What Is Wrong With Mad Max, aka The Dirty Scherz?

A month into the season, most of my preseason predictions have been way off base. While my Jake Peavy, Gio Gonzalez and Colby Lewis predictions no longer seem as radical as when I wrote them, I completely missed the mark on a few players, most notably Chris Davis (who I pegged for a .280 BA, 30+ HR season) and Max Scherzer. This post is about the latter.

Mad Max seems about as broken as Javier Vazquez. Scherzer's velocity is down two miles per hour across the board. The fastball, which once sat comfortably in the mid-90s, is now struggling to reach 92. As it's been shown time and time again, velocity and success are highly correlated. The pitch selection and usage remains the same for Scherzer this year compared to last, but there is a notable change in effectiveness.

Though Mad Max is getting more batters to swing at his pitches outside of the zone, those batters are making more contact with all of his offerings -- both inside and outside the zone. The result, a substantially lower K/9 rate and a 6.03 ERA/1.46 WHIP after tonight's 10 ER fiasco, has been substantially less pretty than the 3.78 ERA I predicted for him this offseason.

Am I still behind my man? Not at the moment. I've cut him loose in all leagues which I owned The Dirty Scherz, either by trade or waiver claim. There are a few points of concern regarding Scherzer going forward that should be monitored closely if you wish to retain or acquire his services on the cheap:

1) Declining GB%
Scherzer, who posted a 41.7% groundball rate in both 2008 and 2009, was never going to be confused with Brandon Webb or Derek Lowe. However, he maintained a respectable GB/FB rate (above 1.00) in those two seasons. This year, however, the groundball rate has precipitously fallen five points to 36.3%. Most of these non-groundballs have seen themselves in the form of line drives. The result? More hits, more home runs, more problems.

2) Declining Speed
It's not just the fastball which is down 2 MPH. All of Mad Max's pitches have less gas on them this year. Is it injury? Change in delivery? His general mechanics seems to be about the same this season (compare his 04/28/10 movement and release points to his 07/08/09 midseason form). Who knows what is wrong? Until you do, tread with caution.

3) Neutral LOB% and BABIP
Entering tonight's start, Scherzer had a 70.6% strand rate (this normalizes around 72% over time) and a .309 BABIP. Nothing about those two numbers screams "bad luck." Scherzer has just plain pitched poorly.

On a bright note, it is good that Mad Max is walking less guys this season (2.28 BB/9 entering tonight's game versus a 3.22 career mark). However, the decreased velocity, groundballs and strikeouts paired with an increase in contact makes me worried. Max is young enough and the season is early enough for Scherzer to right the ship. But is the gamble worth it? Probably long term, but I would at least bench Scherzer until he works things out. At least with Jaime Garcia, who had a great outing against the Phillies tonight, waddling on the waiver wire.


Sexy Rexy said...

First two games (both vs. MIN):
7.2 IP, 16 ER, 20.00 ERA, 4 K, 4 BB, 3 HR

Next four games(not vs MIN):
24 IP, 7 ER, 2.63 ERA, 17 K, 7 BB, 3 HR

Scherzer certainly isn't performing like we all expected him to, but maybe also just not play him whenever he's up against the Twins either