Max Scherzer B/R Q&A: Ace Talks Juiced Ball, Robot Umps and Bryce Harper Scare

Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterAugust 18, 2017

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 13:  Max Scherzer #31 of the Washington Nationals pitches against the San Francisco Giants during Game 2 of a doubleheader at Nationals Park on August 13, 2017 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
G Fiume/Getty Images

Max Scherzer's day job is being one of Major League Baseball's elite pitchers.

Already with two Cy Youngs to his name, the Washington Nationals ace has found yet another gear in 2017. He's working on a career-best 2.25 ERA and leads the National League with 160.1 innings and 220 strikeouts. He may have a third Cy Young and, if all goes well, his first World Series ring in his future.

In his off hours, his hobbies include being an interesting guy to talk to.

Scherzer took time to talk with Bleacher Report about a heart-stopping Bryce Harper injury scare, why it's no time for pitchers to whine about a juiced ball, how robot umps could backfire on MLB, and much more.

           

Bleacher Report: I want to start with the scare you guys got last Saturday when Bryce Harper went down in a heap and looked like he was seriously injured. Can you take me inside the dugout for that moment?

Max Scherzer: Actually, I had left the game early because I was pitching the next day’s game. So I had actually just gotten home when that play had happened.

As soon as I saw on the television, I think all of our hearts…we had a big lump in our throat. It was not a fun feeling sitting there and worrying about one of the best players on your team going down with an injury this late into the season when the playoffs are right around the corner.

I think we dodged a bullet. We see him walking around in the clubhouse. So I think he’s going to be OK, and he’ll be back on the field soon.

             

B/R: Harper's agent, Scott Boras, raised the possibility of doing something about bases during inclement weather. Is that necessary?

Scherzer: I know what he’s talking about. Not even necessarily when it’s raining, [it's] just how hard they are. I think we see a lot of injuries around the game that have to do with the base itself.

I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know exactly what the best format would be if there is a solution to the actual base-created injuries or if there’s unintended consequences if you would try to make a solution. But I do think, given the number of injuries that happen around the bases, it’s something that I think MLB would be wise to take a look at.

          

B/R: The other big slugger people are watching right now is Giancarlo Stanton. You’re one of many guys he’s gotten recently. How do you approach pitching to a guy who's that hot?

Scherzer: He’s on his A-game. You know if you make a mistake, it’s gonna get paid for. But you always feel like that when you’re facing a guy of his caliber. Even if they’re in a slump, if you make a mistake they’re gonna get you.

So, hey, look. He’s hot. [Laughs]. He can hit anything out of the ballpark. You just have to go out there and make quality pitches against him.

            

B/R: You're always great, but you also have a knack for making specific improvements, such as lowering your home run rate this year. Is that intentional? What is your approach for any given season?

Scherzer: Just to get better. Get better on the mound and what I’m able to do with the baseball. You can’t get caught up in results. Home runs are a bad result. I can’t focus on bad results. I can only focus on how to make better pitches. How to improve my off-speed pitches. How to better locate not only my fastball but my off-speed pitches as well. That’s something that I feel like I made strides with again this year in terms of what I’m able to do and how I’m able to execute pitches consistently.

Matt Wieters has been a great catcher for me this year. Getting to work with him, he’s helped bring in some new ideas to me as well. So I have a good guy behind the plate helping me out and a good focus on the mound and, more importantly, in between starts to dial in everything to make sure I can repeat my mechanics so that I can repeat my off-speed pitches.

              

B/R: You've been vocal about your interest in sabermetrics. Can you give me an idea of how metrics have benefited you over the years?

Scherzer: They kinda show you what you have control and don’t have control over. You can look at it two different ways. There’s this whole sabermetric way of looking at baseball and there’s obviously the old-school [way] of what your eyes see in the game.

Both sides of that equation have their moments where they’re both right. So I try to blend both of them. I try to bring numbers into the game where I think it fits. But I also understand there’s a lot of things that sabermetrics miss, where you really have to have a mind and some instincts and a baseball IQ to be able to go out there and compete at the highest level.

B/R: How about Statcast? How much has it seeped into the clubhouse atmosphere, and how much, if at all, has it changed your game?

Scherzer: Some players gravitate towards it more than others. I still think everybody’s trying to learn what type of information is coming out of there and how is it applicable and what’s reliable and what’s not. I think there are some things that are fascinating. I think as we get more and more data about everything, it'll show where the true talent is in playing the game of baseball.

The future of it? Man, I don’t know. We’ll see where it goes.

              

B/R: Is there something that you think could be measured that Statcast hasn’t touched yet? 

Scherzer: I've always said the one thing that I don’t think you’ll ever be able to measure, but [which] I think doesn’t get any credit whatsoever is deception in a pitcher’s delivery. I think one of the most crucial things to delivering a baseball is to have some deception so that the hitter can’t pick up the baseball. There are certain motions that allow you to see the baseball and other motions that don’t.

I don’t know how in the heck you would ever quantify that. But that’s just something in the innate game of baseball, and pitching and hitting.

              

B/R: Statcast is one popular explanation for the rise in home runs, with the other being the "juiced ball" theory. Lately, the latter conversation has shifted to whether a ball change is causing blisters. What do you think?

Scherzer: I haven’t noticed anything in terms of the blisters aspects of having more blisters or more pronounced blisters on my fingertips than ever before. I’m always dealing with some type of callus or blister or something throughout the whole year anyway. So that doesn’t really affect me.

I think with Statcast there’s a revolution in hitting and what [hitters'] philosophy is and what pitches they’re trying to hit and where they’re trying to do damage within the strike zone. I think that’s definitely changed over the past, say, five years.

And with the juiced ball thing…Look, if it is or isn’t, as a pitcher you can’t really complain about it because everybody’s on the same playing field. I’m sure there are arguments for and arguments against it. But it’s just something that I’m not going to cry about. If it’s going on, the hitters on my team are able to take advantage of it as well. So if you’re gonna complain about the juiced ball as a pitcher, [you have to know] it can help you win a ballgame as well.

                 

B/R: Speaking of big changes, Ben Zobrist is the latest to advocate for an automated strike zone. Rob Manfred isn't so sure. What do you think about so-called "Robot Umps?"

Scherzer: I think there’d be some unintended consequences of having an automated strike zone. I think we all like in concept and theory that every ball that's within the strike zone called a strike and not a ball. There’d be some different pitches that would be called strikes, though. I think you’d see the higher, elevated strike called more than what the guys behind the plate call. And the curveball at the knees, I think they’ve also shown that pitch would get called a lot more frequently than it’s ever been called.

Look, the umpires behind the plate? They're human. They’re doing the best they can to try to call balls and strikes. I understand that there’s a lot of calls that kinda are 50-50. They can go either way. And as a starting pitcher, you try to manage, "Alright, if you didn’t get that call, maybe you’ll get it again here a few innings later."

I think with hitters, because they’re only getting five or seven calls a game, they’re living and dying by all those calls, and it just leaves them to be more frustrated. And I understand that. That’s part of the game. When you’re playing this game and a call doesn’t go your way in a big spot, everybody’s frustrated. I get the sentiment. I understand why there is a push for an automated strike zone. However, I do think there would be some unintended consequences of having it that I think need to be addressed first before we would go down that road.

Alex Brandon/Associated Press

B/R: It’s becoming harder and harder to downplay what the Los Angeles Dodgers are doing. Watching them from afar, even as an adversary, what do you make of them?

Scherzer: I mean, they’re a great baseball team. Obviously, you don’t win that many games if you don’t have talent across your roster playing well in all three phases of the game. Offensively. Starting pitching. Relief pitching. That’s why they’ve gone out and had the best record so far.

But I think they’ll also be the first to tell you that none of those wins matter because everybody’s trying to do the same thing and win a World Series title. As good a team as they are—and obviously as a player in the same league as them, I have respect for them—they also know that there’s only really 11 wins that matter.

            

B/R: Given what they’re doing, give me your sales pitch for why everyone should believe the Nationals are the team to beat for the World Series this year?

Scherzer: I don’t have to. I don’t have to say anything. Our play does it. How we go out there and compete, I think we can compete with anybody in the National League, and I think the National League realizes that. That’s why this is a great game. You don’t have to say anything. You can just go out there on the field and your play talks for itself.

                

B/R: You’re 33 years old. You’ve pitched a lot of innings. You throw really hard. You have unorthodox mechanics. Conventional wisdom says you should have broken down like so many other pitchers. What's your secret to longevity?

Scherzer: I just work hard year-round. Offseason and in-season. Lifting weights. Making sure I go out and run and take care of my cardio. It’s just having a plan for what you want to do each month of the offseason, as well as the other four days of the five-day cycle for us. Make sure you plan on what you want to accomplish in the weight room. That’s been kinda my secret. You use everything off the field to help make you better on the field.

               

B/R: You’re going with “Blue Eye” for your Players Weekend nickname. It’s an interesting choice given that you have two different colored eyes. Why that one?

Scherzer: Oh, the blue eye. That’s the sexy eye. That’s the good-looking eye. I have fun with that in the clubhouse with all the guys. Having two different colored eyes, obviously, there’s a lot more jokes that go the other way.

For the fans, the name on the back of your jersey is something to have fun with and show what kind of creativity you have. So I figured that would be a fun experience to share that with the fans.

                

B/R: I’m a little surprised you didn’t go with “Mad Max.” Your demeanor on the mound almost gets as much attention as your pitching itself. Where does that come from?

Scherzer: I don’t know. I’m just out there competing, trying to give it my all and trying to make sure I execute every pitch so that I can go out there and pitch as deep as I can into ballgames. Because when a starting pitcher does that, it’s twofold. You help your team win and you help save innings from the bullpen as well. I take a great deal of pride in pitching deep into ballgames.

Scherzer spoke to B/R on behalf of his involvement with RETHINK Water. In Scherzer's own words, they want to "revolutionize the water bottle" while also offering "high-quality water." For the month of September, RETHINK will donate a $100 to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for every strike out Scherzer throws. Their website can be found here.

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