Max Scherzer gave up 27 home runs in 228 2⁄3 innings (1.06 HR/9) in 2015, in the first year of his 7-year/$210M deal with the Washington Nationals, which was tied for the fifth-most home runs allowed among qualified National League starters.
He gave up 17 in 96 2⁄3 IP in the second half (1.58 HR/9) after allowing 10 in 132 innings in the first-half (0.68 HR/9) of the season.
Scherzer talked last winter about working on keeping the ball in the yard as he went about preparing for his second season in the nation’s capital.
"I've really thought long and hard about why -- really in that second -- different reasons why I [gave] up so many home runs,” Scherzer said.
“I don't want to sit here and tell you those answers, because it's all in theory, I've got to go out there and actually do it to see if i'm right or wrong.
“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."
Scherzer won the second Cy Young award of his career in 2016, but the home run issues continued.
He gave up 31 in 228 1⁄3 innings (1.22 HR/9), leading all qualified NL starters in home runs allowed. So what is he doing to limit the damage in 2017?
“You’re back to the drawing board,” Scherzer said last weekend, when he spoke to reporters at Nationals’ Winterfest.
“Look, that’s a problem, that’s one of my flaws. I’ve got to find a way to keep the ball in the ballpark. Just continue to find ways to — it comes down to location.
“I’ve got to find a way to keep locating the ball better so I don’t leave the ball over the middle of the plate and give up the bomb. That’s just to me what it comes down to, just locating the ball.”
Scherzer’s season ended with a leadoff, first-pitch home run by Joc Pederson in the seventh inning of Game 5 of the Nationals’ NLDS matchup with the LA Dodgers.
It was the third home run he allowed in 12 innings on the mound in the Division Series.
The Nationals lost the series, failing to advance to the NLCS for the third time in three trips to the postseason over the past five years.
Scherzer took the loss hard.
“That was a tough series to lose,” he said. “Honestly, that was one of the toughest of my career, because of the fact of how crazy Nats Park was and how awesome the fans were and just how intense that series was and the effort I thought our team gave.
“Our team gave as good an effort as I’ve been a part of and really could compete with anybody, that’s the gut-punch in all this, that we put that on the line and didn’t win.”
Scherzer did, however, as mentioned, win his second Cy Young for his work in 2016, which made him just the sixth pitcher to win one in both leagues.
He finished the year (20-7), with a 2.96 ERA, a 3.24 FIP, 56 walks (2.21 BB/9) and 284 Ks (11.19 K/9) in 34 starts and 228 1⁄3 innings, over which he was worth 5.6 fWAR.
Scherzer joined Gaylord Perry, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens and Roy Halladay on the short list of the only pitchers to win a Cy Young in both the AL and NL.
“Just two Cy Youngs period. There’s some history to that,” Scherzer said. “I appreciate the history of the game and all the greats and what they’ve been able to accomplish.
“That really means something to me to be able to be among those because sometimes you pinch yourself like, ‘How the heck did you get here?’
“But it just shows you that when you’re on good teams and you have guys behind you supporting you, you can accomplish great things.”