Nationals Baseball: Max Scherzer - When will it end? Will it end?

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Max Scherzer - When will it end? Will it end?

Max Scherzer is a singular talent. This isn't just about pitching skill. When he came in I doubted Max's ability to stay healthy given his work load. But now, four years into his deal, which I think was my limit in how many full years Max would get to, he's thrown more innings than anyone and appears perfectly fine.

It's not just that he's thrown more innings than anyone. He's blown them away. Since 2013 Max has thrown 1313 innings. Second best is Corey Kluber at 1238 innings. Third is Verlander at 1205 innings. Max has thrown 100+ inning more than the third most durable pitcher in baseball in the past 6 years - about a half season more of pitching. It only takes until number 15 to get to over 200 innings in the lead, meaning Max has given his teams a full season more (or more) than the vast majority of pitchers in this league.

But nothing lasts forever. At some point Max will get hurt. For Nats fans the question is will it happen in the next three years?

Well the honest answer is - we don't know! Everyone is different! But we can sort of guess by looking at pitchers with similar careers to this point and see what happened to them.  To the similarity scores! (similar through 33 via b-ref) 

Roy Oswalt?  He's the comparison I liked for Max. But Roy broke at age 33. Max has not. And in case you are wondering about age finagling. Max is about as "old" as a player can get for assigning an age to a year. He turns the next age a few weeks after the deadline. So he's not squeaking by 33 here. It's long gone.

Johan Santana? Broke at 32.

Jon Lester?  Contemporary of Max chugging along fine at 34.

Roy Halladay? Broke at 35.

Tim Hudson? Missed massive time at 33 but came right back and was fine until arguably age got him at 37 or 39 depending.

Jered Weaver? Broke at 32.

Jim Bunning? HOF senator (not HOF Senator, or maybe it is - not a DC ballplayer is what I'm trying to say here. An actual US senator).  Off track at 36

John Smotlz? Missed a whole year at 33, then came back as a dominant reliever, then back as a starter until 41!  Really not comparable because of the reliever thing though

Verlander? Something went off around 31/32 but has since pulled it together and is doing fine at 35.

Zack Greinke? More Strasburg than Strasburg, he's missed time here and there but mostly still fine at 34.

and for funsies

Nolan Ryan? Rarely a great pitcher was still Nolan Ryan through 44/45.

OK so that tells us nothing much.  If we ignore Ryan as a pure freak and Smoltz as a guy whose arm was saved some wear and tear by moving to the pen for several years we get a peak of 37ish but with three contemporaries still pitching right now at least a little older than Max. One thing you notice right away from these guys is that for the guys right before Max's generation, Oswalt, Santana, Halladay, Hudson. Two were done by 33. Hudson missed massive time at 33. Halladay was done at 35.  Meanwhile out of Scherzer, Verlander, Greinke,Weaver, and Lester, who maybe debuted a half-decade later you see only one of the guys crashing out before 34. You have to wonder if there may be something about the pitch count revolution that's having an effect here. Maybe not an overall effect on the league - but allowing guys with strong durable arms to stay strong and durable longer.  Just a thought.

Anyway, is Max going to make it 3 more years? I don't know. If I wanted to be sure I guess I would make Max a closer next year, then move him back.  I wouldn't like him, or anybody really, going deep into their late 30s.  That's just extremely atypical. But with three contemporaries heading into age 35/36, why not Max? Right now I think it's no worse than a coin flip. Given that take, you'd probably give him a year and a half (basically until he turns 37) but that's just guessing.

He's already given the Nats everything he could (in the regular season). Let's hope he stays healthy and gets a chance to take away those parenthesis.


G Cracka X said...

How much does Max's reported study habits factor into his durability? Presumably, he is more attuned to injury risk than the average pitcher, so I wonder if his dedicated research to analytics and things like that help him find ways to pitch less 'dangerously' (in terms of injury)

Ole PBN said...

I really caution moving Max to the pen. I would say that he is much more valuable to the team as the ace that he is, rather than a "super reliever" in the mold of an Andrew Miller (circa 2017/earlier). We don't know how he would adjust. We do know that in his relief/shortened appearances, he seems over-amped and less effective as a result (see playoff relief appearances and All-Star game 1-2 inning stints). The real value of Max, aside from health. Its that he is super effective from innings 5-7, where most teams would turn to a starter. He doesn't break down, like a Hellickson third time through the order. When he's on, he can go the distance and keep hitters guessing from out #1 to #27. That is rare and incredibly valuable to a team with a ton of question marks in the pen. I don't even support the "opener" role for him, even if it gets him 2 starts out of every 5 games, going three to four innings per start. Who is going to pitch the middle innings? That is our weakness. Not so much to back of the pen, but the bridge to Doolittle. We haven't had a good group there in some time and keeping Max from ever going deep in any game, diminishes his impact and exacerbates our weaknesses. Good teams follow an approach of knocking out a starter to get to the pen, before the 7th/8th inning (where pitching is a weakness for most teams).

All this is to say the he (just like most pitchers) is a creature of habit. What makes him MAX is what he's doing today. An ace, leading a rotation every 5th day and putting up Cy Young numbers since 2015 for us. His pitch repertoire, gameplan, preparation, offseason training, daily rehab/pre-hab, adrenaline... all of that changes with a move to the pen or change to an "opener" role. No guarantee he'd be as valuable as he is now, or that we would be better as a team. Too much risk for the only sure thing we have on the roster.

Keep him where he is, but maybe have an eye on 200-210 innings? I don't know if that would make a difference, but in my mind, he has already over achieved his expectations for his contract. Hope for the best. The only regret would be that Bryce and the gang couldn't get a pennant while Max was destroying the NL. Hope that keeps happening a little longer...

PotomacFan said...

@Harper: nice research.

@Ole PBN: I fully agree. There is no reason (not yet, at least) to move an HOF starting pitcher, still in his prime, to the bullpen or to have him pitch partial games. Max can face hitters 3 times, and get them out the 3rd time. He leaves something in the tank (that's why we see him go from 94/95 to 96/97 when he knows he's pitching his final inning), and he's a savvy pitcher. Max is critical to getting the (always beleaguered) bullpen some rest. That's why he gets paid (and earns) $30 million per year.

Now, when he starts breaking down, that's when the Nats can consider moving him to the bullpen. But we are not there yet.

Harper said...

I wasn't serious about the pen. I don't think there's enough guaranteed advantage you'd get from that move (pen 2019, rotation 2020-21) to bother with the rigamarole of doing it and the loss of value in 2019 - which is a year you know right now the Nats should be at least good. All I was saying was I think if they announced that - Max was on board - etc. that I'd bump up those odds of him staying healthy through the end of 2021. But just health isn't the goal. Winning is the goal. That wouldn't help winning in what right now is there best chance year.

Anonymous said...

Apparently the asking price on Realmuto has risen from last year. The basement dwellers act like they have Babe Ruth behind the dish. I'd say let them enjoy their young catcher hating playing for them.

blovy8 said...

Hey. Hey, Harper. HARRRRPPPPERRR. Post somethin'. C'monnnnn. We need our fix.

BxJaycobb said...

Anon. If the asking price for Realmuto has really risen from last year....with an entire year less of control....that is illogical and the Marins will have a hell of a time trading him. I still say they won’t find any team willing to pay a Robles + Kieboom level haul. No way. They will eventually come back to the Nats and say “we’ll take Robles + Luis Garcia/enter B prospect here” before taking something from somebody else.

DezoPenguin said...

Honestly, at this point I'd rather have Victor Robles + street FA catcher (even if it's one of the middle-of-the-road ones instead of Grandal) than no Robles + two years of Realmuto.

No Robles means either a Soto-Harper-Eaton OF (and if you're signing Harper to a 8-10-year contract, then you're thinking long-term, not two years and rebuild), or it means Soto-Taylor-Eaton with no Harper, and while I'd be ecstatic if Taylor put up even a 95 wRC+ (which with his defense and baserunning would make him a four-win CF), he's probably not doing that and that cannot be Plan A.

If we can beat them down to Kieboom + 1-2 other lower-grade prospects, sure, but 5-6 years of Robles are not worth 2 years of Realmuto WITHOUT any extra prospects added on. Especially when they probably cost the same in total dollars. Remember that we're not talking about "Victor Robles, prospect" any more, but "Victor Robles, projected to be full-time centerfielder with a 2.5-3 win projection making a rookie's salary."

Harper said...

blovy 8 - Sorry I've been busy and then I had a work trip to Dallas. Whatcha want to hear about.

Anonymous said...

Hi Harper. I would like to hear about why Philly has "stupid money" to spend but the Nats don't. Or is it that the owner's won't?

Ole PBN said...

I think the reason why they have "stupid money" is because they only have big contracts Arrieta ($25M/$20M) and Santana ($20.3M/$20.8M) committed over the next two years. Everyone else on their roster is a blip in terms of cost. Don't know Middleton's money situation for certain, but I'd imagine they're ready to spend, and spend a lot.

As for us, it's a little more vague. We have Max ($42M), Stras ($38M) and Zimmerman ($18M) committed for next year. That's a lot on the books for three players. Plus ownership is on a fools errand to bring back Bryce at a sure-to-be exorbitant cost. And they want to extend Rendon. I don't doubt the Lerner's aspirations, just don't know how they are going to get it done.