The Key To A Great Rotation In 2012


The Tigers head into 2012 with what is considered the best rotation in the A.L. Central, and among the best in the American League. That is in large part due to the dominant Justin Verlander, the vastly underrated and under appreciated Doug Fister (even by me), and at least the perception, and somewhat small reality, that the 23 year old Rick Porcello is improving. And while we have spent numerous words on these virtual pages discussing the Tigers 5th starter spot, it is likely that the impact that pitcher provides is going to be minimal at best, whoever wins that contest.

That leaves one guy. The somewhat forgotten and enigmatic Max Scherzer.

I know the tendency for Tigers fans is going to be to point to Rick Porcello as the key to the rotation. I just disagree. I think Rick Porcello is a fine 4th starter in a rotation, but I think that is the extent of what he is going to be. Max Scherzer has much more potential. He has top of the rotation stuff, but his inconsistency has so far been his own personal plague.

Since coming to Detroit before the 2010 season, we have seen the best of Max Scherzer and we have seen the worst. Early in 2010, Tigers fans had to wonder what the heck Dave Dombrowski traded for? There was no velocity, and he wasn’t throwing strikes. His May was so bad, he was sent packing to packing to Toledo to figure out a way to fix things. Fix them he did. Scherzer did his own analysis of his delivery, and when he got back from Toledo in 2010, he was great. In fact, he was spectacular.

Scherzer finished 2010 like a filthy animal. A good kind of filthy animal that feeds on the hitters of the American League. In the second half of 2010 Scherzer posted an ERA of 2.47, flashing the top of rotation potential the Diamondbacks thought he had when he was drafted in the first round out of Missouri. Needless to say, Max’s finish to the 2010 season gave the Tigers organization and Tigers fans alike, hope for a tremendous 2011.

That just didn’t happen.

Scherzer struggled much of 2011, with consistency as much as anything and never really got into a groove. He certainly didn’t put together an extended stretch of greatness like he did in 2010. His best month was July when he posted an ERA of 3.64, but still finished the season with 15 wins, thanks to some quality run support. 15 wins is good for a 3rd starter, but Scherzer is capable of pitching better.

It’s hard to explain the drop off from 2010 to 2011 in his peripheral numbers. Scherzer did strike out fewer batters, but his K rate was above 8/9 which is plenty good. His walk rate actually saw a big decrease from 3.2 to 2.6. Where Scherzer did have increases is in his HR rate and his BABIP which was a reasonable .314 last year. His GB% was the exact same, His xFIP was virtually the same from 2010 to 2011. His velocity and pitch mixes were essentially the same as well. His fastball averaged 93.1 mph both years. He did throw a few more sliders in 2011, and a few less fastballs, but nothing substantially different.

Given that a lot of things were pretty much the same from one year to the next, it goes to stand that Scherzer is somewhere between his 2010 totals and his 2011 totals. Probably in the vicinity of an ERA of 3.75 to 3.80. If Scherzer can match that, or even do a little better, he is likely to post 16-18 wins with the offense that Detroit should have. That is a clear advantage that many rotations arent going to have in the A.L. Central, and for most of the American League.

Word is that Scherzer is working on a 2 seam fastball. I am okay with that, though I don’t know how much more effective that will make him, if at all. If he can throw it and generate a few more ground balls, and keep a few more in the park, that would obviously be a good thing. I don’t want it to take away from his aggressiveness though. When Max attacks hitters, he is good. I don’t have the statistics to back that up, but I know from watching him for two years, when he is reaching back with two strikes and chucking it 96, it’s a good thing.

Max Scherzer exceeding expectations, or projections, is the key to making an already good rotation great. It would give the Tigers three dominant starters. Yeah, I know Fister isn’t dominant in a strikeout sense, but I’m convinced, guy is a real good pitcher.

Like Max Scherzer could be…..