Max Scherzer won the Cy Young last Wednesday and I was taken to task for not celebrating it in verse and rhyme. Cy Young! That's great! We must gather together and feast in his name! Right?
Well I can give you three big reasons why the celebration was a head nod and not a shout. First, there isn't anything particularly compelling about this. We've been pretty much talking about Max on and off all year. We know he's been very good. We realized he was a Cy Young contender and before the awards we noted he was a likely favorite. As a previous winner who wasn't short-changed in front of us it's hard to get all that excited for "excellent player gets his due, which he has also gotten before because he was an excellent player then as well". Second, Max was objectively better last year. No, he didn't win more games but other than a few Ks (and just a few 8 more in one fewer third of an inning) he walked a lot fewer, gave up fewer homers, and threw 4 complete games, 3 shutouts, and 2 no-hitters*. Third, let's face it Max got the "Clayton Kershaw got hurt, so who do we give it to now" Cy Young award.
So there's why we're not jumping up and down in the aisles. But that's not to say Max doesn't deserve his due. So how did Max end up with a Cy Young? The short answer is the meat of the Max Scherzer season was amazing.
As you probably remember, Max's season started pretty poorly. Seven starts in and his ERA sat at 4.60. He had flashes of his dominant 2015 self but something was off. He wasn't unhittable. He wasn't as in control. And most disturbingly he was getting bombed, capped off by a four homer game against the Cubs. Giving up homers while not keeping guys off base - that's not just a bad combination - it's a losing one.
Max had to get it together and he mostly did. Over the next few games he got unhittable again. He got back in control. He... well he kept getting bombed but as he let fewer and fewer guys on base those homers mattered less and less. Solo homers don't kill you. He didn't have perfect games, but he gave the Nats games they should win. Max seemed to be getting back into form.
By mid-season, Max would conquer the HR issue as well. In June and July he'd have almost as many homerless games (5) as games with a homer (6) and only one multi-homer game. He was on the top of his game. In 13 starts from June 1st through August 9th he put up these numbers. A .163 / .209 / .288 line against him. 1.7 BB/9, 11.8 K/9, 0.9 HR/9.** This was about as good as a pitcher can be over an extended period. This 40% of an historic season is what got Max the Cy Young.
Why do I say that? Because things starting to unravel a bit as the season drew to a close. While he kept the homers down, he started to get hit a bit again. He started to walk a bit again. It wasn't a big deal. Without the homers he was still keeping offenses down and it was still Cy Young caliber type pitching, but it was a break from the dominance we had started to become accustomed to. For instance, during that 13 game stretch Max had allowed more baserunners than IP twice. In the next 7 games he did it 4 times. As much as Max was rounding into form to during the end of May, he was falling out of it now.
As the season ended all of issues that plagued Max to start the year were back. He was walking too many. He was getting hit more than he had all year and now the homers were back. It took guile and luck to keep the runs from getting on the board but he managed to mostly do that. It was a poor finish (4.38 ERA over last 4 games) but it could have been worse. While I still hold that it was that awesome middle that got Max the Cy Young, not falling apart at the end helped a lot too. He's not just a thrower, he's a pitcher and pitching well when he didn't have his best stuff kept the team in the game and the team rewarded him.
See the funny part of Max's season is that while he was falling out of form to end the year the team really had his back. They would win every single one of his last 10 starts and he would pick up the W in 8 of them. Wins don't mean what they used to, but it couldn't hurt voters to see that big 20 next to his name.
Max's season wasn't ideal. It did have some valleys, but they weren't so low to take away from the towering peaks. It was a deserved award and in a season where three other Nats members just lost out to slightly more deserving candidates, it's glad to see Max not get minorly screwed out of his rightful award.
*And a 9 inning, 1 hit, 16K game that proceeded a no-hitter. That's the best back-to-back pitching performance you are going to see.
**I know I keep harping on this but I feel like some people may still not get it so let me note here that Clayton Kershaw's worst 13 game stretch was better than Max's best. That is how good Kershaw was last year and really the last 3 seasons. Not that he deserved to win the Cy Young. He didn't. 80 IP is a big difference.