Odds of Max Scherzer Catching Historic Unbeaten Pitching Streaks
Last Monday, Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Max Scherzer defeated the Baltimore Orioles, 5-1. The victory gave Scherzer his 10th straight win without a loss to start the season, tying a franchise record set by George Mullin back in 1909.
On Saturday, Scherzer put his winning streak on the line against the Boston Red Sox. No team in the American League has scored more runs than the Red Sox in 2013, so it was certainly not a given that Scherzer could extend his streak.
It didn't look good early, as Scherzer gave up two runs in the top of the first. But the Tigers offense answered back in resounding fashion in the bottom half of the inning, with designated hitter Victor Martinez clubbing a grand-slam home run to give Scherzer a two-run cushion.
That would prove to be all the support he would need, as he settled down and shut the vaunted Red Sox offense down for the next six innings to pick up his 11th straight victory.
Scherzer is now in fairly exclusive company. While six other pitchers have started the season 11-0 since 1916, only nine have longer streaks.
Scherzer deflected the personal significance of his achievement, telling Jason Beck of MLB.com that his teammates should share in the accomplishment.
"I realize it takes so many other teammates to put me in that position," Scherzer said. "This is a credit to the Detroit Tigers for being in this position. I know I pitched well, and I know I gave my team a chance to win, but it doesn't always go that way. To be 11-0, it means that everyone else around me has done their job, and I couldn't be happier for everybody else."
The numbers certainly back up Scherzer's statement—no pitcher in the American League has received better run support per start (6.33). But he's had a lot to do with his winning ways as well, ranking third in the league with a 10.6 K/9 rate and second with a .192 BAA.
Streaks in baseball oftentimes are aided by a bit of luck. In Scherzer's case, the run support supplied by his offense and his ability to pound the strike zone and limit baserunners have been the keys to his success during his undefeated run.
But can he continue his winning ways and put his name among the very elite? Here are nine pitchers who have longer winning streaks to start a season, along with odds that Scherzer can match their personal bests.
Note: All player statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com. For the purposes of clarification, only winning steaks achieved since 1912 are included.
Tom Zachary, New York Yankees: 12-0, 1929
Tom Zachary spent parts of three seasons with the New York Yankees; 1929 was his only full year in the Bronx.
But it was indeed memorable.
Zachary posted a perfect 12-0 record with three of his victories coming in relief. It certainly helped that he had an offense that included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Tony Lazzeri for support as well.
Atley Donald, New York Yankees: 12-0, 1939
Atley Donald won 65 games overall during his eight-year career spent entirely with the New York Yankees. Twelve of those wins came in consecutive fashion to start the 1939 season.
Donald was dominant for much of his streak, posting a 2.30 ERA with two shutouts and 10 complete games. He started the streak with a win in relief before rattling off 11 straight wins as a starter.
Odds of Scherzer Matching Zachar and Donald at 12-0: 1-1
Scherzer will be facing a team on Friday that he's already beaten during his streak, the Tampa Bay Rays. He picked up his eighth consecutive win on June 6 against the Rays, allowing just one run on four hits in seven innings.
Scherzer has a 2-2 lifetime record against the Tampa Bay Rays, the team he'll be facing Friday in his attempt to record his 12th consecutive victory. But he's been stingy, posting a 2.64 ERA in five starts.
At Tropicana Field, Scherzer has a 3.78 ERA in three starts.
Brooks Lawrence, Cincinnati Reds: 13-0, 1956
Brooks Lawrence started his career with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1954 and was traded to the Cincinnati Reds prior to the start of the 1956 season.
It's safe to say that Lawrence started his Reds career in a big way.
Lawrence won his first 13 decisions in 1956 to put himself in exclusive company. That was the highlight of his season, however—he faded in the second half, winning just six of 16 decisions to finish at 19-10.
Ron Guidry, New York Yankees: 13-0, 1978
In 1978, New York Yankees starting pitcher Ron Guidry put together one of the best seasons by a starter in recent memory. He posted a 25-3 record and 1.74 ERA and was the unanimous winner of the American League Cy Young Award.
Much of Guidry's success that year can be attributed to a fabulous start in which he won 13 consecutive decisions to open the season. Guidry went the distance in six of those wins, two of them coming by shutout.
Odds of Scherzer Matching Lawrence and Guidry at 13-0: 4-1
Scherzer's next two starts are on the road—Friday at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays and possibly on Wednesday, July 3 against the Toronto Blue Jays.
If Scherzer can pick up his 12th win in Tampa Bay on Friday, he'll be trying for No. 13 at a place where he's had much success. Scherzer is 2-0 lifetime at the Rogers Centre with a 2.08 ERA.
But he'll also be going up against a Blue Jays team that's currently on a roll and likely will have Jose Reyes back in the lineup by the time Scherzer faces them.
Scherzer has yet to face the Blue Jays this season.
Roger Clemens, Boston Red Sox: 14-0, 1986
In one of the most dominant performances by a starting pitcher in modern history, Boston Red Sox starter Roger Clemens rolled through the American League in 1986 with a 24-4 record and 2.48 ERA.
Clemens set a new record by striking out 20 Seattle Mariners hitters on April 29, and he would also win his first 14 decisions. His first loss wouldn't come until July 2 that season.
Odds of Scherzer Matching Clemens at 14-0: 10-1
One of the strengths to Clemens' game was his ability to mow down batters at an impressive pace. He posted an 8.6 K/9 rate in his magical 1986 season.
Scherzer's 10.6 K/9 rate thus far in 2013 dwarfs Clemens' mark that season. He'll be facing two teams in his next two starts that are in the middle of the pack in strikeouts this season—Tampa Bay (11th) and Toronto (ninth).
If he gets by both teams to move to 13-0, Scherzer could be facing the Cleveland Indians at Progessive Field on Monday, July 8. The Indians do show a propensity to whiff, currently fourth in the league in that department.
However, all three starts are on the road. While Scherzer has a favorable 3-0 record and 1.80 ERA away from Comerica Park, he still faces long odds in extending his streak.
Johnny Allen, Cleveland Indians: 15-0, 1937
Only four pitchers in MLB history have winning streaks of 15 or more wins to start the season since 1912. Cleveland Indians pitcher Johnny Allen is one of them, and he showed throughout his career a knack for winning.
Allen was 142-75 during his career for a .654 winning percentage—the 22nd best in major league history.
In 1937, Allen put together the best year of his career. He posted a 2.55 ERA and gave up just four home runs, leading the American League with a 0.2 HR/9 rate for the second consecutive year.
Oh, and he finished the season 15-1. Allen didn't lose his first and only game until his final game on Oct. 3. If not for a lack of run support, Allen could have won his 16th game in a row as well. He gave up just one run on five hits in his only loss of the year.
Dave McNally, Baltimore Orioles: 15-0, 1969
From 1968 to 1971, Dave McNally put together a string of four consecutive 20-win seasons for the Baltimore Orioles. In 1969, he posted exactly 20 wins and won 15 in a row to start the year.
After picking up a no-decision in a miserable outing against the Boston Red Sox on April 8, McNally found his groove, posting a shutout in his next start and not slowing down until he was finally defeated by the Minnesota Twins on Aug. 3.
During his streak, McNally posted four shutouts, including back-to-back efforts against the Chicago White Sox and Washington Senators in June.
One of the greatest pitchers in Orioles history, McNally posted a .616 winning percentage in 13 seasons for Baltimore.
Odds of Scherzer Matching Allen and McNally at 15-0: 20-1
It'll take a bit of luck to achieve what Scherzer is attempting over the next few weeks. His first three starts will come on the road before returning home to make one more start before the All-Star break.
Even that start comes with roadblocks—he'll be facing the Texas Rangers, who took three of four games last year at Comerica Park.
Today's brand of baseball is much different for starting pitchers. Complete games are a rarity these days. In fact, Scherzer has yet to throw a complete game this season and has never thrown one during his career.
As a result, Scherzer has to rely on his bullpen to pick him up. Considering the woes of the current team of relievers in Detroit, it's certainly not a given that Scherzer can totally rely on them at this point, especially on the road.
Elroy Face, Pittsburgh Pirates: 17-0, 1959
In 1959, the Pittsburgh Pirates finished with a 78-76 record, good for just fourth in the eight-team National League.
Reliever Elroy Face collected nearly 25 percent of those victories himself.
Yes, a reliever.
Face picked up 17 consecutive wins to start the 1959 season, and he didn't start one single game.
Face was the Pirates' "closer" that year, a full 20-25 years before that term was even used in baseball vocabulary.
Several of Face's wins came that year as the result of a blown save, picking up a victory when his offense rallied in the late innings.
Odds of Scherzer Matching Face at 17-0: 90-1
Scherzer's chances of collecting 17 straight wins to start the season are extremely thin. As mentioned in the previous slide, he'll largely be relying on the help of his relievers to get him there. Without an established closer or even defined roles for the rest of the bullpen, Scherzer almost certainly won't match Face.
Rube Marquard, New York Giants: 19-0, 1912
In 1912, the New York Giants were dominant in posting a 103-48 record, winning the National League by 10 games over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
It helped that they had future Hall of Fame pitcher Christy Mathewson. But they had another pretty good Hall of Famer as well: Rube Marquard.
That year, Marquard set a record that hasn't been matched in 101 years. His 19-game winning streak to start a season remains the standard.
Odds of Scherzer Matching Marquard at 19-0: 200-1
Stranger things have happened in baseball in terms of record-setting feats. Records have been set or matched by players deemed unlikely to be considered candidates for such fame.
Johnny Vander Meer was a pitcher who ended his career with a win-loss record below .500. Yet he sits in the record books as the only pitcher in MLB history ever to throw back-to-back no-hitters.
Third baseman Bill Mueller, never known as a power hitter, once hit two grand-slam home runs in the same game from opposite sides of the plate, the only MLB player in history to achieve that feat.
So yes, records can be matched or broken. But the odds of Scherzer matching or surpassing Marquard's 19 consecutive wins to start a season are nearly insurmountable.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.
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