A broken nose couldn’t stop Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer from taking the mound Wednesday night, endearing him to coaches, players and fans. The 34-year-old suffered the injury on a failed bunt attempt in batting practice Tuesday and then went out and tossed seven scoreless innings, striking out 10. His fastball reaching 98.2 mph, his best velocity since July 2016.
To say Scherzer has been a bright spot for the Nationals is an understatement. He has won two Cy Young awards with the franchise and looks like he could pick up another one, his fourth overall, this year. He leads the National League in games started (16), innings pitched (106⅓) and strikeouts (146), plus he is giving Washington a quality start (six or more innings with three or fewer earned runs) 81 percent of the time. Only Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-jin Ryu of the Los Angeles Dodgers have been more dependable this year.
The Nationals pay Scherzer handsomely for that production (he signed a seven-year, $210 million contract in 2015) but the franchise has gotten its money’s worth and then some, an anomaly for big-ticket starting pitchers over the past few years.
At the time of the signing, The Washington Post’s Barry Svrluga outlined the pitfalls of signing a pitcher to a contract in excess of $100 million, and an ESPN poll of 35 baseball executives dubbed the deal the “Worst Free Agent Signing” and “Most Outrageous Contract” of the offseason. Turns out the joke is on those executives because the Scherzer signing has been a bargain for the Nationals.
According to FanGraphs, Scherzer has been worth 29.9 wins above replacement to the Nationals, including his outing Wednesday night. FanGraphs estimates each win above replacement to be worth $8 million on the open market, valuing Scherzer’s production from 2015 to now at $239.40 million, well beyond the $210 million Scherzer signed for, which includes $105 million in deferred payments (without interest). In other words, Scherzer has more than fulfilled his end of the deal with two years left.
Going back to 2013, the first year contract data is available on Spotrac, there have been five other pitchers who signed contracts in excess of $100 million that still have two or fewer years left on their deal. Only one, Cole Hamels, has provided more value than his salary, and he has been moved twice since he re-signed in 2013 with the Phillies. The other four — Masahiro Tanaka, Jordan Zimmermann, Jon Lester and Zack Greinke — are playing catch up.
David Price signed a seven-year, $217 million contract with the Boston Red Sox in 2016, and it isn’t too soon to call that contract a disaster. Price has produced 10 wins above replacement for Boston since then, valuing him at $80.2 million over that span. He is expected to be worth between 1.4 and 1.9 fWAR the rest of the season, adding approximately $14 million to that number, but it still pales in comparison to the $121.1 million the Red Sox already have transferred to Price’s bank account. According to Dan Szymborski’s projections for 2020 and 2021, Price will provide 4.3 more wins above replacement for Boston, bringing his overall value through the life of the contract to $128.6 million, leaving the overall deficit at $88.4 million.
Scherzer, by comparison, is expected to increase his value by almost $61 million in 2020 and 2021 combined.
It should be noted that the Red Sox won the World Series in 2018, with Price earning two of the four Boston victories and posting a 1.98 ERA and 0.95 walks and hits per inning pitched in the process.
“It really is one of the most impressive things I’ve seen in a while,” Nationals second baseman Brian Dozier said about Scherzer. “He’s probably the best pitcher of our generation, and you don’t get that status unless you take the ball every fifth day — no matter if you’re doing good, doing bad, you have a broken nose. You always want the ball.”
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