How Scherzer became Tigers' ace

Right-hander thriving with addition of curveball to already strong arsenal

Updated: August 30, 2013, 11:08 PM ET
By Mike Petriello | ESPN Insider

ScherzerDuane Burleson/Getty ImagesMax Scherzer is the Cy Young Award favorite, but it's not just because of his record.
Detroit Tigers starter Max Scherzer is going to win the American League Cy Young Award, and he's probably going to do so in a landslide. There's potentially a good case to be made for Seattle's Felix Hernandez (equal FIP along with a better strikeout-to-walk ratio), Scherzer's teammate Anibal Sanchez (leading the AL in ERA and FIP), or even Texas' Yu Darvish and his ridiculous strikeout rate, but it won't matter.

Scherzer is 19-1 as he heads into Thursday's start against Oakland, and only two pitchers in history have ever thrown 200 innings in a season and lost two decisions or fewer. Both of those came in the strike-shortened season of 1995, when Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux each easily took home the Cy Young Award trophies, sweeping all but two first-place votes.

Yet while the award seems all but assured, here in 2013, we know that wins aren't really a great indicator of a pitcher's value. Scherzer himself has referred to the stat as "fluky." It's impossible to look at that mark and not give some credit to Miguel Cabrera and friends, because no pitcher in baseball is getting better run support than the 5.92 runs per game Detroit provides him.

In the five games in which Scherzer has allowed four earned runs or more, he still came away with wins in three of them and a no-decision in a fourth. Clayton Kershaw, the likely National League Cy Young Award winner, has five losses and a no-decision in the six games he's allowed even three earned runs.

So no, despite the historic record, Scherzer is not having a season quite like the legendary years of Pedro Martinez' 1999 or Sandy Koufax' 1965, and that realization has created something of a divide between those who are blown away by the amazement of "19-1" and those who argue that he may not even the best pitcher in the league this year.

More than his record


But that argument somewhat misses the point, because while 19-1 doesn't by itself tell you a lot about him, it's also not a mark you can get to by accident. Scherzer is a good pitcher having a wonderful year, and he's done what might have been otherwise unthinkable entering the season: He's usurped Justin Verlander as the go-to Tigers starter heading into the playoffs.


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