Enormous contracts in baseball typically do not work out, but that is not the case for Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer. Here is why.
The Washington Nationals have earned an unfair reputation as being cheap. Their reluctance to splurge has caused them to miss out on several big-ticket free agents over the last few years, including Kenley Jansen, Jason Heyward, and Ben Zobrist.
These massive contracts typically do not work out and hamper the franchise for years to come, as the Barry Zito contract did to the Giants and the Alex Rodriguez contract would have done to the Yankees, had it not been for their seemingly bottomless pockets.
However, the Nats decided to splurge on Max Scherzer, and he has been worth every penny so far. Three years into his seven-year, $210 million megadeal, he has been arguably been the best pitcher in the league, leading the Nats to two division titles.
The team accomplishments are great, and are ultimately what matters, but Scherzer’s individual accomplishments are perhaps even more impressive. In his three seasons with the Nats, he has been named an All-Star three times, won back-to-back Cy Young Awards, thrown two no-hitters, pitched a 20-strikeout game, led the NL in wins in 2016, and led the NL in strikeouts in 2016 and 2017.
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These are just his accolades, but his stats are also astonishing. With the Nats, Scherzer is 50-25 with a 2.76 ERA over 657.2 innings in three seasons. Despite entering his mid-30s, Scherzer has put up otherworldly numbers.
In addition to traditional stats, sabermetrics are also extremely high on Scherzer. The general consensus in today’s game is that one WAR is worth about $8 million. Taking this into account, Scherzer theoretically needs to be worth 26.25 WAR throughout his seven years in DC.
According to FanGraphs, Scherzer has been worth 18 WAR throughout his first three years with the Nats, so he is well on his way to 26.25.
Another thing to consider is the fact that Scherzer is getting paid over 14 years. With the deferred money, he is getting paid $15 million per year on average. At this discount, he would only need to be worth about two WAR per season, which he has easily eclipsed.
Ignoring stats and sabermetrics, Scherzer has provided two main intangibles: his “bulldog” mentality and competitiveness.
Part of Scherzer’s bulldog mentality is always wanting to be on the mound. He has screamed at Matt Williams and Dusty Baker on the mound, refusing to give up the ball, which may seem a bit extreme, but shows how much he wants to pitch. He has also thrown more than 200 innings in each of his three seasons with the Nats, which is outstanding.
Scherzer is also among the most competitive players in any sport. His unorthodox mannerisms, such as walking around the mound and “stalking his prey”, separate him from others and put his competitiveness on full display.
These intangibles obviously benefit Scherzer, but they can also benefit some of the Nats’ younger pitchers, such as Joe Ross and Erick Fedde. They have likely benefitted Stephen Strasburg as well, which was put to the test when he pitched through an illness in game four of the NLDS.
Despite not being able to get over the hump that is the NLDS, Scherzer has been fantastic for the Nats. Sometime this summer, his contract will be halfway complete, and he has been worth every penny so far. Megadeals typically do not work out, but, then again, there is an exception to every rule.