Washington Nationals: Max Scherzer somehow keeps improving with age

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WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 21: Starting pitcher Max Scherzer #31 of the Washington Nationals throws to a Baltimore Orioles batter in the first inning at Nationals Park on June 21, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 21: Starting pitcher Max Scherzer #31 of the Washington Nationals throws to a Baltimore Orioles batter in the first inning at Nationals Park on June 21, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /
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In one of the more anticipated 2018 Report Cards, we review yet another stellar campaign for Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer, who keeps getting better.

We’ve got more 2018 report cards coming your way, with Max Scherzer the next in line. Somehow, he continues to outperform his mammoth contract for the Washington Nationals as somehow he gets better with age.

He ended the year joint-leading the National League in wins with an 18-7 record while possessing a 2.53 ERA. He was also able to strike out 300 batter for the first time in his career and became just the 17th pitcher to do so since 1900.

Despite this great season, he looks set to miss out on the NL Cy Young award to Jacob deGrom who had a historically good season too. But regardless of the hardware, Nationals fans still long for Scherzday on a weekly basis, the sign of a true ace.

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The Positives for Scherzer

Nothing stands out more on Scherzer’s ledger than the whiffs he racked up at a startling rate last season. deGrom was the next closest in the NL with 269 punchouts while striking out one batter less per inning, with Scherzer having a 12.24 K/9 compared to the Mets ace’s 11.16 K/9 last campaign. He was able to do this with the third lowest contact percentage at 69.0 percent and the highest swinging strike percentage at 16.2 percent among major league qualifiers, as hitters just couldn’t make contact with his downright filthy arsenal.

However, not only was he able to generate swings and misses at an incredible rate, when hitters did make contact they weren’t able to do damage. Among qualified pitchers, Max Scherzer had the second highest soft contact rate to deGrom and the sixth lowest hard contact rate in the major leagues. This allowed him to work out of jams with soft groundballs and prevented any innings really snowballing on him with several successive hard hit balls.

Areas for Improvement

The Nats right hander’s kryptonite throughout his career has been the long ball, and in 2018, he sported a 0.94 HR/9 rate. While this doesn’t seem too high on first look, for someone with high standards like Scherzer it’s not particularly pretty, ranking just 17th among qualified pitchers in that category. As it has been with other players who had great seasons, things like this are very nitpicky, but if he could lower the rate he gives up home runs, we could witness unheard of dominance.

Another very small criticism is that Scherzer’s curveball appeared to take a step backward, as its FanGraphs pitch value dropped from 1.3 in 2017 to -3.4 in 2018. The OPS against the pitch jumped up from .606 to .892 and digging into the pitch a bit shows that he left it center-cut a bit more. In his 2017 heatmap, you can see that the pitch tends to come inside a lot more, whereas in his 2018 heatmap the pitch hangs over the middle and low, making it much more easy to read as hitters won’t duck out like they would if it comes inside. A very subtle difference, but one that seemed to have a big effect.

The Final Grade

We’re now through four seasons of a seven-year deal with Max Scherzer, and it couldn’t have gone much better for the right-hander. He has two Cy Young awards in the bank, and could easily pick up more in the next three years.

The Future Hall of Famer was must-watch baseball every time he took the mound, and you could never rule out a no-hitter going into his starts. Another season among the elite, and hopefully multiple more to come once again lead to top marks. A+

A+. . SP. Washington Nationals. MAX SCHERZER

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Remember to keep an eye out for more Washington Nationals 2018 Report Cards during the upcoming weeks here at District on Deck.

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