Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Max Scherzer realized something at some point during the second half of the 2012 season: his potential–not just as a legitimate top-of-the-rotation big league starter, but his potential to make a significant impact in the fantasy baseball world as well.
A year ago, I was one of those fantasy baseballers foolish enough to take a flyer on ole’ Mad Max on draft day. Not only did I commit such a seemingly laughable act before the season began, I ignored the idea of sending him to the waiver wire after a horrid opening month that he finished with an ERA of 7.77 and a 1-3 record. This all came just one year after he finished with a season-long ERA of 4.43, WHIP of 1.35 and disappointed in other categories as well.
I ended up settling for second place in that league, but, surprisingly enough, Scherzy became a key contributor during my run to the spot below the top. After I got over the sad realization that I was simply the first loser, I took some time to scan over my roster and see just who did the dirty work to get me oh so close to a title. When I was checking out all of the final stats for the pitchers, I realized something: Max Scherzer, not Clayton Kershaw, was my leading strikeout-getter.
Scherzer finished with a career-high 231 K’s in 2013, despite pitching less innings than each of the previous two seasons. Not only did he finish with more strikeouts than any hurler not named Justin Verlander, Scherzer wound up with 16 wins and a respectable ERA of 3.74, even after that horrid month of April. He blew every other starter away (including Verlander) in strikeouts per nine innings (11.04). From July 8 on, he finished with a 9-2 record and posted 10 quality starts despite dealing with shoulder and ankle injuries.
Scherzer has put together solid stretches before, but never that good and certainly not for that long. His strikeout totals have always been one of his better qualities, but to finish second in all of baseball in that stat despite only logging 185.1 innings (less than anyone in the Top 14)? Wow.
Remember, Mad Max is still just 28 and his arm is relatively fresh. He’ll be entering his sixth MLB season in 2013 and, though his innings are slightly inconsistent, he’s started at least 30 games each of the past four years. He’s always had the potential to be great, but lacked confidence and consistency. In 2012, he managed to increase the velocity on his fastball, slider and changeup—very difficult to do. Late in the season, he just had a different demeanor on the mound.
Scherzer was prepared to dominate and dominate he did. It carried into the postseason, too, where he struck out 26 batters over 17.1 innings, holding his ERA to 2.08 and WHIP to a Verlander-like 0.92. Will that carry into 2013? I believe it will, but maybe not to that extent. Still, if he can snag 15 to 18 wins, log 200+ k’s and hold his ERA under 4.00, he’ll provide plenty of value and there’s a good chance you’ll be able to draft him in the later rounds.
Don’t risk letting Scherzer slip too far, though, as even though his overall numbers in 2012 weren’t spectacular, he made some big waves late in the season and during the playoffs. Unfortunately, for that reason, he might be a few slots higher on more draft boards than just mine this spring.