Wins only the start for Cy Young hopeful Scherzer
Tigers right-hander sports impressive numbers in addition to 21-3 record
DETROIT -- Don't let Max Scherzer's 21-3 record fool you. As crazy as that sounds, that's meant as a positive for him. There's a lot more to his candidacy for the American League Cy Young Award than an abundance of wins and dearth of defeats.
In an era when pitcher records have become a symbol of antiquated thinking, Scherzer's slate became a target to those railing against traditional pitching statistics, especially as the Tigers right-hander piled up victories for the first three months of the season. Scherzer understood it, because he didn't like being judged by wins, either.
"I don't put too much stock into the win-loss record," Scherzer said after going 13-0. "For me, at times, it can be a fluky stat. I don't judge my season based on [record]. I judge my season based on how I pitch."
Considering his other statistics, Scherzer has nothing to apologize for in that regard. He also has very little keeping him from becoming the second Tigers pitcher in three years to win the Cy Young Award when voting results are revealed Wednesday at 6 p.m. ET on MLB Network and MLB.com.
Rangers' strikeout machine Yu Darvish and Seattle's Hisashi Iwakuma are also finalists for the Cy Young Award, and both have cases. Iwakuma sports an AL-best pitchers mark of 7.0 Wins Above Replacement. But neither has quite the combination that Scherzer boasts.
Yes, Scherzer was baseball's only 20-game winner, with a record that ranked as baseball's best since Cliff Lee went 22-3 for the 2008 Cleveland Indians. Scherzer also finished fifth in ERA at 2.90, trailing Darvish and Iwakuma, and second in strikeouts with 240 behind only Darvish's 277.
Scherzer's strength, however, might best be found in the ratios and advanced metrics that are used so frequently to rail against wins as a relevant statistic.
Not only did Scherzer lead all AL starters with a .97 WHIP ratio -- walks plus hits per innings pitched -- he was the only one to register a ratio below 1. In other words, Scherzer allowed a sliver less than a baserunner per inning. He had more strikeouts per nine innings than any AL starter not named Darvish.
Normally, that kind of nastiness comes at a price when hitters do connect. However, Scherzer's home-run rate ranked seventh-fewest in the league, and fewer than either of the other finalists. When hitters managed to put Scherzer's pitches in play, Scherzer still thrived, allowing a .250 average that ranked third-best in the league.
Take away the advantage on balls in play, meanwhile, and Scherzer still wins. His Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) -- a metric that takes defense out of the equation by weighing, strikeouts, walks, home runs and hit by pitches -- measured 2.74, third best in the AL. Only Scherzer's teammate, Anibal Sanchez, and Felix Hernandez, rated higher.
In other words, Scherzer's win total wasn't just about high run support. He had a lot of different ways to beat a team, and had a pretty good chance to find one on a given night.
"He's always had great stuff," White Sox slugger Adam Dunn said in August, "but in the past you would get one or two pitches to hit and you would capitalize. He doesn't walk guys like he used to and his stuff is as good if not the best every game."
Only Kansas City's James Shields (27) had more quality starts in the AL than Scherzer (25). In 14 of those outings, Scherzer lasted seven innings or more with two earned runs or fewer, tied for fourth in the league along with Iwakuma. Darvish had 10.
Win totals can be fluky because wins can come with luck. The key with Scherzer was that he was consistently good enough to benefit.