Washington Nationals: Has Max Scherzer ever pitched this well?

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 06: Max Scherzer #31 of the Washington Nationals pitches in the fifth inning during a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Nationals Park on May 6, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 06: Max Scherzer #31 of the Washington Nationals pitches in the fifth inning during a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Nationals Park on May 6, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /

Max Scherzer is sitting down nearly anyone who steps into the opposing batter’s box. Is this the best stretch of his Washington Nationals career?

Max Scherzer continues to amaze. After another 15 strikeouts in 6.1 innings on Sunday against the Phillies, the Washington Nationals‘ ace now leads baseball in numerous categories, including starts, wins, innings, strikeouts, and FIP.

So that begs the question – has Max Scherzer ever been this good?

Let’s look at his eight starts through 2018 thus far. Scherzer has fanned 80 batters in 51.2 innings, good for a career-high 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings. Opponents have posted just a .539 OPS, and he has only walked 13 batters. His ERA sits at 1.74. In fact, Scherzer is yet to allow more than two earned runs in a start this year, and the Nationals are 7-1 when he toes the rubber.

It’s hard to do much better than that, but naturally, Scherzer has. Actually, he has bested his 2018 performance across several eight-game stretches throughout his Nationals career.

May 11 – June 20, 201559.21.51.44911.26-2
June 29 – Aug. 9, 201656.11.44.47211.25-3
May 26 – July 2, 201761.00.89.37412.86-2

In 2015, Scherzer posted maybe the great two-game stretch of all-time, when he allowed just 1 hit, 1 walk, and 1 hit by pitch over 18 innings against Milwaukee and Pittsburgh. He also had four starts in that stretch where he went at least seven innings and allowed one run or less.

The only blemish on this 2015 run of dominance was two poor starts sandwiched in between where Scherzer allowed a combined 8 runs in 12.2 innings. The peaks from May through June 2015 were untouchable, but he also mixed in a couple clunkers, which prevents this from being his best stretch ever.

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In the summer of 2016, Scherzer was consistently very good for all eight outings. He threw between six and eight innings in every start, and while he left only allowed zero runs one time, he still only allowed more than two runs once (three runs in eight innings on Aug. 3).

Scherzer managed to pick apart opposing lineups without posting one of his surprisingly common record-breaking performances, which actually might make this his most atypical stretch.

Still, last summer’s run from late May to early July was as well as he has ever pitched in his entire career.

Scherzer tossed two complete games and went at least eight innings four different times. His worst start (by Game Score) was a six-inning, two-hit, one-run outing against the Chicago Cubs, which would be a career-best start for the vast majority of MLB pitchers. For a man with three Cy Young awards, Scherzer climbed to another completely unapproachable level for over a month in 2017.

So Scherzer’s eight-start run to start 2018 is probably his fourth-best stretch in four years with Washington. But what makes his performance stand out from the rest is how sustainable it seems thus far.

Whenever a pitcher, including Scherzer, goes on a run like this, there is a certain amount of luck that goes into it. But for Scherzer this season, there doesn’t seem to be an ounce of luck included in his numbers.

His BABIP allowed is .277, only 12 points below his career number. He is stranding 79 percent of runners, which is also in line with his previous statistics since joining the Nationals in 2015.

Heck, even his FIP – which is indicative of the true measures a pitcher can control – is the exact same as his ERA (1.74). Scherzer may not be pitching at his ultimate peak right now, but if he has established a new norm, that’s even better.

And if we dive even deeper, Scherzer’s entire run with the Nationals has been one of the best ever. Over 4 seasons with DC, Scherzer has posted a 155 ERA+, which falls right outside the top 10 for the greatest 4-year-stretches in history.

Next: DoDCast: Nats back to the wild, wild west

We aren’t even at Memorial Day yet, and Max Scherzer is only through roughly 25 percent of his 2018 starts. But based on his masterful opening to the year, Scherzer is just a few months removed from becoming the fifth pitcher to win at least four Cy Young awards. In a world that still includes a younger Clayton Kershaw, Scherzer has dominated the sport in a way few have or ever will again.