Max Scherzer: Ready To Take on a Larger Role in 2010?

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Max Scherzer: Ready To Take on a Larger Role in 2010?
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When healthy, the Arizona Diamondbacks have a top-five one-two punch, in Dan Haren and Brandon Webb. After undergoing shoulder surgery at the beginning of this past season though, we cannot be certain that Webb will come back and be the force he once was, at least initially.

The Diamondbacks have a lot of nice pieces, but no team gets anywhere without pitching. Thus, with the question marks surrounding Webb for next season, the D-Backs need someone to step-up and keep the rotation afloat. Max Scherzer has to be that guy.

With a rotation of Haren, Webb and two others spots flux at this point, Scherzer needs to lift his game to another level. If this year is any indication, Scherzer seems to be ready for some increased expectations:

9 Wins
170.1 Innings
4.12 ERA
1.34 WHIP
174 Strikeouts (9.19 K/9)
63 Walks (3.33 BB/9)
.323 BABIP

You look at that win total and you probably are inclined to cross Scherzer off your wish list for next season’s draft. Hopefully, the Rotoprofessor and I have groomed a more intellectual bunch who know more than to look at the basics and make quick assumptions.

Scherzer had nine wins, but his team also finished 22 games under .500. It’s all about looking at it based on some context.

Scherzer was the 11th overall selection in the 2006 draft who made his major league debut in 2008. Prior to last season, he was rated the fourth best prospect in the Diamondback’s organization, in addition to being slotted in as a four-star prospect on Baseball Prospectus.

I’m sure when he was promoted to the big leagues in 2008, fantasy owners were proclaiming him as the next game-changing pitcher. His 2.72 ERA in 53 innings, with just 35 hits against and 79 strikeouts at Triple-A before the promotion had many hoping they had the top waiver claim in their league.

In his debut season, Scherzer flashed some of his brilliance, but he also struggled and the D-Backs kept a close eye on his innings. Thus, the moral of the story, time and time again with pitchers, is to keep those expectations tempered in the first year of action.

2009 saw Scherzer pitch 170.1 innings at the major league level, a near 70-inning jump from the previous year. After a dreadful August, tallying the value of a touchdown for an ERA, Scherzer settled down to finish September with a 3.48 ERA. Especially for youngsters, it’s always nice to finish the year off on a good note.

While the ERA may be a bit inflated for a fantasy owner’s liking, realize it came courtesy of a rather high .323 BABIP. Scherzer had a career 2.80 ERA in the minors, while sporting a BABIP below .300. His FIP in ‘09 was also a solid 3.87. Further, Scherzer had the ninth lowest strand-rate in baseball, 68.7 percent, further revealing some of the bad luck he faced.

We know strikeouts are a huge part of his game, he averaged near 12 per nine innings in the minors, and has one upwards of nine in the big leagues. Consequently, using Zach Greinke and Chris Carpenter, who had strand-rates near 80 percent, as models of comparison bode well for the young righty.

Power pitchers often get off the hook with runners on base because they have the stuff to wiggle out of jams. Scherzer didn’t have that luck this year.

The one detriment to Scherzer as a pitcher right now is his lack of command, which is nitpicking at best. Even with such overpowering stuff, walking over three guys per nine innings will catch up to you. Look at what walking one less batter per inning did for Edwin Jackson this year. It was definitely a reason why his ERA fell nearly a run.

With the stuff that defines a power pitcher, a fastball that sits in the mid-90s, a power slider in the mid-80s, and hard change-up, you wonder why he even messes around with hitters. You’d think he’d just go after them and let his stuff do the talking.

According to BP’s Kevin Goldstein , many see Scherzer’s future potential in the bullpen because of just that fact: he’s got a world-class fastball, but he’s “maximum effort” every pitch and his secondary pitches just haven’t developed to an adequate starter-level yet. He struggles at times because he can’t control his slider and as a result, Goldstein can see Scherzer as a closer at the big league level.

Despite the initial concerns, Scherzer might have quieted some critics this season, as he did hold his own quite well in his first full big league season. The reliever projection is something to monitor.

Next season I see Scherzer rising to the occasion, quieting the skeptics and making up for any sort of fall-off from Webb.

My projections: 184IP, 13 W, 3.95 ERA, 129 WHIP, 193K

What does everyone else think?  How good could Scherzer be in 2010?

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