I was going to write about a few of Arizona's prospects who recently broke in with the big league club, but after watching Max Scherzer destroy the Astros, I had to write about him alone.
For those who are not familiar with his repertoire, Scherzer exhibits a nasty, heavy fastball that sits at 93-96 MPH and touches 98. His fastball is reminiscent of Kevin Brown's in his prime; the ball simply explodes through the zone, forcing weak contact and getting lots of swings and misses.
Against Houston, he was working up and down in the zone, getting 94 MPH fastballs at the knees for strikes early, and then elevating later in the count while increasing his velocity. He also showed an average change-up at about 84-88 MPH and a show-me slider.
The major knocks on Scherzer are that he really only has one plus pitch (his fastball), along with a strange head-whack toward the end of his delivery. He jerks his head down and toward first base just before he releases the ball. The head-whack is a bit overstated, in my opinion.
This motion may put more strain on his shoulder long-term, since it's moving his body farther away from the ball's release point, but it doesn't seem to affect his control at all. He keeps his head facing toward the plate, unlike Hideki Okajima, and can command both sides of the plate.
Author's Note: After I wrote that paragraph, I looked through the tape again and found that his command wavered at times, but improved near the end of his outing.
He had quite a few players swinging at balls out of the zone, which shows how much movement his fastball has. However, he doesn't need to have pinpoint command. If he can keep his walks down, I think he'll be fine.
As for his line: 4.1 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 7 K. Not bad, right?
This wasn't luck, either. He looked incredibly dominant. When he matched up against Lance Berkman, he got ahead with a fastball—a hard foul ball with a change-up—then blew Berkman away with two more fastballs (first one fouled off, the second one up and away).
Berkman looked off-balance and was late on most of the fastballs. He is an outstanding fastball hitter; this was just pure dominance from Scherzer.
I'm not sure if Scherzer can sustain this level of performance, unless he can refine his off-speed pitches more. He can't throw the slider or change-up for strikes consistently, which will make them less effective over time, particularly if his head-whack does actually cause control problems.
His repertoire might be better suited for a relief role as a dominant closer. I do want to see Arizona give him a chance as a starter, though. He maintained his velocity through the four innings of relief and he showed no control problems in the minors (33 K to 3 BB this year).
The skinny on this kid is that he is the real deal. He could be this year's Joba Chamberlain (for you fantasy guys) and possibly even more.
If you get a chance to watch him, pay attention to how his fastball dominates big-league hitters. It might make you giggle (I did), and it certainly provides more evidence that the Diamondbacks are going to be a quality team for years to come.