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The Nationals’ Max Scherzer is overtaking Clayton Kershaw as MLB’s best pitcher

Max Scherzer is 8-4 with a 2.26 ERA, striking out batters in 35.1 percent of their plate appearances. (Patrick McDermott/USA Today)
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Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer has a long list of accolades. He’s the sixth pitcher in Major League Baseball history to win the Cy Young Award in both the American and National leagues. The 32-year-old father-to-be required the third fewest innings of any pitcher in history to record his 2,000th career strikeout. And he has two no-hitters plus a 20-strikeout game to his credit.

Now he can add one more superlative to his resume as the most likely to unseat Clayton Kershaw as the best pitcher in the baseball.

Dad Max: Scherzer is due to become a father to a baby girl in November

Scherzer is 8-4 with a 2.26 ERA, striking out batters in 35.1 percent of their plate appearances. If we adjust his ERA to account for league average results on balls in play and league average timing, also known as FIP, it would be 2.88. Kershaw, by comparison, is 9-2 with a 2.23 ERA with a 28.1 percent strikeout rate and 3.20 FIP. Scherzer also has the edge in wins above replacement, 3.1 to 2.5, this season, with a higher projected total by the end of 2017.

Kershaw has allowed fewer walks, but not enough to keep his overall OPS against lower than Scherzer’s.

Name Team W L IP ERA FIP K% BB% OPS Against WAR
Max Scherzer Nationals 8 4 99.2 2.26 2.88 35% 6% 0.547 3.1
Clayton Kershaw Dodgers 9 2 97.0 2.23 3.20 28% 4% 0.600 2.5

Scherzer is also now equal with Kershaw in the percentage of starts that result in three or fewer earned runs over six or more innings, with each boasting a quality start percentage of 86 percent.

That’s helped boost Scherzer’s average game score, a value created by Bill James that evaluates how good a pitcher’s start was, to a league-leading 68.9, three ticks higher than Kershaw (65.3) in 2017.

And, you’d probably want to face Kershaw rather than Scherzer at this point in their careers. Scherzer is getting batters to swing and miss 15.4 percent of the time, whereas Kershaw has seen his swing-strike percentage drop from 15.3 percent in 2016 to 12.6 percent this season. Scherzer also gets the count to 0-2 in more than a third of a batter’s plate appearances (37.2 percent) in 2017, compared to just 28.3 percent for Kershaw. Scherzer has also given up one fewer hit on the sweet spot of the bat, also known as a barrel, than Kershaw this season despite throwing 117 more pitches.

Plus, according to Tom Tango’s simple Cy Young Tracker, which projects how the Baseball Writers’ Association of America will vote for the Cy Young Award, Scherzer would be expected to edge out Kershaw for the 2017 NL Cy Young Award once the final votes are announced. If realized, that would give Scherzer three for his career. Six of the eight eligible pitchers with three Cy Youngs are in the Hall of Fame. A seventh, Kershaw, is sure to make it in while the eighth, Roger Clemens, is still waiting.

It’s also worth noting that Scherzer’s 90.7 projected Tango points are more than Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox (89.8), currently considered the best pitcher in the AL.

Scherzer has been the ace the Nationals hoped he would be when they signed him to a seven-year, $210 million contract in June 2015. The fact he is now the best pitcher in baseball is just icing on the cake.