Justin Verlander is easily one of the best pitchers in the game. It’s a good argument to have, after all, Felix Hernandez just got an invitation to join the perfect game club from Kate Upton today. Uh-uh Verlander, you still can’t get in that club despite your two no-hitters. And while the debate for the best pitcher in the game rages on amongst a select few, one thing is for sure, barring injury Justin Verlander is going to have his name all over the top of Tigers historical leader boards.
He isn’t the Tigers starter I am talking about today though. Verlander doesn’t need the press, so I am throwing you one of his curve balls.
The starter I am talking about is Max Scherzer(Of course the picture likely gave this away).
Scherzer, who came over to the Tigers known as a high strikeout, high octane pitcher from the Arizona Diamondbacks almost three years ago is doing something that even Justin Verlander has yet to achieve. But before we get to that, let’s get some basics out of the way. With today’s win against the Twins, Scherzer has gone to 12-6 on the season, lowering his ERA to 4.41, which has been elevated ever since a terrible April in which he posted an ERA of 7.71. In the conversation of who the Tigers should extend beyond their arbitration years, Scherzer is becoming a clear choice ahead of Rick Porcello.
Don’t get me wrong, Max is still maddeningly inconsistent at times, but he has been pretty good the last couple of months. He is on pace to get to 15 wins in consecutive seasons for the Tigers, not too shabby considering that many in the Arizona organization believed that Scherzer would break down at this point. Not only has Scherzer remained healthy (yes, I’m knocking on wood), but he has thrived in the rotation, and the Tigers have never had to broach the subject of making him a reliever.
Why would they? He is leading the world in K/9. Coming into today’s game, Scherzer was leading the American League with 11.3 strikeouts per 9 innings, indicating that his stuff is indeed dominating. Even Justin Verlander trails his teammate in that department. In fact, Verlander has never approached that total in his career. Nope, not in his MVP season. Not ever. The most K/9 that Verlander has ever posted for a season? 2009 with 10.1K/9. That’s certainly not chopped liver either.
Now, I don’t want anyone reading this out there to think I am saying Max Scherzer is better than Justin Verlander. There is a reason that Verlander ends up with the better stats year in and year out. Scherzer is prone to failing to locate his pitches in stretches during a game. Verlander on the other hand not only carries dominant stuff into a game, he is able to locate, and limit his mistakes to batters throughout a game. If Scherzer could do it more consistently, he would be in the conversation as one of the best pitchers in the game himself. The swings and misses prove that.
Let’s put what Scherzer is doing with the strikeouts in a Tigers historical context. After all, the history of the franchise isn’t short of some really good pitchers. The Tigers had one of the best pitchers in the 1980’s in Jack Morris. In the 60’s the duo of Denny McClain and Mickey Lolich was outstanding. There was Hal Newhouser in the 40’s as well. Out of all of them, Max Scherzer is the king of the strikeout. His 11.3 K/9 easily tops the Tigers historical list, with Verlanders 10.1 being the next best. Mickey Lolich tops the all time Tigers list at 308 strikeouts in a season in 1971. Of course it took Lolich 376 innings to do that. To put it into perspective, if Scherzer went 376 innings at his current rate of 11.3, he would finish the season with 472 strikeouts. That would easily top the modern day record of Nolan Ryan with 383 strikeouts. Interestingly enough, Ryan did not top Scherzer’s K/9 that season. In fact, the strikeout king has only topped 11.3 K/9 once in his career, and tied it another time. Randy Johnson routinely dwarfed those K/9 numbers, but he is the only one I found consistently to do it. Pedro Martinez topped that number just a couple of times.
Needless to say, Scherzer has been impressive in racking up strikeouts this season. Modern day baseball won’t allow pitchers to throw the kind of innings that pitchers did 30-40 years ago, but still, if you take Scherzer’s K/9 into not only Tigers historical context, but all of baseball as well, he ranks among the best strikeout pitchers in the game.
At the very least, he is some real good company, and standing at the top of the Tigers historical K/9 mountain.