Max Scherzer: 5 Things He Needs to Fix to Finally Reach His High Ceiling
Max Scherzer and the Detroit Tigers are 17 games into the season, and neither is where they would prefer to be at this point. The Tigers looked to have a great start to the 2012 campaign, winning their first four games of the season. But since that time they are 6-7, and Scherzer has had only one quality start in four outings.
The start to a promising season has been soured by a lack of performance for both the Tigers and their No. 3 starter Scherzer. Scherzer is 1-2 overall with a 8.24 ERA—not the stuff that makes champions.
Scherzer's live arm makes him a desired commodity for the Tigers organization, one they are willing to still give time to develop. This is, after all, only Scherzer's fourth big league season.
Detroit will give him time to right the ship, but at some point, Scherzer is going to have to pull himself together and pitch to his potential.
The question becomes: How much time?
The erratic control of his arsenal is likely to cause hitters to have greater patience at the plate, which drives pitch counts up and affects his ability to dominate on the mound.
In 2010, the Tigers shipped Scherzer down to Toledo for a fix-up stint that saw him come back stronger and more focused for the remainder of the season. His 2011 performance was more consistent, and Scherzer seemed to have found his way again on the mound.
Enter: 2012, where Scherzer again finds himself having issues with command and pitch count control.
Here's 10 things he needs to fix to reach his greatest potential—consistently.
Contol the Tempo of the Game
First things first: Scherzer needs to approach games with more confidence. It often seems he pitches from a defensive standpoint, instead of working from a more offensive strategy.
Hitters are more in control of Scherzer and the tempo of the game than he is—not something that generally works to a pitcher's advantage.
His lack of tempo control has led to long innings and deep pitch counts—again, decided advantages for the hitters he faces. This lack of tempo has also led to a lack of inning production due to the resultant high pitch counts. Scherzer has yet to make it past the sixth inning this season.
Pitch with Confidence
Scherzer may not be an out-of-control maniac as a result of poor performance, a la the San Francisco Giants' Brian Wilson, but it is certainly obvious when he is frustrated on the mound. From there, more often than not, Scherzer's downward spiral begins.
Scherzer would do well to emulate the bulldog mentality that Tigers ace Justin Verlander displays each time he takes the mound.
Scherzer must pitch with greater confidence, an inner-arrogance mentality that will stand against the occasional poor inning. Right now, Scherzer doesn't pitch with that level of confidence and as a result, he's had several games with more than one bad inning in the bunch.
While even the best hurlers in the game have a bad outing every now and then, Scherzer has started to build negative momentum with each outing, and it seems to affect his confidence on the mound as a result. As frustration mounts, Scherzer has to remain confident that he has the stuff to get it done.
Work Ahead in the Count
Getting ahead in the count is a decided advantage for pitchers and helps with confidence, no doubt. This is where the rubber meets the road for Scherzer—he must correct the deep pitch count on hitters.
The funny thing is, it isn't so much the first pitch on hitters. Scherzer is a good first-pitch strike kind of guy, it's all the pitches that follow. It is the lack of control after the first-pitch strike that become the devil in the detail as he finds himself working behind in the count just a few pitches later.
Scherzer is most often getting lit up in the later innings of outings—not an unusual trait for any starting pitcher—but it comes as a result of his lack of command earlier in the game. Even when he's mowing batters down, it is all too often with a 3-2 count.
The second time around the order, Scherzer is already in the 50s for pitch count, and hitters are more than happy to work him as deep as they can, to get the pitch they want. It's working because Scherzer has been mostly ineffective after the fourth inning.
Working ahead in the count will make Scherzer's arsenal much more effective and allow him to work deeper into games for Detroit.
Find an Arm Slot and Stick with It
When Scherzer was sent to Toledo in 2010, it was largely because he lost his arm slot and needed work at the lower levels to get it fixed. He did just that, and came back later the same season with greater velocity and control of his weaponry on the mound.
The diagnosis when Scherzer has control and velocity issues has always been an arm-slot inconsistency. It would seem a simple enough thing to fix, but pitchers like Scherzer who throw with a more violent delivery, often have arm-slot issues. It should be no surprise that this is also a main cause of Scherzer's annual transgressions.
Whether it be in Toledo or Detroit, Tigers Pitching Coach Jeff Jones has some work to do to get Scherzer corrected again. His arm slot is erratic and as a result his pitching has not been what the Tigers were expecting, much less what they desperately need from their No. 3 guy.
It seems almost a precursor that if Scherzer is struggling, Jones need look no further than his arm slot for the appropriate correction. Find the right one, stick with it, and if it gets lost again, find it—immediately, not three or four games later.
Throw Your Best Stuff
Scherzer is a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde production at times—you never know what guy you are going to get.
When Scherzer is at his best, he is one of the best in the American League, but, when he's not, he's little better than some the AL's bottom-of-the-barrel chuckers.
Scherzer has a strong compliment of pitches. His fastball is lively and his off-speed pitches have plenty of bite as well. The problem seems to stem from how to best mix up his arsenal to keep hitters off-balance, keeping him ahead in the count and in control of the game.
His best stuff isn't consistent, which results in a little different look each time on the mound. This would not be unlike many other pitchers if for one thing—when Scherzer isn't consistent, he can't find much of anything that works.
Jones and Scherzer need to consider tightening up his offerings to allow him to bring his best stuff to the mound each game instead of the inconsistent array of pitches he's marched out to the mound with over his short career.
If it's only two pitches then so be it, but it has to be his best stuff consistently, not a performance-by-performance guessing-game of what will and won't work.
Bleacher Report Featured Columnist J. Cook is a member of B/R's MLB Content Team and contributes regularly to the Detroit Tigers team page. He also covers key sport interest stories for all of Detroit's major sports teams.