Over the last two seasons Max Scherzer has gone from wild flamethrower to Cy Young Award front-runner.
Scherzer has put himself at the forefront of the discussion after winning his first 13 decisions this year. And it couldn't have come at a better time for the Detroit Tigers, as Justin Verlander has shown signs of struggling.
Thus far, Scherzer is 17-1 with a 2.84 ERA and 175 strikeouts. Of his 22 starts this year, 17 have been quality ones.
But how has the right-hander transitioned himself into the Cy Young favorite? After all, he was 16-7 with a 3.74 ERA in 2012 and didn't receive one vote as the top AL pitcher.
Before anything, it's important to look at the opponents Scherzer has faced to see if he's received the benefit of an easy schedule. Of Scherzer's 22 starts, 13 were against teams with .500-plus records at the time.
It included three starts against the Cleveland Indians, in which he went 2-0 with a 2.74 in 23 innings, and two starts each against the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays in which he gave up four runs in 14 innings.
On the flip side of things, he's dominated the teams he should, throwing 21.2 innings in his last three starts against the Chicago White Sox (twice) and Philadelphia Phillies, only giving up two runs.
Inside the Numbers
It's important to look at Scherzer's progression over the last few years in terms of pitch selection and velocity.
When you look at the data, the first thing you notice is the drop in percentage of four-seam fastballs. Then you see that his velocity has dropped in every category.
While he had success last year, he's having even more success this year because he's starting to pitch instead of throw.
When looking at his zone profiles on Brooks Baseball for last year and this year, we see Scherzer's spreading out his pitches throughout the coverage zone. In 2012 there were only 10 of 25 zones coded hot pitching zones, but 14 are coded hot zones this year.
That shows he's starting to think about what he's doing instead of just rearing back and throwing. Unless you're Aroldis Chapman, you're not going to throw a fastball by a batter every time. Why do you think guys like Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Curt Schilling had success throughout their careers?
Diversity of location is key, and that's something Scherzer has improved considerably this year.
The Most Important Thing
It goes without saying that Max Scherzer has learned from one of the best pitchers in the game. Verlander has been undeniably dominant the last four years, going 78-31 with a 2.95 ERA and 977 strikeouts from 2009-2012. His work ethic and success can't help but to rub off on those around him.
Scherzer learned from one of the game's best and it's showing on the mound. And at a time when Verlander himself is struggling, it's only fitting that Scherzer picked up the slack.