  9.6/0.5
2013    8.1/7.7           1.6/1.3  5.8/1.7  9.3/0/2
A little more movement on his fastball. Not a lot. The movement on his curve, below average in 2012, is above average now.

What's He Given Up?
Year  BABIP  K%   BB%   HR%   GB%   LD%   FB% HR/FB+LD Str%
2011  .316  21%  6.7%  3.5%   40%   19%   41%   9.9%    67%
2012  .337  29%  7.6%  2.9%   37%   19%   45%   9.2%    63%
2013  .252  28%  6.1%  2.3%   39%   19%   42%   6.7%    66%
(See glossary at end for definition of column headings.)
Some items are consistent. He's walking fewer people, but not a lot fewer. His strikeouts are in line with last year's, just under 30% of all batters. Batters are getting about the same percentage of ground balls, line drives, and fly balls as always. About two-thirds of his pitches are strikes, the same as in 2011.

But there are also two big differences here. First, his batting average on balls in play this year of .252 is 45 points below the league average of .297, and only 6.7% of his line drives and fly balls are going over the fence compared to a league average of 8.1%. His BABIP and HR/FB+LD percentages were above the league averages in 2011 and 2012. This year, his BABIP is the second-lowest in the league and his HR/FB+LD is the 12th lowest. The former suggests an element of luck. It's rare for a player to sustain a well-below-average BABIP. Pedro Martinez had a .282 career BABIP compared to a league average of .298. Greg Maddux was .286 vs. .295. Roger Clemens, .286 vs. .293. For Scherzer, that 45 point gap is probably as much hits not falling in that normally would as anything else. The improved home run rate, though...there may be something there. Good pitchers can keep that number down, year after year.

(All data here from Baseball Reference and Brooks Baseball.) 
Glossary: BABIP = batting average on balls in play; K%, BB%, HR% are percentage of plate appearances resulting in a strikeout, walk, and home run, respectively; GB%, LD%, FB% are percentage of batted balls that are ground balls, line drives, and fly balls, respectively; HR/FB+LD = percentage of fly balls and line drives that are home runs; Str% = percentage of pitches that are swung at or called strikes. 

No comments:

Post a Comment