Jeff Jones on Scherzer deal: It’s bittersweet
Jeff Jones finally got around to cleaning out his truck from an offseason of hunting and fishing Monday morning when he got a call about Max Scherzer. He ended up taking a ride down memory lane.
He thought back to 2012, when Scherzer was still a young pitcher with great stretches but struggling for consistency.
“We sat down one day and we looked at a lot of film,” Jones recalled. “I had seen in Spring Training that he’d held his hands back a little too far.”
So in the middle of the season, they went to work on resetting his mechanics, keeping Scherzer’s hands in the middle of his delivery.
“What it does,” Jones said, “is allow yourself to stay on target a little bit longer.”
Scherzer had an 8-5 record and a 4.72 ERA at the All-Star break that year. He went 8-2 with a 2.69 ERA from that point on. Add that into his remarkable two-year run, and he’s 47-11 with a 2.97 ERA over the last 2 1/2 seasons, with 425 hits and 602 strikeouts over 525 innings.
In the process, Scherzer vaulted from a talented, mercurial young starter to one of the top starting pitchers in the league. With a seven-year contract from the Nationals, he’ll now be one of the highest-paid players in the game as well.
With that, Jones has now coached two pitchers who have ended up signing seven-year contracts worth $180 million or more, with Scherzer and Justin Verlander. Once Rick Porcello’s situation is resolved in Boston, Jones could have three pupils with well over $400 million in contracts.
No, Jones does not get a cut.
“That would be nice, wouldn’t it,” Jones said with a laugh.
The catch, of course, is that two of those pitchers are elsewhere. Only Verlander is currently a Tiger.
“It’s always bittersweet,” Jones said. “You’re happy for the guy because he got a great contract, but you’re going to miss him.”
It’s something many coaches are used to handling. Like managers and rosters, coaching staffs change all the time. A pitching coach could go from one staff to another, with or without changing teams. Likewise, a team can change coaches for no reason beyond a struggling staff.
Jones, however, had the chance to work with Verlander, Scherzer and Porcello since he became pitching coach in the middle of the 2011 season. He worked with them as Tigers bullpen coach before that. His ability to work with the strong-willed Verlander was one reason he got the job.
With Scherzer, Jones said, it was a process to build that relationship.
“With Max, it took a little while when I get the pitching coach job,” Jones said, “because he had a different language about pitching techniques, so I had to adjust.”
Once he did, they connected. They worked on his delivery in 2012, and they tinkered with the curveball Scherzer was working on as well. The combination helped Scherzer become more consistent and more dangerous against left-handed hitters.
Jones has had to learn other starters over years — Doug Fister in 2011, Anibal Sanchez a year later, then David Price last summer. However, he had that core group. Now, only Verlander remains, and Jones is learning a group that includes recent acquisitions Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene, getting an idea of what other coaches have had to do for years.
He has watched video on the new guys, and plans to talk with them later this week during TigerFest and the winter caravan. Like Scherzer, he’s moving on. Still, he appreciates what they had.
“Geez, he did a great job for us,” Jones said of Scherzer. “You couldn’t ask for more.”