Max Scherzer finished the first year of his 7-year/$210M deal with the Washington Nationals at a career-high 6.4 fWAR, with a (14-12) record, a 2.79 ERA, a 2.77 FIP, 34 walks (1.34 BB/9) and 276 Ks (10.86 K/9) in 228 ⅔ innings pitched.
Scherzer, 31, gave up 27 home runs (1.06 HR/9) total on the year, 17 of them in 96 ⅔ IP in the second half (1.58 HR/9) of the 2015 campaign, after he gave up 10 in 132 innings in the first half (0.68 HR/9) of the season.
He told reporters after the final start of his eighth major league campaign, a no-hitter against the New York Mets, that he thought there was still room for improvement, though he ended the season a better pitcher than he was in 2014.
"I feel like I'm able to do more things with the baseball and sequence guys different and I just feel like all my pitches are better," Scherzer explained.
"But I still have room for improvement. I gave up a bunch of home runs there in the second-half and that's something I've got to improve upon in 2016."
It's something he's been thinking about since before the season ended, he told reporters when he spoke to the press at the Nationals' WinterFest celebration in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center last weekend.
"I've really thought long and hard about why -- really in that second half -- different reasons why I was able to give up so many home runs and I don't want to sit here and tell you those answers, because it's all in theory," he said.
"I've got to go out there and actually do it to see if i'm right or wrong," Scherzer explained.
"But it's something I took seriously and really thought about different things I can do differently and how I can pitch differently, against the same hitters and things I need to work on. Those are things, even in October I was thinking about those things."
He also took time to think about the two no-hitters he threw in 2015, the first at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates in June and the second against the Nationals' NL East rivals from New York in Citi Field in early October.
He also thought about the outings which preceded his no-hitters and what he was able to carry start-to-start in each instance.
"When I kind of reflect about it," Scherzer said, "I kind of sat there and [thought], actually the games before both no-hitters were actually some of the better pitched games that I did, with the Milwaukee start and the Cincinnati start before the Mets start."
Scherzer struck out sixteen in his outing against the Brewers, taking a bid for a perfect game into the seventh before giving up a hit in what ended up a complete-game one-hitter.
He flirted with a no-hitter in his next-to-last start of the year as well, throwing seven scoreless and hitless before he gave up a single and eventually a run in a win over the Reds.
He was able to build on those starts and take what was working into the outings against the Pirates and Mets.
"I kind of took a piece of how I felt in those starts and how I was able to go out there and have success consecutively," he said.
"That's something that you try to bottle up and figure out how you do that and carry it over and try to be even more consistent in 2016."
Scherzer, and the rest of the Nationals' arms, will have a new pitching coach to work with in 2016, with veteran Mike Maddux taking over for Steve McCatty.
Scherzer said that so far he's heard only good things about Maddux.
"I've had some former teammates who have been with him before in Texas," he said.
"And they've come back and said great things about him and how he prepares and the information that he gives to you."
"I'm excited to pick his mind," Scherzer said. "It's always good to have new faces and new ideas, because that's how you get better."
Maddux said he was excited about working with Scherzer too, when asked about the right-hander stomping around the mound and talking to himself at times on the hill.
A reporter asked if he was okay with his pitchers being so animated and emotional?
"Love it, man," Maddux said.
"Sure, stomp your feet, man. Make yourself known. If you hold yourself to a high standard -- you can pitch with emotion, but you can't pitch emotionally. So you get mad, yeah, you stomp it and it's done, versus the guy that holds it, holds it in, holds it in, then freakin' snaps, you know. So it's okay to let it out and I like that. Because all you're doing is holding yourself to a higher standard. I'm all for it."
As for getting to know new manager Dusty Baker? Scherzer said he's excited about the opportunity to work with the new skipper and the other new coaches that were hired this winter.
"I've played with so many different teams and really everybody has, so everybody is used to having different coaches," he said.
"So it's not really a terribly new process to anybody, but it will be different and that's what Spring Training is for, to get all on the same page and understand what we're going to try to accomplish in the season and when we see problems how do we address them and that's just stuff that takes time."
He's only heard good things about Baker so far, Scherzer said.
"Everybody has come back and just raved about him. Talked about how personable he is in the clubhouse. I'm really excited to get to Spring Training and see what he's got and see how he can help our ballclub."
"Guys just love playing for him. Love what he does for the ballclub. Guys who were in the 90s, 2000s, everybody loved Dusty."