On Wednesday, Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer won his second consecutive Cy Young Award and his third overall. It put him into an exclusive club; he is one of only ten pitchers in baseball history to be named the Cy Young Award winner three different times.

3-time Cy Young WinnersTotalYears
Roger Clemens71986, '87, '91, '97, '98, '01, '04
Randy Johnson51995, 1999 thru 2002
Greg Maddux41992 thru 1995
Steve Carlton41972, 1977, 1980, 1982
Max Scherzer32013, 2016, 2017
Clayton Kershaw32011, 2013, 2014
Pedro Martinez31997, 1999, 2000
Jim Palmer31973, 1975, 1976
Tom Seaver31969, 1973, 1975
Sandy Koufax31963, 1965, 1966

Of these ten illustrious hurlers, all are first-ballot Hall of Famers except for Clemens (due to his PED use), Kershaw and Scherzer (who are still active). By joining this group, Scherzer has taken a giant symbolic step closer to the Hall of Fame.

Cooperstown Cred: Max Scherzer

  • Career: 141-75 (.653 WL%), 3.30 ERA
  • 5-time All-Star
  • 10th pitcher all-time to win three Cy Young Awards
  • 2013 A.L. Cy Young Award winner (21-3, 2.90 ERA, 240 SO)
  • 2016 N.L. Cy Young Award winner (20-7, 2.96 ERA, 284 SO)
  • 2017 N.L. Cy Young Award winner (16-6, 2.51 ERA, 268 SO)
  • Six consecutive seasons with 230 or more strikeouts
  • Career: 10.2 strikeouts per 9 innings (2nd best in MLB history to Randy Johnson) (min 1,500 IP)
  • Pitched 2 no-hitters in 2015
  • Struck out 20 batters on May 11, 2016 vs. the Detroit Tigers
  • Career: 44.6 WAR, 127 ERA+

(cover photo: The Sporting News)

(portions of this piece are repeated from an article posted before the start of the 2017 playoffs)

In his first five major league seasons, there was nothing that would make anybody think that Max Scherzer was a future Hall of Famer. In those five seasons (with Arizona and Detroit), Max posted a respectable 52-42 record with a 3.88 ERA. Not bad, but not Hall of Fame worthy.

In 2013, armed with a new curveball that helped him against left-handed hitters and whose mere existence served to make his fastball and slider more effective, Scherzer emerged as one of the top starters in the game. He led the Tigers to the A.L. Central title, going 21-3 en route to the A.L. Cy Young Award. The following April, there was a rather famous piece in Sports Illustrated with a cover headline that said “Mad Max’s $144 Million Bet,” a reference to his decision to turn down Detroit’s $144 million offer to extend his contract.

Baseball history is replete with one-hit wonders, pitchers who had one extraordinary season amidst others of more pedestrian caliber. I thought Scherzer was nuts to turn down $144 million: this was a guy who had, at the time, never thrown a complete game in his life. The previous October, in Game 2 of the ALCS, he was pulled after 7 innings of one-run ball (with 13 strikeouts). He had thrown 108 pitches and Tigers manager Jim Leyland determined that he had had enough, opting to go with his bullpen. That move culminated with David Ortiz‘ game-tying grand slam home run off Joaquin Benoit in the 8th inning and an eventual walk-off win that turned the series around for the Boston Red Sox. I could just imagine Jack Morris throwing things at his TV when Scherzer was yanked after seven innings.

Anyway, Scherzer bet on himself and parlayed a solid 2014 campaign (18-5, 3.15 ERA) into seven-year, $210 million contract with the Washington Nationals.

By a wide variety of common statistics and advanced metrics, Scherzer has been the second best pitcher in the game for the last five seasons (second to Clayton Kershaw). If you’re not familiar with some of the categories, please see the Glossary.

Top Three in Various Statistical Categories (2013-2017) (minimum 800 IP)
MLB LeaderTot2nd BestTot3rd BestTot
WinsMax Scherzer89Clayton Kershaw83Zack Greinke81
W-L %Clayton Kershaw.755Zack Greinke.736Max Scherzer.730
ERAClayton Kershaw1.95Zack Greinke2.83Jake Arrieta2.86
BAAClayton Kershaw.197Jake Arrieta.204Max Scherzer.205
WHIPClayton Kershaw.873Max Scherzer.988Chris Sale1.029
SO/9Max Scherzer10.9Chris Sale10.8Clayton Kershaw10.4
ERA+Clayton Kershaw192Corey Kluber144Max Scherzer142
WARMax Scherzer33.3Clayton Kershaw33.1Chris Sale27.7
Courtesy Baseball Reference

Most analysts feel that if Kershaw were to retire tomorrow, he would be inducted into the Hall of Fame just on the basis of what he’s done in his first ten seasons. Besides his three Cy Youngs, he’s been the runner-up twice and finished third two other times. His career ERA of 2.36 is the best for any starting pitcher in the last 100 years.

Scherzer would probably not make the Hall of Fame solely on the basis of his performance of the first ten years of his career, as terrific as he’s been for the last five. His #1 match on Bill James’ Similarity Scores is Johan Santana, the Minnesota Twins ace who won the 2004 and 2006 Cy Young Awards and was far and away the best pitcher in baseball for a five-year period.

Courtesy Baseball Reference
CareerWLWL%ERAWHIPSO/9ERA+WAR
Max Scherzer14175.6533.301.11910.212744.6
Johan Santana13978.6413.201.1328.813650.7
Five-Year Peak
Scherzer (2013-2017)8933.7302.870.98810.914433.3
Santana (2004-2008)8639.6882.821.0229.315735.4

Santana only made 75 more starts after that 2004-08 peak period. He was 33 years old when he made his last start, for the New York Mets. Santana is on the BBWAA ballot for the Hall of Fame this year. As I discussed in the piece A Case in Peak ValueSantana’s Cooperstown case rests primarily in that five-year peak.

Scherzer is now 33 years old. He still has work to do but he’s already done most of the heavy lifting that he’ll need to get a Cooperstown plaque. He doesn’t need to maintain the level of performance he’s displayed in the past five seasons to get into the Hall of Fame. He just needs keep pitching well. If Scherzer were to simply finish the last four seasons of his contract as an average pitcher, he’ll accumulate the numbers to warrant his induction.

But I wouldn’t bet on him to be simply average. Scherzer is one of the most cerebral pitchers in the game. I’d count on him to find a way to compensate as he ages and perhaps loses a little speed off his fastball. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he competes for more Cy Young Awards late into his 30’s.

Thanks for Reading.

Chris Bodig

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