Nationals Baseball: All Hail Max - Queen of the Pitchers

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

All Hail Max - Queen of the Pitchers

Another game - another gem by Max Scherzer. He's had one minor blip in his time here in Washington, a bit of an early problem with the long ball last year, and literally that's about it.

Here's his ranks in baseball since joining the Nationals (this at a very generous 60 IP or more in a year for a starter so Rich Hill is all up in these).

IP : 1st
K : 1st
K/9 : 2nd
BB/9 : 11th
H/9 : 4th
ERA+ : 6th  
W : 2nd
opponents OPS+ : 4th

He's pitching more than anyone and with an insane level of success.  If it wasn't for that little longball tendency, he'd be pretty close to perfect. You could make arguments for other pitchers being better over that time  - Arrieta, Greinke, Kluber - but the argument for #2 generally comes down to Sale, Bumgarner, or Scherzer. Right now Scherzer is the most consistent of the three in his greatness.  Of course, you may have noticed I said #2, and that's because of the guy the Nats will see today.

K/9 : 3rd
BB/9 : 2nd
H/9 : 2nd
ERA+ : 1st 
opponents OPS+ : 1st

I took out the non-rate stats because Kershaw missed 70 IP last year. If he hadn't missed that time he'd be 2nd in Ks, and probably tied with Max with wins.  Now of course he DID miss those innings last year and that cost him the Cy Young but all you have to do is look at that Opponents OPS+ to get an idea of why it's not a question if Kershaw is better

Max : .200 / .247 / .355
Clayton : .194 / .227 / .293

Max is FANTASTIC. Great enough that he's noticeably a step better than the guys 5-10. And still Kershaw is a step better than that (if not two).

The positive is that you get to see a first ballot Hall of Famer at work today (and you got to see another possible Hall of Famer last night) The bad news is that Kershaw has taken the idea of ace and skewed it so much that we are literally calling like 10 pitchers "#1 quality". There's the guys I named, Kershaw, Max, Bumgarner, Sale, obviously. Sydergaard is up there as well. Darvish. Kluber and Arrieta still probably make the cut even with bad 2017s so far. Greinke I guess. Keuchel has probably come back into the group. That's 10 right?  And I'm sure people will argue with some of the names I've tossed out so far. What happens when I go to Price, Archer, Hamels, deGrom?

There are goddamn 30 teams in baseball and we act like the 11th best starter isn't good enough to be a #1. It bothers me.  Oh my point in all this is the other guy pitching today. I'm sure you've heard the talk about Strasburg not being an #1 guy. Here are his rankings since 2014.

K/9 : 7th
BB/9 : 33rd
H/9 : 24th
FIP : 7th 
opponents OPS+ : 18th

Strasburg is a #1 guy.  He's not going to wow you day in and day out like Max, no. He has a tendency to give up runs when he gets in trouble and that skews his ERA up when looking at his FIP, but he is a Top 20ish type pitcher. He could lead a rotation and it would be perfectly fine. The 1-2 combination of Max and Strasburg is arguably the best one in baseball today. Enjoy it.

(note : don't come back at me when Strasburg goes out and gives up 5 runs in 5 innings today) 


Shawn said...

I know it's still a bit early, but what are your thoughts on how likely Max is to meet his contract value. Yes, I realize he'll never actually meet any cost per win type value. I guess I'm thinking more subjectively? Like Werth - I think at this point most Nats fans would probably say he might not have been worth $126 million, but it wasn't an absolutely horrible signing. Meanwhile, Zimmerman was obviously heading down bad signing road before this season has started to rescue him.

Based on these 2 and 1/3 seasons, do you think Nats fans will already look back at this as a good signing, regardless of how the rest of it turns out? How bad would Max have to be for the rest of the contract for the signing to be considered a bust?

IMO, I think Max will probably end up being worth the $210 million. If he keeps up the current pace and has a pretty gradual decline, with maybe the 2020 and 2021 seasons having bigger drops (and or injury concerns), it will be no question it was worth it. And of course if he wins a WS, the contract will be worth it even if his arm falls off afterwards (the Barry Zito exception).

Froggy said...


Gonna have to respectfully disagree, but have you taken a look at NL pitching stats recently Harper? Max leads Kershaw in almost every category except ERA to include WAR, BABIP, PFR, DIP/% , ERC, K/9, WHIP, BAA, SLG, and OPS.

Looks pretty Kingly to this Homer.

cass said...

Max has already been worth $117 million according to the way Fangraphs calculates it.

Considering he was basically an alternative to re-signing Jordan Zimmermann, I'd say it's turned out very, very well so far.

As for Strasburg, even with all his injuries, he has the 11th most WAR among pitchers in baseball since 2012, basically in a pack with Kluber, Lester, Felix, MadBum, Quintana, Wainwright, Cueto, and Hamels. These are his peers, all within 1 WAR up or down over the last 5 years.

Only Kershaw, Max, Sale, Price, Verlander, and Greinke have been meaningfully better.

You could use RA9 WAR and get different values, I'm sure, but whatever. The Nats have a pair of dominant aces.

G Cracka X said...

Any discussion about the drama after the game last night? Is it concerning that our closer could have gotten injured after starting the issue?

Ole PBN said...

I'd have to say Kershaw is the best in the game. CY Young winner in 2011, 2013, and 2014. Second in 2012, which I'd argue Dickey only won it because he won 20 games. His 2015 numbers would have taken the cake any other year if not for Arrieta and Greinke having insanely good seasons. Last year he was 5th in voting, even though he pitched under 150 innings. Kershaw is still King unless he falls of a cliff and someone esle can have a Koufax-like dominance on the game for a handful of years like he has.

But I'd agree with Harper that Max is easily #2 in baseball. Us Nats fans are blessed to be able to watch him work every 5th game. Very special competitor and player. A true student of the game. Nothing scarier than a powerhouse who approaches the learning side of the game like an underdog who still has work to do.

Fries said...

THANK YOU for making this Kershaw/Strasburg argument. I'm so tired of the talk about how Stras isn't an ace. Kershaw is on pace to be one of the greatest pitchers of all time. Say he conservatively has 6 more years of 7 WAR pitching in him. That would put him at about 100 wins career for his career WAR. That puts him in the mix with Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Christy Mathewson, and Warren Spahn.

But if he continues to pitch longer than that, he passes Tom Seaver and moves into an area where basically Roger Clemens is the only pitcher better than him that wasn't pitching 300 innings a year (Walter Johnson, Cy Young, etc). Kershaw is going to be a legend, and in an era of fantastic pitching it's simply amazing how much better he is than everyone else.

I hate the Dodgers with the passion of 1000 fiery suns, but we have to appreciate the greatness that is Clayton Kershaw and recognize that the #2 through #20 pitchers in the league would look incredible if not for this guy

Richard Parker said...

But if Scherzer is more durable, doesn't that put him on top? He just doesn't miss games like Kershaw does. A great pitcher who can't pitch more than half or three-quarters of a season to automatically less valuable than a pitcher who can go all season with slightly lower stats.

Also, when are you gonna call it, Harper? Getting close?

Richard Parker said...

*is less valuable, I meant

PotomacFan said...

@Richard Parker. Max never misses games (30 plus starts for 7 consecutive years, but Kershaw rarely misses games. Kershaw started 21 games in his rookie year, then 30, 32, 33, 33, 33, 27, 33 before starting only 21 last year. That's a pretty slim advantage for Max.

Richard Parker said...


Yeah, but this will be another down year. He's sinking. And he's a lot younger than Max.

PhthePhillies said...

@Potomac Kershaw showed up for the NLDS. That's for damn sure.

Anonymous said...

Kershaw has 83 IP in 12 starts this year; Max has 84.1 in 12. Max has been consistently durable whereas Kershaw has had one season when he was just below 200 IP (2014) and last year when he missed some real time. Max is more durable, but not by much.

I think Harper makes a very strong case that Max is the second best pitcher in baseball. But there's simply no reasonable debate about who is better between he and Kershaw. Kershaw is basically the perfect pitcher: he has elite strikeout numbers, elite walk numbers (his BB% in 2016 was off the charts insane), and an elite ground ball percentage. Max's lone weakness is that he's a flyball pitcher, which makes him susceptible to dingers. I love Max and am overjoyed by how well he's worked out for the Nats. But the difference between Kershaw at #1 and Max at #2 is much greater than the difference between Max at #2 and whomever you like as the #10 in baseball.

I also like Harper's Strasburg analysis. I think what frustrates some about him - making them forget that he's easily a top 20 starting pitcher - is that he's tantalizingly close to being a top 5 pitcher. He seems to have a knack for giving up the wrong hit at the wrong time, which makes it seem like he gets less out of his ability than others (esp. compared to someone like Bumgarner, who appears to get everything out of his ability when he's not on a dirtbike).

Richard Parker said...

Kershaw has blown up plenty of times in the playoffs when his team needed him to perform. Anyway, it should be a nice battle tonight.

Anonymous said...

Kershaw has 89 innings in the postseason (3.13 FIP and 4.55 ERA) and 1,843 innings in the regular season (2.57 FIP and 2.36 ERA). Which sample do you think better reflects his ability? If the Dodgers make the postseason, which performance category would you look to to predict how he'll perform? I think the answers to both questions are obvious (and the same).

FWIW, in 74 postseason innings Max has a 3.29 FIP and a 3.74 ERA. So by one measure, Max has actually been worse in the playoffs than Kershaw.

WiredHK said...

One side note: pitchers should perform worse in the post-season for very obvious reasons - they have to face nothing but top-level teams. When I see pitchers that perform better in the playoffs than their usual numbers, it's either an SSS aberration or hey, sure, maybe they are able to turn it up a notch in some supernatural way. But mainly, I wouldn't hold it against any single pitcher for performing worse in the post-season. The large sample size of a regular season is more than enough for us to know who is good and who isn't. After that, enjoy the playoff crap-shoot because we can't just crown the regular-season top team without a crazy luck-filled tournament!

Right, Harper? :)

Richard Parker said...

I'd take Max against Kershaw head-to-head in the playoffs any day of the week. He's money.

Richard Parker said...

Not including last year, of course.

Anonymous said...

Max and Kershaw have faced each other once in the playoffs, on October 7, 2016. Scherzer gave up three runs in 6IP, struck out five and walked zero. He lost. Kershaw gave up three runs in 5IP, struck out seven and walked one. He won.

Neither was money, but Kershaw won and Max lost.

Richard Parker said...

Max is a better pitcher now, and Kershaw is losing his edge.

Richard Parker said...

I already mentioned last year.

Richard Parker said...

How did Max lose pitching one more inning and giving up the same runs?

Richard Post said...

*last year = earlier in this post. ;)

Fries said...

@Richard and Anon

Scherzer gave up 4, solo shot in the first and then 3 runs in the 3rd.

BxJaycobb said...

Arguing that Scherzer is better than Kershaw is only good for losing your own credibility. Kershaw may end up being the greatest pitcher of all time--perhaps depending on how he does in playoffs going forward. He's a joke. I also think you can definitely argue that Sale is the second best pitcher in baseball since he became a starter. Particularly when you consider that two of Max's best seasons (last 2) were in NL. But it's debatable absolutely.

Richard Parker said...

Kershaw will choke tonight when faced against another good pitcher, mark my words.

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