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Max Scherzer’s 2021 Solidifies His Legacy as the Best of His Generation

Written by Jameus Mooney

When a 30-year-old Max Scherzer signed a seven year pact with the Washington Nationals, many didn’t know what to expect. After all, Scherzer wasn’t an All-Star for the first time until he was 28. It was a breakout age-28 season where Scherzer emerged as an ace. In 32 starts with the Tigers, Scherzer won 21 games while posting a league leading .97 WHIP. His ERA was 2.90 and he struck out 240 batters to only 54 walks in 214 innings of work. Max Scherzer won his first Cy Young award, beating out Yu Darvish of the Rangers and Hisashi Iwakuma of the Mariners. The deal in the offseason of 2014 was for $210M ($230M in 2021 value) with a fifty million signing bonus to be paid out over a fourteen year span. This is the largest deferral in MLB history. In terms of average annual value, it’s the fifth biggest contract in MLB history for a pitcher, behind Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Zack Greinke and David Price.

Max Scherzer was always a solid major league arm. In his MLB debut, his deadly changeup, blazing fastball, devastating slider, plus cutter and solid curveball showed the world why he blazed through the minors as he posted 4 and a third perfect innings in relief of Diamondbacks starter Edgar Gonzalez. He was only one K short of Barry Jones’ 1986 record of most Ks in a Major League debut in a relief appearance.

Yet Scherzer struggled in Arizona, posting a 4.12 ERA in his first season as an MLB starter. He was traded that offseason in the deal that brought Ian Kennedy to Arizona. From there, he learned under Justin Verlander, who won the AL MVP just a season after, and found his control for the first time in the show. Over his first three seasons in Detroit, he pitched to a 3.89 ERA in 96 starts, but built a reputation as an inning eating and a strike thrower (589 Ks to 186 walks in 578 innings). In the that third season, Scherzer had an 11.1 K-per-nine rate, best in baseball. It was the final two seasons in Detroit where Scherzer emerged as the ace everybody had anticipated four years earlier. In 2013 and 2014, Scherzer was elected to both All-Star games (his first two of eight consecutive appearances), won the American League Cy Young award in 2013, won 39 decisions and posted a 3.02 ERA (2.79 FIP) with a 133 ERA+ and 492 Ks.

Over the course of the contract with the Nationals, Scherzer had one of the best six and a half season spans in MLB history. Scherzer won two Cy Young awards with three other top five finishes. Scherzer threw two no-hitters, two immaculate innings and struck out an MLB 20 in a single ballgame. He tied an MLB record with five consecutive seasons of 250 Ks or more, only to have the streak snapped by the COVID-19 pandemic shortened 2020 season. He led the Nationals to their first World Championship in 2019. In both of his no-hitters, he was one baserunner from a perfect game. The first, a game against the Pirates, saw 26 retired consecutively before Jose Tabata leaned into a pitch to take a controversial hit by pitch. In the second game, the only baserunner reached via a Yunel Escobar error.

Scherzer also established himself as a bulldog on the mound. In 189 games for the Nationals, Scherzer pitched 1229 innings total, striking out 1610 with a 152 ERA+ (100 is league average) and 2.80 ERA. In June of 2019, the Nationals had a game against the Phillies that they won 2-0. Max Scherzer pitched seven shutout innings (117 total pitches) with a broken nose. In the 2019 World Series, which ended up being the first championship in Nationals history, Max Scherzer started the deciding game just three days after a cortisone shot in his neck.

Max Scherzer’s 2021 season is one for the history books. Following his Labor Day outing against the Cardinals which saw him give up one unearned run, K 13 and walk none, he is down to a 2.28 ERA on the season. The ERA is the best in baseball. Not only that, Mad Max is now at 27 career games with at least 10K and 0BB, second most since the mound moved to the current distance in 1893 (behind Randy Johnson’s 36 total outings). Scherzer is one of only eight pitchers in MLB history with at least 200 strikeouts in nine different seasons. Max Scherzer started the NL All-Star game, becoming one of six pitchers in MLB history to start six All-Star games.

At this years trade deadline, Max Scherzer’s name was one of the biggest on the market. After a deal fell through with the San Diego Padres, the Dodgers swooped in to acquire Scherzer and teammate Trea Turner. Max Scherzer was back on a west coast club for the first time since his tenure with the Diamondbacks. Much like his debut with Arizona, he dominated the Astros in his first appearance for the west-coast ball team.

Max Scherzer, at age 37, is in the midst of perhaps his finest MLB season yet. With a chance to win his second World Series in three years, Max leads baseball in ERA. His 2.28 ERA is the best of his career with a month left in the season. Scherzer’s 178 ERA+ is also the best in the league and in his career (tied with 2017). His 0.857 WHIP is the lowest of his career and in baseball. He leads the national league with a 5.8 H9 and 12.3 K9. Scherzer, going for his fourth career Cy Young award, has struck out 210 hitters so far in 2021. Only four pitchers have ever won the Cy Young award at least four times, three are in the Hall of Fame. Former Blue Jay ace Roger Clemens, the who holds the record at seven, has not been enshrined due to his connection to performance enhancing drugs. Max is one of eight pitchers to record 200 or more Ks in a season nine times during his career. Scherzer is the only pitcher of those eight that will see an MLB field in 2021. Scherzer is now at 27 career games with 10 Ks and no BB, tied for second most all-time only behind Randy Johnson’s 36.

With his stellar 2021 campaign, Max Scherzer’s totals are now 2994 strikeouts, 674 walks and 2511.1 innings pitched. He is strikeouts shy of 3000, a club that features only eighteen pitchers currently. The club features fourteen Hall of Famers, a who’s who of baseball including Ferguson Jenkins, Tom Seaver and Bert Blyleven. The only four members of the club without a plaque in the wall of Cooperstown are Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, CC Sabathia and Scherzer’s former rotation mate Justin Verlander. Sabathia and Verlander have not yet reached Hall of Fame eligibility. Schilling was just a few votes shy of the Hall of Fame this past election cycle. Of members of the club, only five have joined with fewer than 1000 walks. The fewest walks allowed before joining the club currently sits with Schilling, at 711. He will most likely join the club this Saturday, as he faces Manny Machado and the San Diego Padres in Chavez Ravine at 9 PM EST.

Max Scherzer, in the final year of what could be considered the greatest contract in MLB history, has solidified himself as not only a Hall of Fame ace, but the best of this generation. He’s reaching milestones faster than any other pitcher in history, while being more efficient than any other hitter in history. He is going for his fourth Cy Young award, has a championship pedigree and is one of the fiercest competitors on the field. Max Scherzer is the defining baseball player of this era and it’s a marvel to have been able to watch his career unfold.

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Jameus Mooney