A few numbers on Scherzer’s outing
On April 22, 2010, Justin Verlander used 125 pitches to get through five innings against the Angels, a game in which manager Jim Leyland was determined to get Verlander through the fifth. It ended up earning Verlander his first win of the year, but Verlander said afterwards that it didn’t feel like a victory for him at all.
It ended up being a big turning point for him in the season, though he still needed 121 pitches to last 5 2/3 innings against the Twins five days later. Verlander got on a roll from there, and when he made some changes the next offseason to try to get into midseason form sooner, he set himself up for that historic 2011 season.
What happens from here with Max Scherzer is anyone’s guess, but Sunday’s loss had the feeling like one of those outings that could send Scherzer’s season in one direction or the other.
Verlander didn’t walk a ton of batters in his outing two years ago, just four in fact. He suffered from pitches fouled back and from rearing back and firing fastballs all out early in the game. Scherzer, while not wild with his pitches, was still off.
“I was struggling all day with command of the fastball,” he said. “I was just flying open with my front side, and the ball felt like a cue ball today. I just wasn’t able to consistently pound the zone. That’s something I usually pretty good about, working ahead. So today, that was frustrating.”
In other words, he was struggling to feel the seams on the ball. He tried to make up for it, he said, with his offspeed pitches.
The numbers on pitch counts seem to go back reliably about 20 years. No Tigers pitcher in that time threw as many pitches as Scherzer’s 119 Sunday without getting through the fifth. The closest comparisons:
- C.J. Nitkowski threw 117 pitches over 4 1/3 innings (six walks) against the Angels on July 23, 1996. Ten days earlier, he threw 114 pitches over 4 2/3 innings (seven walks) against the Red Sox. He made a few more starts with mixed results, then went to the bullpen for September before the Tigers traded him to Houston that offseason.
- Edwin Jackson threw 115 pitches over exactly four innings on July 31, 2009 in Cleveland. He didn’t even come out for the fifth inning, even though he only walked one batter that game. It got overlooked because Detroit had just acquired Jarrod Washburn that morning. It also got lost because that game went 13 innings before Cleveland won it.
Doing it this early in the season, suffice to say, is rare. When Verlander had his outing around the same time as this, it became a big moment for him. We’ll see what it means for Scherzer, because statistically, it’s pretty signficant.
Other notable numbers:
- Other than a pair of Dontrelle Willis outings, the only other Tiger in the last 10 years to walk seven batters without getting out of the fifth inning was Jeremy Bonderman, who walked seven Rangers over 4 2/3 innings on April 24, 2008. He also struck out seven that day while allowing two runs over 4 2/3 innings. He needed one more out to be eligible for the win.
- It’s Scherzer’s highest April pitch count of his career, topping his previous high of 113 last year. He has topped 120 pitches six times, but none earlier than July 22.
- It’s the first time since 1998, and just the sixth time since 1990, that a Tigers pitcher threw 119 pitches or more with just 62 strikes or less. Bryce Florie threw 119 pitches and 61 strikes on Aug. 21, 1998 against the Oakland, but he did it in seven innings of three-run ball with five walks and eight strikeouts. In fact, the only guy who didn’t get through the seventh was Jeff Robinson on June 29, 1990, and he fell an out short.
- No Major League pitcher has thrown that many pitches and that few strikes in a game since then-Phillie Brett Myers on April 24, 2009. He had 119 pitches, 62 strikes that day, same as Scherzer, but had a quality start: 6 innings, 3 runs, 6 walks, 5 strikeouts against Florida.
Nobody knows where Scherzer’s season goes from here, though many Tigers fans hope it goes the way of 2010. If the Tigers are going to be successful this year, they need Scherzer, bottom line. Talk as fans might about sending Scherzer to Toledo to work out his mechanics, there is nobody to replace him. Replacing him with Doug Fister and keeping Duane Below up once Fister returns leaves the bullpen short an arm.
The Tigers could trade for an arm, and the expectation among scouts the last few days is that Detroit will check the market for a starter this summer, even if Drew Smyly keeps going like this. But nobody’s coming through that door anytime soon. They need to get Scherzer going.