Texas, which is in first place in the American League West this season, made a bold move in the summer trade market to acquire Max Scherzer from the New York Mets, a three-time Cy Young Award winner who was considered one of the top starting pitchers in the game.
There’s no question that Scherzer is one of the best pitchers in the game and can be an ace in the postseason. However, this season he hasn’t been quite as good, going 9-4 with a 4.01 ERA, 107.2 innings pitched, 121 strikeouts, a 1.19 WHIP (walks allowed per inning), and a 0.8 fWAR (wins above replacement).
It’s his worst performance since 2011, and his postseason fate will likely hinge on what Texas does with the $22.5 million remaining on Scherzer’s contract.
Slider declines, top pitcher becomes home run factory
The biggest reason for Scherzer’s underperformance this season has been a significant increase in home runs. Scherzer is a “fly ball pitcher” with a high fly ball rate (38% career fly ball + pop fly rate vs. 30% league average).
He hasn’t been a home run pitcher to begin with, with a career average of one home run per nine innings, but this season he’s been a home run factory, with nearly two home runs per nine innings.
The main reason for the spike in home runs this season is that Scherzer’s slider, his go-to pitch against right-handed hitters, has lost a lot of its effectiveness. Coming from a low, three-quarter pitch with a sidearm-like delivery, Scherzer’s slider with a large lateral curve was one of the most potent changeups in the league, with a career .482 OPS over 15 seasons prior to last season.
This season, however, he’s seen a significant uptick in the number of sliders he’s been able to get to the back of the strike zone, and even though it’s only the middle of the season, he’s already recorded nine slider homers, the most of his career, and his slider OPS has skyrocketed to .866.
This has taken away from Scherzer’s strength of being able to reliably dominate right-handed hitters with the benefit of his sidearm-like three-quarter pitch form. For Scherzer to rebound in the second half of the season, he’ll need to regain the precise command to consistently throw his slider down and away from righties.
Regaining strikeout ability, a prerequisite for an ace role
A big part of Scherzer’s reign as the best ace among starting pitchers in the 2010s was his ability to dominate opposing hitters, leading the league in strikeouts and strikeouts per nine innings (2716/9) until the 2012 season, when he began to evolve into a strikeout pitcher.
Since this season, however, his strikeouts per nine innings have dropped to his lowest level (10.11) since the 2012 season, and his batting average (.238) and WHIP are among his worst.
His average velocity across his pitches is down a mile to two miles per hour (1.6 to 3 kilometers per hour) from his prime, and he’s not as sharp with his movement or command as he once was. As a result, his swinging strike rate is at its lowest point since the 2015 season (28%), and his walk rate has naturally dropped as well.
It’s clear that Scherzer’s stuff isn’t what it used to be, so in order to regain his ability to strike out, he’ll need to either regain his sharp command or maximize his ability to throw a variety of pitches that are still competitive at some level. If he can regain his strikeout numbers, he should naturally see a decrease in his walks and runs allowed.
On a positive note, however, his percentage of pitches in the back of the strike zone has been declining over the course of the season, and he’s seen good results from relying less on his slider and more on his changeup and curveball against right-handed hitters (.608/.400 OPS against righties, respectively), so it’s not out of the question that Scherzer could rebound late in the season.바카라사이트
To acquire Schuerzer, Texas had to bleed Luis Angel Acuña, MLB.com’s 44th overall prospect and the younger brother of current top star Ronald Acuña Jr.
But the five-year, $185 million deal for DeGrom adds a solid starter to a starting rotation that has been sidelined by elbow surgery and signals a strong commitment to a World Series title this season, which would be the first postseason appearance in seven years.
With the player option now finalized, Scherzer, who is guaranteed to play for Texas through next season, will be the center of attention for Major League Baseball fans around the world to see if he can return to form late in the season and lead the team to its first World Series title in franchise history.