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About That Max Scherzer

If you’re reading this blog right now, you’re probably the sort of person who reads ESPN. Which means you probably noticed David Schoenfield’s article entitled ’It’s time to start talking about Max Scherzer as an all-time great.’ In the article, Schoenfield observes that Scherzer is now the 10th pitcher with three Cy Young awards. The other nine are Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Steve Carlton, Clayton Kershaw, Pedro Martinez, Sandy Koufax, Tom Seaver, and Jim Palmer. That’s seven hall of famers, one future hall of famer, and a steroid-using seven-time Cy Young winner. It also includes a superstar underwear model. Does Scherzer belong in that class?

Max Scherzer by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

About That Max Scherzer


Estimated Reading Time: 5 Minutes

If you’re reading this blog right now, you’re probably the sort of person who reads ESPN. Which means you probably noticed David Schoenfield’s article entitled ’It’s time to start talking about Max Scherzer as an all-time great.’ In the article, Schoenfield observes that Scherzer is now the 10th pitcher with three Cy Young awards. The other nine are Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Steve Carlton, Clayton Kershaw, Pedro Martinez, Sandy Koufax, Tom Seaver, and Jim Palmer. That’s seven hall of famers, one future hall of famer, and a steroid-using seven-time Cy Young winner. It also includes a superstar underwear model. Does Scherzer belong in that class?

Not the underwear model class; among current players, only Kris Bryant can match Palmer for handsomeness.

Scherzer has had an interesting career. He reached the majors at 23 and wasn’t especially good until he was 27.  He won his three Cy Youngs at ages 28, 31, and 32. He’s won the award in both leagues and for good teams, which has given him some extra attention and put him in a cool little group with Gaylord Perry, Roy Halladay, Clemens, Martinez, and Johnson. Of course, all that means is that he pitched very well on two teams that happened to be in different leagues.

Scherzer just finished his ninth full season. Let’s see where these other guys were after their ninth season, and we’ll use statistics that are meant to compare guys from different eras (that’s era, not E.R.A., which is NOT especially useful in this case).


Scherzer: 44.6 WAR, 127 ERA+, 1.119 WHIP, 10.1 K/9, 3 Cy Young awards

Kershaw: 58.0 WAR, 159 ERA+, 1.01 WHIP, 10.0 K/9, 3 Cy Young awards, 1 MVP award

Martinez: 60.3 WAR, 186 ERA+, 1.00 WHIP, 10.7 K/9, 3 Cy Young awards

Johnson: 37.1 WAR, 135 ERA+, 1.26 WHIP, 10.5 K/9, 1 Cy Young award

Maddux: 50.5 WAR, 158 ERA+, 1.15 WHIP, 7.1 K/9, 4 Cy Young awards

Clemens: 63.0 WAR, 153 ERA+, 1.13 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 3 Cy Young awards, 1 MVP award

Palmer: 51.2 WAR, 137 ERA+, 1.14 WHIP, 5.2 K/9, 3 Cy Young awards

Carlton: 41.1 WAR, 121 ERA+, 1.25 WHIP, 7.1 K/9, 1 Cy Young award

Seaver: 65.7 WAR, 145 ERA+, 1.06 WHIP, 7.7 K/9, 3 Cy Young awards

Koufax: 42.9 WAR, 131 ERA+, 1.11 WHIP, 2 Cy Young awards, 1 MVP award


Before we get to anything else, how about that Pedro Martinez? Jesus Christ. A 186 ERA+, and that doesn’t even include the end of his peak years in Boston. And a round of applause for the under appreciated Seaver, who, until the fearsome foursome of Martinez, Maddux, Johnson, and Clemens came along, was probably the best pitcher since WWII.

Johnson’s career got off to a slow start, and considering his late start and unique physicality, it’s nearly impossible to compare him to the others. So let’s leave him out of this, although it’s worth noting that even before he was good, he struck batters out at an incredible rate. Koufax’s legend far surpasses his output: if he were on those bad Boston teams of the early 1960s instead of a Dodger team that won three pennants — and if he hadn’t sat out a World Series game for Yom Kippur — he wouldn’t be the hero he is today. He certainly wouldn’t have been named the best living pitcher at the 2015 All-Star Game. [That vote was ridiculous: Johnny Bench and Koufax do not belong at a table with Hank Aaron and Willie Mays.] Koufax was a terrific pitcher, and he seems to be a wonderful guy and a great representative of my people. He’s a true mensch. But his legend surpasses his output.

Carlton is the interesting comparison to me. He has the highest WHIP on this list other than Johnson and, unlike Johnson’s, it never really went down. He ended his career with the same 1.25 WHIP, although he hurt his rate stats by hanging on too long at the end of his career. Scherzer has the next highest ERA+ on the list, and the only area in which he’s considerably ahead of Carlton is strikeout rate, which I think we can safely attribute to the eras in which they pitched (Scherzer and Kershaw have basically the same K rate, as do contemporaries Carlton and Seaver). Aside from that, their numbers are strikingly similar. I wonder what Schoenfield would have written about Carlton in 1976? He had yet to win three of his four Cy Youngs, and had truly dominated the league in only one season at the time: his infamous 1972 season, in which he won 27 games and all other Phillies pitchers combined to win 32. Clemens, who comes with his own issues, and Johnson are the only other pitchers on this list who won Cy Youngs in their thirties. Scherzer will turn 34 next July. Carlton won two Cy Youngs after turning 34. If Scherzer can win even one, then we can revisit this list.

Source: By Arturo Pardavila III

While we’re on the subject, how much do awards mean, anyway? They’re fun and they’re a good way to wrap up an individual season, but are they a good way to measure all-time greatness? Baseball is a unique sport in many ways, and one of the ways in which it is most unique is who wins the big awards. I do not follow football at all, but I can tell you what team each of the last ten NFL MVPs were on. Same with the NHL, which I pay even less attention to. I don’t follow basketball especially closely, but I recognize the name of every single MVP winner in NBA history. Here are some Cy Young winners from the Wild Card era: Barry Zito, Eric Gagne, Bartolo Colon, Brandon Webb, Tim Lincecum, Pat Hentgen. I would be shocked if non-baseball fans knew who any of those people were, except for maybe Colon, who is mostly known for his outsized personality and fat-muscle ratio. Lincecum, by the way, won TWO Cy Youngs. Here are the other pitchers with two (and only two) Cy Youngs: Halladay, Bob Gibson, Tom Glavine, Corey Kluber, Denny McLain, Gaylord Perry, Bret Saberhagen, and Johan Santana. Does that sound like a group to which Lincecum belongs?

Scherzer is a great pitcher and he’s fun to watch. So far, he’s surprising most of us by actually living up to his contract. Is he a future Hall of Famer? Quite likely. Does he belong in the conversation with Kershaw, Maddux, Martinez, and the others? We’ll have to wait and see.

Here’s to a Nationals-Dodgers NLCS in 2018. Hopefully we’ll get a Game 7 showdown between those two guys with the six combined Cy Young awards.

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