Does Max Scherzer’s innings total really equate to less arm mileage?
LOS ANGELES, December 17, 2014 — Max Scherzer is the big dog on the free agent market right now. Scherzer’s agent, Scott Boras, is trying hard to get his client Clayton Kershaw’s annual salary, but with more years attached.
Over seven seasons in the big leagues, Scherzer has 1,321 strikeouts in just 1,239.1 innings pitched to go with a 1.219 WHIP. He is a two time all-star and won the Cy Young Award in 2013. There is no doubt that the guy is loaded with talent, but one thing he is missing is the ability to pitch deep into games.
Boras pointed out Wednesday morning on AM 980 The Beast in Los Angeles that Max Scherzer is unique in that he is 29 years old and has relatively low mileage on his arm for a pitcher of his age. Boras even went so far as to compare Scherzer’s innings total to that of Los Angeles Dodger Clayton Kershaw, saying that Scherzer has less innings than the Dodger lefty. He also said it is rare for a 29-year-old starter to hit the free agent market with such a low innings total. Boras is trying to spin this as a positive for his client.
Kershaw, 26, was drafted ahead of Scherzer by the Dodgers in the 2006 draft. Kershaw came out of high school and Scherzer came out of college. Both players have been in the majors for seven years. Kershaw has thrown 139 innings more than Scherzer. Boras is correct on that point, but that does not really tell the whole story.
Scherzer is a pure strikeout pitcher. That’s what he does best, but it comes at a cost. Not once in his MLB career has Scherzer averaged seven innings or more. In his Cy Young year, Scherzer averaged 6.69 innings per start and never threw a complete game. In fact, Scherzer has only thrown one complete game in his entire career, which occurred last season on June 12 against the Chicago White Sox. Kershaw averaged over seven innings per game in three of his last five seasons.
Torii Hunter called Scherzer, “Blackjack,” after he got 21 wins in 2013, and others call him, “Mad Max,” but perhaps a more fitting nickname should be, “Six-Inning Scherzer.”
While Boras would like teams to focus on Scherzer’s innings total when measuring the mileage on his arm, teams should not do that. Managers do not look at innings numbers in a game to see when they should pull the pitcher. Today’s baseball relies heavily on pitch counts, with 100 being the magic number. Scherzer almost always eclipses the 100 pitch limit, averaging just under 109 pitches per start.
To keep with Boras’ comparison to Kershaw, Scherzer has thrown 21,652 pitches in his career. Kershaw has thrown only slightly more pitches with 21,891. To connect the dots, Kershaw is using a similar number of pitches as Scherzer, but is doing so more effectively and pitching deeper into games. Kershaw has 17 career complete games to Scherzer’s one.
With Kershaw on the mound, there is a good chance that you will not need your bullpen very much, if at all. With Scherzer, you can guarantee that you will be going to your bullpen. If you are going to pay a guy Kershaw money, one would think that you would want to know that he is going to at least get through the seventh inning on most nights.
The mileage comparison that Boras is trying to spin is nothing more than a red herring. It is unclear if this is the story Boras is trying to sell GMs or if this is just part of his publicity spin tour for the general public. It is hard to imagine a Major League GM buying that innings story, but as Communities Digital News baseball analyst Steve Adler noted, “It only takes one.”
Kevin J. Wells is the Sports Editor for Communities Digital News. He also writes about Major League Baseball, punk rock music and food. Kevin also writes for New Noise Magazine and plays guitar in the Los Angeles punk band Emmer Effer. Follow him on Twitter @WellsOnBaseball