How Max Scherzer fits with other Cy Young winners


Duality marks the career of Max Scherzer. When he finally grew into an ace role in the Detroit Tigers’ rotation, he was forced to share alpha status with Justin Verlander. Although the pair’s points crossed when Scherzer’s stock rapidly rose and Verlander’s began its descent, Scherzer was still dominating in a stadium Verlander had already owned for years.

Even currently, as Scherzer is a $210 million investment for the Washington Nationals, he’s sharing alpha roles with a resident ace in Stephen Strasburg. Some may even argue Jordan Zimmermann. An organization is paying Scherzer about $100,000 per inning pitched, but you can’t even tell if he’s Batman or Robin.

But here’s where the dualities split: Scherzer is a 30-year old Cy Young winner headed to a new team, a status that not many have held in the history of MLB — a status that statistics show will come to define the legacy of a pitcher.

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There have been 74 Cy Young Award winners since the award’s inception in 1956. It wasn’t until 1967 that the award was split to winners from each league, and 17 players have won the accolade more than once. I doctored up an excel spreadsheet to determine that of the 74 pitchers, just 34 have gone on to play for a different team within three years of winning the award. Scherzer was the most recent to make that list, joining still active players Bartolo Colon, C.C. Sabathia, Jake Peavy, Cliff Lee, Zack Greinke, R.A. Dickey and David Price.

The 34 pitchers who moved onto other teams shortly after winning the award debuted for their new teams at the average age of 30. Whether that be because of patterns in contract structure or teams consistently cashing in on an award-winning hurler is unknown. But what is known is that 30 is generally used as the mark of a pitcher’s peak years — and that Scherzer will be 30 when he makes his Nationals debut next week.

There’s more that the big right-hander has in common with this trend. According to Baseball Reference, he has a career ERA of 3.58 and WHIP of 1.219. That’s not far off from the averages of those 34 Cy Young winners before they joined their new teams (3.32 ERA, 1.270 WHIP).

The pattern then shows that matters worsen for award-winning pitchers once they’ve moved on. Their post-move ERA raises at an average of .47 points and their WHIP spikes by .63 points. In fact, just eight pitcher’s in this trend were able to improve their numbers: Colon, Sabathia, Lee, Greinke, Dickey, and Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson.

Where does that leave Scherzer, who’s contractually set through the age of 37, for a National League favorite? Well, his situation is better than that of his peers. He’s been a protected producer, starting 30 games or more each season since 2009, only once throwing a complete game. Compare his 1,183.1 innings pitched in that span to Verlander’s 1,378 and it’s easier to see who has the fresher arm.

According to FanGraphs, Scherzer has already significantly cut down on his fastball rate, throwing it 10 percent less last season than he had in his first season with Detroit. His curveball has become a staple to his repertoire since his Cy Young season, and the news that he’s coming into 2015 with a cutter makes sense at this point in his career. While he can still reach back for that mid-90 mph heat, he won’t be able to in a few short years. Being already confident with a cut fastball will immediately compensate for that loss.

It also helps Scherzer that he’s going into such an ideal situation. He’s left the always competitive AL Central to join one of the NL’s most consistent squads over the last three seasons. Set to face division opponents of the East that slugged an average of .375 last season and come into 2015 with a myriad of question marks in their lineups, Washington is revamped to be the surest regular-season squad and the pressure on Scherzer to deliver probably won’t peak until October.

It’s not as if the pattern of moving Cy Young winners dictates Scherzer’s future — it’s just that the patterns outliers are Hall of Famers. Maddux, Martinez, Johnson, Roger Clemens and Roy Halladay all won the award with more than one team. They’re part of the exceptional who weren’t hindered by the adversities that create this trend.

30-years of age was a pivotal period for all of them — not because they had peaked, but because their talents had no premature ceilings. If Scherzer belongs with these outliers, it will be because his peak is yet to come. And if he simply falls into the trend, then at least we’ll know a little bit more about the real Max Scherzer.

Next: Scherzer or Zimmermann: Who is the ace in D.C.?