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May 23

Max Scherzer, Bryce Harper Are Sorta Good

One way we argue that a pitcher is performing well is through strikeout totals. If the totals are high enough, or if the pitcher reaches double-digits in K/9, we can typically make a reasonable assumption that the pitcher is doing okay. Carlos Carrasco has struck out 10.58 per nine with an ERA nearing five. FIP accounts for that, though, and Carrasco’s FIP of 2.62 is seventh in the Majors for all qualified starters. Clayton Kershaw (my first Kershaw mention this season!) has a fairly ridiculous K/9 of 11.26 with an ERA at 4.32, but I have a suspicion that Kershaw will be okay by season’s end.

I don’t think K/9 really mean all that much when it comes to Max Scherzer, though. When I watch him pitch—and each of his starts is becoming can’t miss at this point along with any Matt Harvey start—I’m amazed that at any given time, Scherzer could as easily strike out the side as cruise through an inning on five pitches. When Scherzer decides to be cruel and embarrass hitters, he can throw a mid-90s fastball to either side of the plate, fool a batter with the change, or simply spin a slider and let slip the mounds of WAR (or make a batter flail and strike out, which is great for FIP, whatever). Or, when the batters are feeling especially helpless that day, they’ll just jump on the first fairly hittable pitch and hope for the best, and in that scenario, Scherzer will toss his late breaking change and watch another fly ball reach Denard Span’s mitt. Scherzer is one of the few starters whose pitch count could be between 50 and 150, and it wouldn’t matter one bit to his effectiveness.

He’s that good.

Because of the hefty price tag associated with Scherzer, his seven year $210M dollar contract being behind only Kershaw’s 7yr/$215M dollar extension, it seems as though we (particularly me, admittedly) have been waiting for Scherzer to dominate at $30M dollar a year level. Where’s his Corey Kluber-esque game where he strikes out 18 batters and joins Jordan Zimermann as the only Washington Nationals to ever throw no-hitters (not that Bill Stoneman, Charlie Lea, and Dennis Martinez tossed no-hitters as Expos with Martinez’s being the franchise’s only perfect game)? Heck, Scherzer doesn’t even have a game score that hits the top 30, much less the top 5. Through no fault of his own, strictly by unreasonable expectations, it’s as though he’s been pretty good but not great.

Well, look again. One week out from the end of May, and Scherzer leads the Majors in fWAR by a fairly wide margin. His score of 2.5 is a half win greater than Kluber, and Kluber has only turned it on of late. The narrative early in the year was what’s wrong with Kluber, but that’s long past. It’s funny how striking out 30 across 17 innings in your last two starts will do that sort of thing. Kluber has his memorable game, that absolute moment of dominance, but can we point to a moment like that for Scherzer?

Yes. It’s called 2015.

In nine starts this season, Scherzer has allowed two or more earned runs twice. He’s allowed more hits than innings pitched in one game. He’s already struck out 10 or more batters three times, something that he did seven times last season, and he’s been sending right-handers back to the dugout with such regularity (there hitting .156/.184/.256) that they might as well try a reverse John Kruk and swing from the left. Not that left-handers are faring much better. The .242/.283/.325 slash line only looks promising in comparison. Ask Ryan Howard (video below) or Grady Sizemore how lefties are treated.

What amazes me about that pitch is that Scherzer has no regard for burying a mid-80s changeup down and in to a lefty. What’s it matter? When the pitch before was a 95mph fourseamer with nasty tailing action, good luck.

Notes:

Bryce Harper’s homerun last night was his 16th on the season, but what’s most impressive is his ability to hit with power to left.

bryce_harper_2012_2014

Between 2012 and 2014 Harper hit a total of six homeruns to left (not including left-center) while in in 2015 he’s already performed that trick twice.

bryce_harper_2015Look at this homer from last night.

Maybe that ball just clears the wall and doesn’t look impressive, but with the wind blowing the way it was at Nationals Park, that was an impressive hit. He’s always been able to crush the fastball (entering the year, 39 of his 59 career homeruns, including the postseason, were hit off of fastballs, which accounts for roughly 2/3.), but this season, he’s already hit seven homers off of pitches defined as either offspeed or breaking balls, as per BrooksBaseball.net, with the other nine either fastballs or sinkers.

Both Scherzer and Harper lead their respective categories in fWAR currently, and the only drama in D.C. this season might be who finishes first.

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