By Ashley Dunkak
Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Max Scherzer leads Major League Baseball in run support received, and not coincidentally, he also leads the majors with 17 wins.
Run support aside, though, Scherzer is having a career year that could end up ranking as one of the more impressive seasons by a pitcher in recent history.
The last pitcher – there have only been five total – to earn 17 wins in his first 18 decisions was Roger Clemens in 2001. Clemens won his sixth Cy Young, and his New York Yankees won 95 games and went to the World Series.
Through his first 23 starts that season, Clemens had recorded a 3.55 ERA over 154.2 innings. He walked 47 and struck out 154, close to a three-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio. Batters hit .246 against him with a collective on-base percentage of .303.
By the numbers, Scherzer’s year so far has been significantly better than Clemens’ in 2001.
Through Scherzer’s first 23 starts, his ERA is 2.84 over 158.1 innings. He has walked 35 and struck out 175, a five-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio. Batters are hitting below the Mendoza Line against him (.192) with an OBP of .240.
Scherzer has flown under the radar in some ways this season, perhaps because of his constant deference to how good his run support is (6.17 runs per game), or perhaps because he is still in the shadow of fellow Tiger Justin Verlander, who has discussed throughout the season his struggles to get back to his 2011 form, when he won the Cy Young and MVP.
For all the debate about who is the best pitcher on the Tigers’ staff, particularly with the recent resurgence of Verlander, Scherzer’s numbers so far actually compare closely to Verlander at his best, in that 2011 season.
Through his first 23 starts in that stellar year, Verlander had pitched 173 innings, walked 34, struck out 169 and recorded a 2.34 ERA. Batters were hitting .193 against him with a .237 on-base percentage.
Verlander went deeper in games and had a better ERA that year than Scherzer, but as far as striking batters out and overall preventing them from reaching base, Scherzer is on the same level. Earning MVP as well would be next to impossible this season, even if Scherzer continues racking up wins and the Tigers ended up poised for a deep postseason run, because slugger Miguel Cabrera has been so dominant.
Nevertheless, it could be a season to remember if Scherzer sustains his current pace – and as much as he will point to his run support, Scherzer has succeeded because of much more than that.