2012 Top 10 Stories: #3 – Max Scherzer Arrives

Three years ago, the Tigers acquired Max Scherzer in a megatrade and the club envisioned him as part of a high-octane one-two punch with Justin Verlander. Scherzer displayed flashes of his potential with the Diamondbacks in 2008 and ’09 and observers in the desert thought that Scherzer would be part of a lethal rotation combo, but with Brandon Webb.

He appeared in 16 games (seven starts) in his rookie season and though he didn’t earn a win, he posted a solid 3.05 ERA and 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings. In ’09, he made 30 starts on his way to a 9-11 record with a 4.12 ERA and fanned 9.2 batters per nine innings.

ScherzerHead.jpgScherzer was an unknown quantity for most Tigers fans when he came to Detroit with Austin Jackson, Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth in the three-team trade with the D-backs and Yankees. But the promise – oh, the promise! – was tantalizing.

And before long it was baffling.

Here’s part of what I wrote on the SweetSpot blog about six weeks into the 2010 season:

After a dazzling debut on April 7 in which he held the Royals to one hit over six innings in a no-decision, Scherzer has been nothing but a question mark in Detroit’s rotation. He hasn’t won in nearly a month, he’s given up 48 hits in 37 innings so far, and in his last two starts alone he allowed 15 earned runs in 9.1 IP.

Scherzer enters his Friday start against the Red Sox with a 1-3 record and a bulky 6.81 ERA. He’s also been a major contributor to the number of innings the Tigers bullpen has pitched in the first six weeks of the season: Scherzer averages barely five innings of work.

After a dominant two-start demotion to Toledo, Scherzer returned to the Tigers for good on May 30 and finished the year at 12-11, 3.50 ERA in 195.2 innings.

He took a step forward in some areas during the 2011 season but still showed a frustrating inconsistency, often dazzling in one start, imploding in the next. In virtually the same number of innings pitched as in ’10 – 195.0 – Scherzer saw his ERA jump almost a full run, but his walks and strikeouts both decreased. And, he surrendered 20 more earned runs and 33 more hits from the year before.

Given how his regular season played out, it came as no surprise that Scherzer sparkled against the Yankees in the ALDS and, equally unsurprising, he collapsed in two ALCS starts against the Rangers.

The 2012 season was a entirely different story and an entirely different Max Scherzer. In his third season with the Tigers her set career highs with 16 wins and 231 strikeouts.

He led the league with 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings, finished second with 231 strikeouts and tied for sixth in wins.

Untouchable for stretches, he struck out nine-or-more batters in 13 of his starts during the season – tops in the majors. These marked the most by a Tigers pitcher since Mickey Lolich posted 15 games with nine-or-more strikeouts in 1971.

In his May 20 start against the Pirates, he struck out 15, all swinging.

Of course, Scherzer’s breakthrough season was all the more remarkable to watch after a devastating personal tragedy. As Jason Beck wrote this week:

Alex Scherzer wasn’t just Max’s little brother, he was his best friend and confidant. It was Alex’s skill with numbers that fostered Max’s fascination with statistics as he blossomed into a Major League pitcher. When Alex died without warning in June, Max contemplated the best way to honor his brother’s memory. In the end, the mound became a haven for the right-hander, and baseball was a way for him to put smiles on people’s faces. It was a new appreciation for life while he found the kind of on-field success that had driven Scherzer for years.

Scherzer led the Majors in strikeouts for most of the summer before a muscular issue in his right shoulder cost him a couple of starts. His postseason performances through that adversity earned Scherzer respect from teammates and opponents alike.

He made three postseason starts, one each in the ALDS, ALCS and World Series, allowing 12 hits and four earned runs in 17.1 innings pitched. Against the Yankees in the pennant-clinching LCS Game 4, carved up Joe Girardi‘s lineup: 5.2 IP, one earned run, two walks, a pair of hits and 10 strikeouts.

In Game 4 of the World Series, Scherzer dealt a quality start against the Giants – 6.1 IP, three runs, seven hits, and eight strikeouts. Given how the Giants offense constructed runs, and how punchless the Tigers’ lineup had become, he really had no chance to earn a win.

But that exemplifies the difference between Max Scherzer in 2102 from the one we watched in 2010 and ’11. In those first seasons in Detroit, he often failed to give his team a chance to win.

If we’re to believe what we saw this past season, those days just might be a thing of the past.

The Top 10 Stories of 2012

Random Thoughts Before Game 5

In no particular order:

  • From the what-if file: Imagine the added dimension a healthy and capable Daniel Schlereth would add to the Tigers bullpen.
  • Kevin Kennedy was asked what he’d do if the Tigers have a four-run lead going into the ninth and Justin Verlander at a 120 pitches. His answer? “I know what Jim will do … ” Kennedy said Leyland will likely go to his bullpen; it’s what he’s done all year. And that’s what makes us all so queasy.

The Tigers and Athletics will battle in the fifth and deciding game of the American League Division Series this evening at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. It marks the eighth time in the club’s post-season history the Tigers have had a series go to the maximum number of games. Detroit has compiled a 3-4 record in the previous seven series. The Tigers won Game Seven of both the 1945 and 1968 World Series and Game Five of the 2011 American League Division Series, while the team suffered the loss in Game Seven of the 1909, 1934 and 1940 World Series and Game Five of the 1972 American League Championship Series. 

  • Everyone I talk to today tells me that I should feel great about Game 5 with Verlander on the mound. But why don’t I? It’s because my gut tells me he gets too amped up for these big starts and gets dinged for early runs – like Coco Crisp‘s leadoff homer in Game 1. So, here’s what the Game Notes say:

Verlander is making the 10th start of his post-season career this evening. In his previous nine starts, he is 4-3 with a 4.96 ERA (49.0IP/27ER) and 59 strikeouts. Verlander is 2-0 with a 3.65 ERA (12.1IP/5ER) and 17 strikeouts in two starts against the Athletics during his post-season career. 

Yeah, but … looking at his career numbers he’s given up 48 hits in those 49 innings. Plus 30 runs and 24 walks. And, before his Game 1 start last Saturday, his career ALDS ERA was over five. I’m not trying to be negative, only trying to express why I’m hesitant to crown him a true big-game pitcher yet. We’ll know better after tonight.

Finally, Happy Birthday, Dmitri YoungJeff Larish and Gregg Olson. Enjoy the game tonight, folks.

The Daily Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

BreadcrumbsWelcome to the weekend.

Leading Off: The Royals or the Tigers’ bullpen, depending on your point of view, did their best to ruin another terrific outing by Rick Porcello – but neither was up to the task. The Tigers came back, after leading 3-0, to win 4-3 in 10 innings. Daniel Schlereth (1-1) earned the win in relief for Detroit, while Jose Valverde notched his 31st save … Porcello went 6 1/3 allowing seven hits and three runs. He was pulled in the seventh and Jim Leyland explained why … With last night’s win the Tigers are 7-3 against the Royals this season and now 27-27 on the road this season.

Around the Central: Michael Young and Rangers spoiled Ubaldo’s debut with the Indians, defeating Cleveland 8-7 in 11 innings, the five-games-under-.500 White Sox beat the 10-games-under-.500 Twins 5-3 at Target Field.

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The Tigers are in first place, 4 games up on the Indians.

Today’s Game: Justin Verlander (15-5, 2.24 ERA) vs. Danny Duffy (3-4, 5.05 ERA) | 7:05 p.m. ET | On the air: FSD/AM 1270 and 97.1 FM

Verlander enters his start this evening versus the Royals leading the American League with 178 strikeouts and a .186 batting average against, while he is second with 15 wins and 6.02 hits per nine innings, third with a 2.24 ERA and fourth with 8.9 strikeouts per nine innings and 1.8 walks per nine innings.

He’s 12-2 with a 2.31 ERA in 18 starts during his career against Kansas City (7-2 with a 1.62 ERA at Kauffman Stadium). He leads active pitchers since the start of the 2006 season with 12 wins, a 2.31 ERA and 110 strikeouts versus the Royals.

With seven more strikeouts, Verlander will match Denny McLain for ninth place all-time in franchise history.

On this date in 1938, the Tigers fired manager Mickey Cochrane.

On Aug. 6, 1947, Skeeter Webb of the Tigers pinch runs for Fred Hutchinson against the Indians and scores. Detroit bats around, and Webb lifts a flyball that scores a run in the nine-run eighth. Stubby Overmire wins, 13-6, in the first game of a doubleheader. Detroit sweeps, winning the nightcap, 7-5 behind Hutchinson.

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More on JV’s Mastery: Buster Olney today writes that Verlander has started to consider adding another pitch to his arsenal: a split-finger fastball.

The suggestion amused Avila. Verlander, after all, already has refined four pitches – his fastball, changeup, slider and curveball. “The way he’s been pitching this year,” Avila said, “he’ll throw almost any pitch in any count.”

That’s no lie. Hitters’ batting average against him in the 2-0 (and beyond) hitter’s counts? .171, that’s third in the bigs behind Cole Hamels (.170) and Ricky Romero (.157).

Against 3-1 and beyond counts he ranks tied for eighth overall (with Matt Cain and Matt Garza) with a .161 average against.

Betemit: The 46-percent Solution? When the Tigers traded for Wilson Betemit last month the hope was that he’d be an upgrade at the plate over his predecessor, Brandon Inge. Sure, he’s hitting .281 in his 12 games in Detroit but in 39 at bats he has 18 strikeouts. Even Inge was better than that (60 strikeouts in 215 at bats, or 27 percent.)

The Odds are Good; the Goods are Odd. As of this writing, Baseball Prospectus has the Tigers’ playoff odds at 80 percent … or to be more specific: 80 percent to win the division, 0 percent to win the Wild Card spot. Sadly for Indians fans, BP has them with the third-best odds (6.9 percent). The White Sox are second with 11.5-percent. Take heart, Twins fans. BP says your club still has a 1.6-percent chance of taking the division.

Draft-pick Signings: The Tigers today announced they’ve agreed to terms with two players selected in the June draft: shortstop Brandon Loy from the University of Texas (fifth round) and righthanded pitcher Chad Smith from the University of Southern California (17th round). The Tigers now have agreed to terms with 30 of the club’s selections from this year’s draft.

Finally, Happy 39th Birthday to outfielder Duane Singleton who appeared in 18 games for the dreadful 1996 Tigers. He hit .161 with 15 strikeouts in 61 plate appearances.

Tigers Shopping for Another Port-sider?

That’s what Jayson Stark says in today’s column:

Clubs that have spoken with the Tigers say they’re starting to look around for a left-handed reliever. Daniel (Son of Mark) Schlereth is their primary left-hander at the moment — “but I don’t think Jim Leyland trusts him yet,” one exec said.

Interesting. This must mean that David Purcey isn’t enough to make Leyland comfy or Brad Thomas isn’t ready to return anytime soon or … ?

Tigers Today: October 4, 2010

Spring Training XSmall.jpgTigers’ Final Record:

81-81, 3rd Place; 13 GB

Yesterday’s Results

Tigers 4 – Orioles 2

Continue reading “Tigers Today: October 4, 2010”

Tigers Today: May 9, 2010

BehindHomePlate.jpg

Tigers’ Record: 16-13, 2nd place; 3 GB Minnesota

Today’s Game

Tigers @ Indians | Progressive Field | 1:05 p.m. ET —
On the air: FSD/AM 1270 & 97.1 FM

Pitching Matchup

Max Scherzer (1-2, 6.47 ERA) vs. Mitch Talbot (3-2, 2.28 ERA)

Yesterday’s Results

Tigers 6 – Indians 4

Tigers History Lesson

Today’s Birthdays

On this Date in Tigers History

  • 1972 — The Tigers acquired utility man Reggie Sanders from the Athletics for LHP Mike Kilkenny.
  • 1930 — The Tigers and Yankees set an American League record with a combined two outfield putouts in Detroit’s 5-4 win. The NL record is one.

  • 1916 — The Tigers and Philadelphia Athletics combine for 30 walks and Detroit wins 16-2. By the third inning, Tigers rookie right hander George Cunningham walked a half-dozen batters and was pulled from the game. Nevertheless he’s credited for the win, leaving with a no-hitter and 9-0 lead.

Tigers Today: March 27, 2010

BehindHomePlate.jpgTigers’ Spring Training Record: 14-9-1

Today’s Game:

Tigers vs. Yankees | 1:05 p.m. ET – Joker Marchant Stadium, Lakeland | On the air: 97.1 FM/1270 AM

Pitching Matchup: Nate Robertson (2-0, 3.68 ERA) vs. A.J. Burnett (0-1, 9.00 ERA)

Also scheduled to pitch: Joel Zumaya, Ryan Perry, Phil Coke, Robbie Weinhardt and Daniel Schlereth

Yesterday’s Results

Braves 5 – Tigers 3

The Braves’ Derek Lowe outdueled Justin Verlander (1-3), who gave up three runs and six hits in 5-2/3 innings. The Opening Day starter also struck out three, walked one and committed a balk. Brandon Inge and Gerald Laird both stroked a pair of hits.

Former Tiger Omar Infante started at shortstop for the Braves going 1 for 3. He’s batting .395 this spring.

Tomorrow’s Game

Tigers @ Yankees | 1:05 p.m. ET – Legends Field, Tampa | On the Air: 97.1 FM/1270 AM

Max Scherzer (1-1, 7.15 ERA) vs. Andy Pettitte (0-0, 4.50 ERA)

Tigers History Lesson

On this Date in Tigers History