He’s a three-time Cy Young winner, boasts an outright filthy pitch arsenal and is one of the most prolific strikeout pitchers of all time. But if there’s one thing Max Scherzer is known for, it’s his competitive spirit.
Whether he’s stalking around the infield after a strikeout or grunting as he delivers a max-effort pitch, the Washington Nationals’ ace resembles an animal hunting its prey more than a human being when he’s on the mound. A poll conducted by The Athletic last season found that opposing hitters consider him the most intimidating pitcher in baseball. That may be the least surprising result of a poll in the history of polls.
Given his resume worthy of a plaque in Cooperstown, Scherzer doesn’t have a whole lot left to prove. Yet when he faces the Arizona Diamondbacks and Detroit Tigers — his two former employers — Scherzer pitches like his job is on the line.
The Diamondbacks drafted Scherzer with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2006 amateur draft. He reached the majors in 2008 and played two seasons in Arizona before being shipped to Detroit in a three-team trade that netted his former club Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy. That duo accumulated a combined 8.1 bWAR in a Dbacks uniform and both were eventually traded.
Scherzer has been worth 54.2 WAR since the deal.
After tossing seven innings of two-run ball against the Diamondbacks on Friday night, Scherzer lowered his career ERA against Arizona to 2.85.
In nine starts versus the club that drafted him out of the University of Missouri, the 34-year-old is 7-0 with 85 strikeouts in 60 innings and a WHIP of 0.900.
In Detroit, Scherzer finally began to live up to his potential. He won the AL Cy Young award in 2013 and was a key member of several deep playoff runs. When he approached free agency, the Tigers offered him a six-year, $144 million extension. That proved to be well below his market value, as Scherzer eventually signed a seven-year, $210 million deal with the Nats the following offseason.
As the perennial-contending Tigers ran their course and sank further and further into the AL Central basement, Scherzer thrived in Washington. He’s faced Detroit twice since, allowing two earned runs in 14 innings — good for a 1.29 ERA, his lowest against any team. One of those starts was his historic 20-strikeout game, when he went the distance and became just the fourth pitcher to punch out at least 20 in a nine-inning game.
Scherzer is an all-time great and has proven to be dominant regardless of what team occupies the opposing dugout, but he kicks things into an extra gear against his former teams. He has two more years on his deal with Washington, so they don’t have to worry about facing him just yet.
But if he’s still willing to pitch at age 37 after his contract is up, the Nationals would be wise to bring him back to the nation’s capital.
They can’t possibly want to know what it feels like to face the beast when he’s angry.