Immaculate Inning: Yes, Max Scherzer is that Good
Max Scherzer improved to 10-1 on Tuesday night. Sometimes a fine won-lost record can hide imperfections elsewhere in a pitcher’s statistics. Not with Scherzer. Look deeper, and all you will find is that he is excelling in everything.
On Tuesday, Scherzer struck out 13 and walked none. He gave up two earned runs in eight innings. He threw 81 strikes in 99 pitches. And his Washington Nationals beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 4-2.
While those numbers are outstanding, none of them really stand out compared with the rest of his season. He already had one 13-K game, plus a 15-K game against the Philadelphia Phillies in early May. Two starts ago, he gave up four earned runs; that was the only time all season he gave up more than two. He had two earlier walk-free games as well.
The two runs he surrendered Tuesday actually brought his earned run average up, to 1.95.
And during his dominant game, he accomplished something especially remarkable. He struck out Johnny Field, Christian Arroyo and Daniel Robertson in the sixth inning. It took just nine pitches.
Scherzer threw a so-called immaculate inning last season as well. The only other pitchers to throw two in a career, The Associated Press and ESPN reported, were Lefty Grove, Randy Johnson, Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan. Strong company.
“He’s a special dude, that’s for sure,” Matt Adams of the Nationals told The Washington Post.
Scherzer’s fine season has not come out of the blue. He won the last two National League Cy Young Awards (and he won an American League Cy Young Award, with the Detroit Tigers in 2013, as well). He led the league in strikeouts and WHIP in both of those years.
Yet this year he is managing to be better in just about everything. At age 33, he is on track for career bests in hits allowed, home runs allowed and strikeouts per nine innings, plus WHIP and E.R.A.
“This is the best I’ve thrown the ball in my entire career, but it’s only because I continue to get better every single year,” Scherzer said last month.
Digging into more advanced stats still does not reveal a flaw. There are those who contend that whether balls fall in for hits or turn into outs is largely dependent on luck. By this logic, the only “true outcome” stats are walks, strikeouts and home runs. Well, those just happen to be three of Scherzer’s best areas. In an average nine innings, he gives up two walks, less than one homer and strikes out more than 13.
His fielding independent pitching number, which factors in only the three true outcomes, is the best of his sterling career: 1.75, according to Baseball Reference.
“There’s a lot of good pitchers in this league, but for a guy to just sit there and pound the strike zone the way he did and not give up hard hits, it’s just really telling about how special a pitcher he is,” Tampa Bay Manager Kevin Cash told The A.P.
He wasn’t the first opposing manager, and isn’t likely to be the last, to produce a quotation like that this season.