Patrick has already done a great job covering the big news around Nats Park recently, and he also managed to squeeze in some other stuff about a new pitcher in town. We also looked a little at Max Scherzer's underlying strengths and skills, and where he might go in the future based on that. Dave Cameron at Fangraphs had a good take at the financial side of the signing, and there are plenty of other good pieces out there from the Post to District Sports Page to Nats Insider.
But for all the focus on off-field and future implications of the Scherzer signing, I think what everyone really wants to see is the newest starter making mincemeat out of big league hitters. More specifically, I wanted to look at Scherzer's stuff, as viewed through two batters from this past year. For the first part of this series, we'll check out Scherzer against a pretty good left-handed hitter.
You know how Netflix killed off Blockbuster? That's what Brooks Baseball is going to do to me. Their new Beta feature tells you pretty much everything that takes me an entire article to say about Max:
Basic description of 2014 pitches compared to other RHP:
His fourseam fastball has an obvious tail, generates more whiffs/swing compared to other pitchers' fourseamers, has some natural sinking action, has essentially average velo and results in somewhat more flyballs compared to other pitchers' fourseamers.
His change dives down out of the zone and has slight armside fade.
His slider generates more whiffs/swing compared to other pitchers' sliders, results in many more groundballs compared to other pitchers' sliders and has primarily 12-6 movement.
His curve results in more flyballs compared to other pitchers' curves and has little depth.
His sinker (take this with a grain of salt because he's only thrown 13 of them in 2014) is basically never swung at and missed compared to other pitchers' sinkers, has an obvious tail and is an extreme flyball pitch compared to other pitchers' sinkers.
Holy cow. And I didn't even write that "take this with a grain of salt" deal. That is amazing.
One thing this can't do yet, however, is generate random .gifs of at-bats against Scherzer. So I'll try to score one for the humans and prove my worth, and show you two times where he brought the noise against major league hitters (with righties later). Don't believe me, just watch.
September 20, 2014
At-Bat: Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals, Bottom First, Det: 0 KC: 0
Opposing teams try to run lefties out against Scherzer, who really didn't show too pronounced of a platoon split last season. Scherzer favors the outer half against this set, often getting best results with his fastball and change. By Z-score rating, which measures a statistic against the mean value for all scores, both of these offerings are almost one standard deviation above the mean with two strikes. Let's see how he uses these against Gordon, he of the 122 wRC+ last year.
0-0 Count: Curve ball, 80 MPH, called ball
Scherzer starts Gordon, the Royals' cleanup hitter on this day, off with a curve ball on the outer third of the plate. Gordon shows a good eye and lays off a pitch down. It wasn't a terrible first pitch, actually--pretty well located all in all. And you can't see it, but the Royals have a runner on third base with two outs, so Scherzer was a bit in the weeds from the jump. Still, he shows confidence in the offering, even if it didn't get the desired result. Relative to other right- handers, Scherzer's curve really wasn't that great against lefties, so this was sort of a show-me effort.
1-0 Count: Curve ball, 81 MPH, called strike
I think Gordon was a little surprised both on the curve-double up, as well as the location of this pitch. You see, Scherzer didn't really go inside with his curve that much against lefties last year. And for Gordon's part, there's no need to jump out on a 1-0 curve. There will be better pitches to hit. Maybe.
1-1 Count: Fastball, 96 MPH, foul strike
Scherzer dials it up here, throwing a seed dead on the catcher's mitt (if perhaps a hair over the plate); it's all Gordon can do to reach out and foul it off. Remember the tailing action that the machine told you about? Yea, hard to believe this pitch didn't look pretty good coming out of Scherzer's hand, only to drift into the third base dugout 60 feet later. But seriously, you can see what folks describe as "hop" and some ungodly arm side movement about halfway to the plate. It's too late at that point for me, you, or one of the best hitters on the earth. Pretty nasty stuff; pretty unfair stuff.
1-2 Count: Fastball, 96 MPH, Ball
We've skipped this one for the sake of brevity. Scherzer misses his spot way inside here--he was looking to double up on heaters low and away--and Gordon wasn't fooled. He earns himself an even count, not a bad deal to drive someone in. So far, we've seen back to back curves, and back to back four seam fastballs. He's still got the change and slider in his pocket. We see one of these next.
2-2 Count: Changeup, 85 MPH, Foul
Here's the ying to Scherzer's fastball yang, a changeup that draws a seriously-pulled foul ball and bat that Gordon almost can't hang on to because he's way ahead. Gordon has seen two blistering fastballs now, one away and one in. Then this.
On the year, lefties only hit .234 against the pitch, which is a reverse-platoon offering (in other words, typically the pitch is better against opposite-handed hitters than it is same-handed hitters). From the looks of his grip in the glove, Scherzer appears to prefer the circle-change. And look at that unreal drop about halfway to the plate; it's only taken a couple pitches, but we can already see Scherzer thrives on late, sharp movement. Yea, that's one way to disrupt, as our friends at Bless You Boys know.
2-2 Count: Fastball, 96 MPH, Strikeout
Alex Gordon is a rich man playing a game he loves in the prime of his career. And here Scherzer makes him feel about as comfortable as a cheap suit. After showing enough with the curve to be dangerous, pulling off a hellish changeup, and effortlessly hurling some serious heat on the outer half, the Missourian takes no mercy and blows the All-Star outfielder away with a riding, well-located fastball. Scherzer's brief glance skyward, an ever so delicate show of COME ON!, is awesome. No celebrating or chest thumping. Just execution: plain, simple, and ruthless.
Maybe I was looking too hard at Scherzer yesterday in examining his whiff location progression. He's clearly got some late movement that tells a more complete picture of his strategy and approach, as well as why he's getting swings and misses way outside the zone. To be sure, his ability to carve up lefties the past two seasons is, well, very awesome for him, and for Nats' fans' optimism for 2015. And sneak preview: he's pretty good against right-handers, too. We'll check that out soon.
Thanks to the indispensable Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball, and Baseball Reference for stats.