YGY Free Agent Profile: Max Scherzer


With the interest in Jon Lester being heightened as teams like the Cubs, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Royals, and Braves continue to show interest, it doesn’t appear as if the Yankees are likely to be involved in the Lester sweepstakes. However, there is always a Plan B in terms of the big three pitchers. Lately, the buzz around the New York Yankees has been whether or not the team is involved in former Detroit Tigers’ starting pitcher Max Scherzer.

According to Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York, the Yankees are most likely not going to offer Scherzer a deal. Despite one NL executive saying that the Yankees are “sleeping giants” in the Scherzer sweepstakes, Marchand quotes in his piece from another source:

"“According to a source with knowledge of the Yankee plans, is that the team is avoiding long-term, nine-digit contracts for players 30 and older. Scherzer turned 30 on July 27, 2014.” (h/t: ESPN NY)"

Last offseason, the 30-year-old righty rejected a six-year deal from the Detroit Tigers for $144 million. With Scott Boras as his agent, you have to think he is going to shoot for close to $200 million on the free agent market. However, if the money is right, he is a good fit for the Yankees.

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Last weekend, I talked about in my piece about the Yankees’ need for starting pitching in terms of that they need someone to eat innings if they lose Hiroki Kuroda. Scherzer has thrown 187+ innings in each of his last five seasons with the Tigers. This includes throwing 220.1 innings last season, which was eighth in all of baseball and second on his team behind David Price (248.1 innings with the Tigers and Rays).

In his last two seasons, he won a Cy Young in 2013 and had a combined record of 39-8. His strikeouts per inning have always been 10+ or higher in each of the past three seasons. His 10.29 K/9 IP last season were third in all of baseball behind only Chris Sale and Clayton Kershaw and his 252 K’s were also third in the league behind this year’s Cy Young Award winner, Corey Kluber and Price.

When you look at Scherzer’s pitch arsenal, the concern to signing him to a long-term contract is the velocity decrease that could occur later in the deal. According to Fangraphs, Scherzer’s average velocity has decreased in every season since 2012, going down from 94.2 to 92.8. He has three other pitches: a slider, changeup, and curveball.

In terms of Scherzer’s career numbers, he has the same K/9 IP in the first half and the second half of his seasons (9.6). In the second half of seasons, Scherzer is 38-23 and his ERA of 3.15 is nearly 80 points lower than the first half (3.92). If you go by those numbers, you would think that Scherzer is the kind of pitcher the Yankees would need down the stretch to try to make the postseason. Last season, as the Tigers were competing with the Royals for the AL Central, Scherzer was 7-2 with a 2.87 ERA in the second half of the season, including a 3-0 record in his final five starts.

The key with Scherzer, especially with all those wins, he has racked up is the offensive support that he gets. Detroit had one of the better offenses in the game last year, or at least, better than the Yankees. In games where Scherzer got more than three runs of support, he was 16-2.

He had the third highest run support (5.12) in all of baseball last season, behind Justin Verlander and C.J. Wilson. This stat stayed the same from 2013 when he also was third in the league in this category (5.59). You have to wonder that if Scherzer had to win a game 2-1, could he do it without getting five or six runs a game from this offense, even though fans think the offense can’t get any worse than what it was last year.

In terms of these big three pitchers, one of the things you want to look at is their record against AL East teams. While Lester and James Shields have more familiarity within the division. Scherzer, in his career, is 15-7 against the four AL teams, but four of those losses have come to one team (the Boston Red Sox). At Yankee Stadium, he is 2-2 with a 4.37 ERA in four starts, having not won a game in the Bronx since 2011. This does not include the one loss he had in Game 1 of the ALDS vs. Baltimore, when he gave up five earned runs in 7.1 innings.

Despite that rough postseason outing, the 11th pick in the 2006 MLB Draft has a respectable postseason record. In ten starts (12 total appearances), he is 4-3 with a 3.73 ERA. The postseason game that sticks out the most when you at Scherzer’s resume was the 2013 ALDS against the A’s.

After striking out 11 A’s in Game 1 over seven innings in a win, Scherzer came in out of the bullpen during Game Four. Despite allowing Oakland to tie that game in the seventh, he was stuck in a jam during the eighth. With Detroit up 5-4, Oakland had the bases loaded and no out, but the Tigers’ pitcher got out of the jam with two strikeouts and a lineout to center.

When you look at where the Yankees’ rotation stands now, they need a pitcher that is going to give them a ton of starts. Scherzer has appeared in 30+ games every season since 2009. This includes no fewer than 32 games each of the past four seasons. While the mileage is a concern when giving a pitcher a long-term deal, the innings are what the Yankees need. Scherzer only went five innings or fewer in three of his 34 starts last season.

While I understand the need for the Yankees to bring back some of there players from last season and focus on the bullpen, the bullpen had the 11th most innings in all of baseball last year. Keep in mind, out of the top 15 bullpens in terms of innings pitched, only three of them made the playoffs (Angels, Orioles, and Dodgers). The Yankees have other positions of need, but one of those needs is a pitcher that is practically a guarantee for 30 starts.

There is one more thing to monitor in the Scherzer sweepstakes. I know that this may seem unlikely now, but you never rule out the Yankees when it’s a Scott Boras client. Especially if Lester goes back to Boston, don’t be surprised if you see Scherzer wearing pinstripes and being at the front of the Yankees’ rotation in 2015.