Max Scherzer has joined the immortals.
When Scherzer got the Padres Eric Hosmer swinging in the fifth inning yesterday, he became just the 19th pitcher with 3,000 or more career strikeouts.
And he did it quickly, in just 14 seasons.
Having developed into one of the game’s best strikeout pitchers as he entered his prime in his late 20s, he hasn’t averaged less than 10 Ks per nine innings pitched since 2012, when he was with Detroit.
Since then, he has won three strikeout titles—in 2016, 2017 and 2018—and K-ed 200-plus batters nine times and 250 or more five times—including 300 with Washington in 2018. He has thrice led the league in K/9 IP ratio and is fifth all-time in that category, with a career 10.73 mark. Because he has excellent control, having walked 70 batters in a season just once, the hurler has paced the loop in K/BB ratio four times, as well.
And his control is impeccable. He has never led the league in BB/9 IP, however he has placed in the top ten five times. He is third in the National League this year. He was second in 2015.
To say, then, that Scherzer is merely a strikeout pitcher is an insult to his body of work. He’s an artist, an expert, a workhorse and a winner. And what a winner he is. In this age of low victory totals, he’s led the league in that category four times, with as many as 21 in a season. At the doorstep of 200 with 189 for his career, he is nearing another impressive milestone, one only two active pitchers have reached. He has just 97 losses; that’s a career .661 winning percentage.
And a workhorse? Well, that might be an understatement. He’s led the league in games started, innings pitched and batters faced twice, each. Three times he has paced the loop in complete games and twice in shutouts.
But all those pitches, all those innings don’t affect his performance. They don’t hurt his ability to nibble the corners. To keep men off base. To throw with precision, pitch after pitch.
In 2,519 1/3 innings—the fifth-highest total among active hurlers—he’s surrendered just 2,053 hits, or a mere 7.3 per nine frames. He’s led the league in that category three times. And, since he doesn’t walk anyone, he’s paced the loop in WHIP five times, as well. His 1.082 mark is 15th-best ever. Better than Juan Marichal. Better than Sandy Koufax.
And fans, writers and baseball intelligentsia recognize his dominance. Selected to eight All-Star teams, he has won three Cy Young Awards—in 2013, 2016 and 2017—and finished second and third in voting once each. He finished fifth twice. In MVP balloting, usually dedicated to the very best hitters, he placed tenth three years in a row, from 2016 to 2018.
Between his Cy Young campaigns of 2013 and 2016, there was 2015, a magical year in itself. In addition to striking out 276 batters and posting a 2.79 ERA, he led the league with four complete games and three shutouts.
Two of which were no-hitters. And both nearly perfect.
On June 20, facing the Pirates, Scherzer went 8 2/3 innings without allowing a man on base. To that point, he had 10 strikeouts. Star outfielder Andrew McCutchen had K-ed twice.
Just one out shy of perfection, with the crowd on its feet, Scherzer … plunked pinch hitter Jose Tabata. The next batter, Josh Harrison, flied out. So close. A no-hitter is quite the consolation prize.
Incredibly, he was coming off a one-hit, one-walk 16-strikeout shutout against Milwaukee on June 14 in which he was perfect through the first six innings. In his following start, he was perfect through his first five.
A few months later, in his last start of the season, he made history again in a performance that was greater than his near-perfect game.
Facing Michael Conforto, Yoenis Cespedes, Matt Harvey at the rest of the New York Mets, Scherzer walked not a soul as Mets batsmen went hitless. In fact, he himself didn’t allow any baserunners. The only man to reach was gifted his chance by way of a sixth inning throwing error by third baseman Yunel Escobar.
And he struck out 17 Mets, including, at one point, nine in a row. Shortstop Ruben Tejada and outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis whiffed three times each. Three other men K-ed twice.
He wasn’t able carry the dominance of that game into the postseason; Washington missed it, winning just 83 games on the year.
But the playoffs haven’t been elusive for Scherzer in his 14 seasons—he’s pitched in them seven times. In his first series, with Detroit back in 2011, he tossed 7 1/3 innings, K-ed 7 batters, posted a 1.23 ERA and won a game. In 2012, he made his first World Series appearance. It wasn’t his best performance—in 6 1/3 innings, he allowed 3 earned runs on 7 hits and a walk. He walked away with the no-decision, but the Tigers lost the series.
Skip to nearly a decade later, in 2019, with Washington. Scherzer won a game in the NLDS and NLCS, throwing seven innings of scoreless, one-hit, 11-strikeout ball in the latter.
Propelled to the Fall Classic for the first time in franchise history, Washington had Scherzer take the mound twice against Houston in that nail-biting, seven-game series. Starting Game One, he went five innings, allowed two earned runs and struck out seven Astros for the win. He didn’t pitch in Games Two through Six. But he was called upon to seal the deal in Game Seven.
By Scherzer’s standards, it was a rough outing. Granted, he again surrendered just two earned runs, but he also allowed seven hits and four walks in five innings of work. He left the game with the Nationals trailing, 2-0. The uninspiring Patrick Corbin took over and tossed 3 scoreless innings. Daniel Hudson didn’t allow a run his inning, either. The Nationals offense came alive in the seventh with two home runs. They beat Houston, 6-2 and won the World Series in seven games.
Scherzer got his ring, icing on the cake of what has become a legendary career.
But he wasn’t always a shoo-in for greatness. Though he was the Diamondbacks’ first round pick in 2006—taken in the same round as Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum—his big league career began a little … disappointingly. Despite a 151 ERA+ his first season, 2008, he was 0-4 in 56 innings. The next year, he again posted a losing record of 9-11, with a 4.12 ERA. In 2010, he was solid but not spectacular at 12-11, 3.50 and in 2011, despite winning 15 games, he had a mediocre campaign with a 4.43 ERA and 93 ERA+. By then, he was already 27 years old.
That, however, was the old Scherzer. In 2013, everything clicked and he hasn’t looked back since. In those nine years, he’s gone 137-55 with a 2.80 ERA and 150 ERA+. In 1,714 2/3 innings, he’s struck out 2,174 batters (over 11 per nine innings) and posted a tiny WHIP of 0.982.
That is the Scherzer history will remember. That is the Scherzer who will get into Cooperstown. That is the Scherzer who reached 3,000 strikeouts.
And became immortal.