June 18, 2016

Max Scherzer and Home Runs

by Daniel Conmy

On my trip across the country to Illinois, I discovered something that I wish came into my life sooner. I found podcasts. Yes, podcasts. Podcasts are where two people talk about a certain topic that varies from 30 minutes to multiple hours. My topics of choice are baseball and baseball. Surprise, right? Well if you are a fanatic like I am, then I recommend Effectively Wild with Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller, Statcast Podcast with Mike Petriello, and Fangraphs podcast with Carson Cistulli and a plethora of guests. Now, you might not understand how this piece is about Max Scherzer just yet, and really I don’t know either. All I know is Scherzer has given up plenty of home runs this year. We will look at his career numbers and his season numbers if we can see any discernible change from past years.

First off, Scherzer has given up 17 home runs before play on June 18. He gave up 27 home runs all last year. So is we extrapolate those numbers for a full season, Scherzer would give up 40 (!) home runs. That would place him tied for 13th most in all of Major League Baseball (MLB) history. That is an absurd amount of home runs. 

Scherzer absolutely loves his fastball. I don’t blame him. With an average velocity of 94.2 mph, he is able to challenge plenty of hitters and beat him on that pitch. Although he challenges and wins often, Scherzer is on pace to give up 21 home runs on fastballs, most since 2011. This is definitely a concern, but when looking at heat maps from 2014, where Scherzer only gave up nine home runs, and 2016, there is no noticeable difference between where Scherzer throws his fastball. Arguably, Scherzer was better in 2014 with throwing inside off the plate than he is this year. Maybe that is where Scherzer needs to adjust. If fastballs leak over the middle of the plate, big league hitters are more than capable hitting them over the fence. 

That's not the only place where the Nationals ace has struggled. Scherzer tied his career-high of home runs given up on sliders through 14 starts, tying his total in 2011. There are plenty of reasons for this, one easily could be that Scherzer is not locating his slider. In 2016, Scherzer is throwing many of his sliders over the outside corner to right handed batters. This would be fine, but the majority of his sliders are leaking up in the zone and over the middle of the plate. This is a very similar situation to what we saw on his fastballs. 

Overall, Scherzer is still striking out the opposition at a rate higher than 30 percent, which is definitely elite. There is a slight uptick of home runs per fly ball compared to last year (10.5 percent in 2015 and 16.5 percent in 2016). Also, the Nationals star is walking batters at a 6.7 percent clip compared to a 3.8 percent clip last year. With all those numbers, Scherzer can easily make a small change and continue to be one of the most successful pitchers in the game. He can start this change by facing off against a light hitting Padres team tonight at Petco Park.

There is no real reason to be concerned with Scherzer when looking at his underlying numbers, but it is interesting note that a lack of fastball and slider command has led to a higher walk rate and home run rate. Scherzer will continue to strike out batter after batter, but can he sustain being elite with less control?

No comments:

Post a Comment