Detroit Tigers: How Max Scherzer Has Turned into Justin Verlander in 2013

Josh Berenter@JBerenterCorrespondent IJuly 11, 2013

Max Scherzer is the first MLB pitcher to start 13-0 since Roger Clemens in 1986.

You mean Justin Verlander, right?

Let that sink in a little bit. Pitching roles have flipped in Detroit this season.

While Verlander has struggled—for his standards—Max Scherzer has emerged as the Tigers’ best pitcher, going undefeated with a 3.06 ERA.

Verlander has been the catalyst on the mound for the Tigers the past seven seasons and has, quite frankly, been in a league of his own.

Similar to Tiger Woods in his heyday, it was Verlander and then everybody else on the totem pole.

But this season, Verlander has taken a backseat to Scherzer’s brilliance on the bump.

Scherzer has earned a win in six of his last seven starts, holding opponents to just 11 earned runs in 41 innings during that span.

And he’s done it in Verlander-type fashion. He’s overpowering hitters—ranking second in the American League in strikeouts—and most importantly, he’s giving his team wins.

Verlander’s approach to greatness has been old school, overpowering pitching. This season, Scherzer has creatively combined a mix of old school power pitching and a new school sabermetric approach.

“I don’t consider what I’m doing right now as out of the norm,” Scherzer said to Jon Morosi of last week. “I’ve pitched well like this. It’s just that, this year, now you have some counting stats that make it easier for the media to talk about it.

“This is what’s so funny: Everyone keeps asking me about sabermetrics right now. At the end of the day, if you understand it, you get what it’s trying to say. You want to generate swings-and-misses, minimize walks and keep the ball in the ballpark. I mean, isn’t that what pitching is?”

Scherzer has done his best Verlander impression this season with a devastating new curveball that has enhanced his effectiveness against left-handed batters.

Scherzer yields just a .209 average against left-handers this season, compared to his 2012 mark against lefties of .292.

The 28-year-old has stayed humble during his extraordinary first-half run, but he’s also taken time to reflect on just how impressive his season has been.

“When you win, and you put into context how well I’ve been doing that, you do have to take a step back and realize you are having a great season from that perspective,” he said to Morosi after his 12th win. “At the same time, I’m not going to have a great season because I’m 12-0. I’m going to have a great season because of how well I’m doing the other things.”

Scherzer, who’s never been to the Midsummer Classic, would be the American League All-Star starter if the game were played today. He’s one of two MLB starters with at least 50 innings pitched with an unblemished record and is the only pitcher so far this season to amass 13 wins.

But followers of Scherzer last season could have seen this stellar start coming.

He was spectacular for the Tigers last year, particularly during the second half and postseason, even as he dealt with a family heartbreak when his brother, Alex, committed suicide last June. 

Since the start of the 2012 campaign, he’s No. 2 in baseball with 377 strikeouts and sixth with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.23-to-1. With 29 wins, he’s also earned more victories than anyone in the league.

Scherzer is also performing well at the right time in his career. He’ll be a free agent after the 2014 season, and if he performs anything like he has in the last 15 months, he’ll be expecting a huge payday. The Tigers invested $220 million on long-term deals for Verlander and Anibal Sanchez since last season, and Scherzer has been better than both of them this season.

As for the All-Star Game, because AL (and Detroit) manager Jim Leyland wants his starter to go two innings, it’s unlikely he’ll start Scherzer, as he’s scheduled to pitch three days before the game at Citi Field in New York.

Scherzer might not get to debut the All-Star game, but everyone knows who’s been the best pitcher in baseball this season. In the past, it’s been Verlander; but this year, it’s easily Scherzer.



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