On Thursday night, Max Scherzer recorded his first complete-game shutout in his 179th start by scattering only three hits across nine innings while striking out eight batters. It was surprising that it took this long to achieve this feat given Scherzer’s career year in 2013 when he carried a 2.90 ERA and 240 strikeouts en route to a Cy Young award. However, the stunning fact of Scherzer’s 2014 season is how he’s confounding batters and replicating his previous numbers despite relying on a different pitch in his arsenal.
In 2013, Scherzer’s bread-and-butter was his fastball and slider – two pitches with late bites in opposite directions. He depended on them for over 70 percent of his pitches, and for good reason: they combined for an incredible 39.5 Runs Above Average. However, so far in 2014, his fastball has only accumulated 1.2 Runs Above Average, while his slider is actually hurting him with a -1.4 tally.
How is Scherzer replicating his 2013 campaign if his signature pitches are performing poorly? By featuring a much improved change-up. Here’s a prime example as he struck out Adam Dunn to end the 6th inning:
Prior to 2014, Max Scherzer only had one season accumulating a positive Runs Above Average for his change-up (1.9 in 2013), despite throwing it 19.3 percent of the time during his career. In 2014, however, he’s already accumulated 3.2 Runs Above Average, making it far and away his most effective pitch of the season.
With Scherzer’s increased command of his change-up, Scherzer has adapted to accommodate the dip in both his slider and fastball, maintaining his momentum from 2013. They say pitching is all about making adjustments, and Scherzer is one of the best.
Nick Pollack writes for Pitcher GIFs and can found making an excessive amount of GIFs on Twitter @PitcherGifs.