Mad Max Joins the Mad Mets

December 2, 2021
 
The Mets have signed Max Scherzer to a three-year contract for $130 million dollars. That averages out to a little more than $43 million per season.
 
Leaving aside the noise generated because a) the word ‘dead arm’ appeared in news stories about Scherzer as recently as October, and b) this is the Mets, what is a reasonable approximation for Scherzer’s production over the next three seasons?
 
To answer the question of how a new signee is likely to perform, I like to do something very simple:
 
-          Find a group of players who are like the player under consideration,
-          See how that group did, and,
-          Extrapolate a loose projection from that information.
 
Let’s do that for Max Scherzer.
 
Max Scherzer was thirty-six years old last season, and he was excellent. A cynic would note that he was a little less excellent for Washington and a little more excellent when he joined the Dodgers (2.76 ERA to 1.98), but gnashing teeth over a sub-3.00 ERA is silly. Scherzer was great last year.
 
He was also good in the weird COVID year of 2020…not great, but good. He was excellent in 2019.
 
Three-year total for Mad Max:
 
Name
W
L
IP
ERA
FIP
fWAR
Max Scherzer
31
15
419
2.86
2.84
13.7
 
That’s elite. He has averaged 12.26 K/9 over that span, while giving up a hair under two walks-per-nine (1.98). He was a legitimate Cy Young contender in 2021 and 2019.
 
What pitchers are comparable to him?
 
I created a spreadsheet on FanGraphs - please, if you’re enjoying this article, consider making a donation to that site, because they’re integral to a lot of the work that people like me do. And if you’re not enjoying this article, please consider doing something else. I understand the internet now has other pages of content to review. Don’t feel stuck with me.
 
Anyway, I created a spreadsheet: pitchers between the ages of 34-36 who threw at least 300 innings. I limited the data set to 1980 and beyond, because I don’t think the effectiveness of Denton True Young or Grover Cleveland Alexander is particularly relevant to Max Scherzer.
 
Max Scherzer was on that list, of course. I wanted to cut the list of other players to ten.
 
-          My first cut was any pitcher who had a Fielding Independent Pitching above 3.37. Zack Greinke had a FIP of 3.37, and then there was a big gap until Jim Bibby at 3.48, so that felt like a good cut off. Zack Greinke seems like someone who merits consideration as a parallel to Max Scherzer, while Jim Bibby felt like a poor parallel. Not meaning to offer Mr. Bibby, who had some terrific years.
 
-          That left me with twenty pitchers. I cut Tom Candiotti because he was a knuckleballer, and thus not relevant to our conversation. I cut John Tudor because Tudor - an absolutely brilliant southpaw - had a fastball that would give a pane of glass a chance. Tudor has fantastic years, but his approach was guile, pace, and pinpoint accuracy.
 
-          I cut Rudy May because he was a starter/RP. I cut Jerry Reuss because he wasn’t that good: his ERA looked sparkly, but his advanced metrics weren’t strong. I cut Jerry Koosman because his win-loss record was 31-48. We only want winners here, Mr. K.
 
-          I cut Roy Halladay because he didn’t play after his Age-36 season, and I think it is appropriate for us to assume that Max Scherzer intends to play.
 
-          Finally, I cut a trio to direct contemporaries to Scherzer: Zack Greinke, Justin Verlander, and Charlie Morton. I cut Greinke and Morton because they’re only a year ahead of Scherzer (and, really, it’s six months for Greinke). I cut Verlander because he has pitched exactly six innings since crossing the Age-36 line. Again, unless the Mets medical team has missed something obvious, I think Scherzer should be expected to pitch more than six innings next year.
 
That left us with ten pitchers. Their numbers, with Old Blue-Brown Eyes tossed into the mix:
 
Name
W
L
IP
ERA
FIP
fWAR
R. Johnson
55
27
764.2
2.79
2.73
26.7
Curt Schilling
53
22
684
3.07
2.73
22.2
R. Clemens
55
23
686.1
2.95
2.97
22.1
Steve Carlton
55
24
745
2.79
2.74
18.4
Greg Maddux
52
26
681.2
2.90
3.25
17.4
Kevin Brown
41
19
597.2
2.77
3.16
17.2
M. Scherzer
31
15
419
2.86
2.84
13.7
D. Martinez
40
29
680
2.85
3.23
11.9
Tommy John
38
19
489.1
3.11
3.02
11.2
Nolan Ryan
41
26
595.2
2.73
2.94
10.8
Don Sutton
36
29
597
2.92
3.17
10.6
 
The first question to ask is: does this seem like a good list?
 
Does Scherzer’s statistical record fit with these other players? And does our perception of Scherzer fit with our perception of these names?
 
Yes, and yes.
 
On the statistical side, Scherzer is a little under on the innings pitched, but that can be chalked up in part to a season lost to COVID, and in part to the broad reduction in innings pitched from starters. His WAR, while not quite reaching the stratospheric heights of peak Randy Johnson, would sit comfortably in the Maddux/Carlton/Brown group. His FIP ranks behind only Johnson, Schilling, and Carlton.
 
Here is Scherzer, compared to the group’s average:
 
Name
W
L
IP
ERA
fWAR
Group Avg.
47
24
652
2.88
16.9
Scherzer
31
15
419
2.86
13.7
 
Pretty close. Adjust for the missed half-season and the reduced workload of pitchers today, Scherzer Age 34-36 is directly in line with the ten pitchers.
 
And he holds his own on reputation. Most of the names on this list are either Hall-of-Fame-level pitchers, or pitchers who had very excellent careers. That’s where Scherzer is: he is universally considered one of the game’s elite pitchers, and someone very likely to have a plaque in Cooperstown.
 
So how did these pitchers do going forward three years? What did their Age-37-39 seasons look like?
 
Name
W
L
IP
ERA
FIP
fWAR
R. Johnson
51
19
623.2
2.74
2.62
20.9
S. Carlton
51
34
808.1
3.24
2.71
19.5
R. Clemens
46
17
604.2
3.83
3.64
13.6
C. Schilling
44
21
524
3.97
3.39
12.8
Nolan Ryan
34
31
593.2
3.43
2.88
11.6
Don Sutton
39
34
682.2
3.61
3.40
11.2
Tommy John
45
29
627.1
3.34
3.57
10.1
Greg Maddux
45
37
656
4.07
4.10
9.5
D. Martinez
42
26
627.2
3.25
3.78
9.3
Kevin Brown
27
19
406.2
3.32
3.45
8.9
 
The table, at first glance, offers two useful conclusions.
 
1.       There is a possibility that Max Scherzer will perform exceptionally during the duration of his Mets contract, and,
 
2.       The ‘floor’ for his likely performance isn’t terrible.
 
Taking the first point…well…first. Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton outline the best case scenario for Max Scherzer. Johnson won two more Cy Young Awards, two strikeout titles, and two ERA titles during his Age-37 through Age-39 seasons. Carlton won one Cy Young Award and two strikeout crowns. Both men had a decline in their last season, but they were extremely effective pitchers.
 
That would be the ideal outcome for the Mets, but the likely outcome isn’t terrible. All of these pitchers except Kevin Brown pitched over 500 innings, and most pitched more than 600 innings. It isn’t likely that Scherzer will hit 600 innings with the way pitchers are used currently, but there is every suggestion that he will remain the durable pitcher he’s been over his career.
 
And most of these pitchers remained effective. Greg Maddux had of the group, but Maddux wasn’t a similar pitcher to Scherzer: whereas late-career Maddux relied significantly on control and soft contact, Scherzer continues to notch a lot of strikeouts.
 
The average of the ten pitchers listed is:
 
Name
W
L
IP
ERA
fWAR
Group Avg.
42
27
615
3.48
12.7
 
That average sits comfortably within the Clemens/Schilling/Ryan group, which is where I’d project Scherzer’s performance in the years ahead.
 
And that is not a terrible outcome. I don’t expect that Max Scherzer to be the best pitcher in baseball over the next three seasons, but a 4.0-WAR pitcher still qualifies as elite. The Mets are unlikely to get surplus value from this contract, but they should get a good-to-great pitcher for the duration.
 
I have been about as cynical as anyone about just about every move the Mets have made over the past decade, but this one (and their deals last week with Starling Marte, Mark Canha, and Eduardo Escobar) feel like it has some coherent logic behind it.
 
It’s an overpay, but it’s not a gamble.
 
 
David Fleming is a writer living in western Virginia. He welcomes comments, questions, and suggestions here and at dfleming1986@yahoo.com.
  
 
 

COMMENTS (8 Comments, most recent shown first)

OBS2.0
Just for fun, I looked the number of starts for National League pitchers Age 37-39 since 2010:

Wainwright: 73
Lowe: 67
Burnett: 60
Morton: 33

Given the max would be 99, that is a bit depressing.


6:03 PM Dec 4th
 
DaveFleming
Verlander still wouldn't give us a useful projection for three years, because he's 39 this year, and we have no idea what he'll do.

That said, there is certainly a very good chance that Scherzer will wind up missing time. Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton missed time during that third year, Schilling missed half-a-year, Kevin Brown missed a year and a bit - you don't have to include Verlander to realize that there is a decent chance Scherzer is going to miss some time.

That said, I'm more impressed that so many of these guys DIDN'T have injuries. Seven of the ten pitcher crossed 600+ innings. To my mind, it suggests that pitchers who demonstrate an ability to stay healthy AND effective in their Age-34-36 seasons are surprisingly good bets to continue doing both in their Age-37-39 seasons.

Diving further: Kevin Brown actually had Tommy John surgery between his Age 36 and Age-37 seasons. I didn't realize that until just now, but that's a big differentiation between him and Scherzer, enough that he probably doesn't belong on this list. It's debatable whether Tommy John should be counted, too, as he has his surgery prior to the seasons we're discussing. Scherzer's never had TJ, and I don't think the other eight pitcher had the surgery, though it's possible I'm missing someone.

But...broadly, that's all OK. This is really a back-of-the-napkin exercise to cut through the noise of a big contract. We'll check back in 2024 and see how it looks.
3:19 PM Dec 3rd
 
Rallymonkey5
I’m OK with cutting Halladay from the sample. He was awful at age 36, and not good at 35. If he wanted to keep pitching he wouldn’t have likely gotten a guaranteed deal, let alone a top AAV deal.

Verlander though was great at 36. If he had been a free agent right then he would have been in line for a huge deal. He was healthy at the end of 2019, not hurt until 2020. He represents the floor here. The idea that Scherzer’s tired arm in the NLCS is a sign of future problems.
1:06 PM Dec 3rd
 
OBS2.0
Good stuff, Dave.

When I heard we (me and Cohen) got Scherzer for Age 37 to 40, I thought "how many seasons have there been since 2010 where a pitcher had more than 20 starts with an ERA of 4.00 or less," Cuz that is the way I roll.

There have been a rather depressing 19, nine of them by three guys, Bartolo, Dickey, and my Kuroda. Then there are Rich Hill and Charlie Morton, who are still active. Then there are nine guys who did it once.

So that makes me worry that Cohen and I will not get our full $120 mil value out of this, and, frankly, I can't take that sort of financial hit.

https://stathead.com/tiny/qYjVB
11:29 AM Dec 3rd
 
rstattler1
I don't think you can discard Halladay and Verlander from the sample, and then conclude that this contract has a high floor. Any pitcher signing has a substantial risk of a disaster. That aside, your evidence is compelling for what Scherzer might accomplish if he remains healthy.
8:45 AM Dec 3rd
 
rstattler1
I don't think you can discard Halladay and Verlander from the sample, and then conclude that this contract has a high floor. Any pitcher signing has a substantial risk of a disaster. That aside, your evidence is compelling for what Scherzer might accomplish if he remains healthy.
8:45 AM Dec 3rd
 
FrankD
Thx for the interesting article. Maybe a bigger question is if Mad Max gives the Mets 4.0 WAR, will that get the Mets to the playoffs with their given roster? Or will the Mets have to lay out more money for other players? What is a playoff season worth for the team as a whole? Perhaps having a good pitcher for every 5th game will put more people on the seats.
10:37 PM Dec 2nd
 
MWeddell
We never feel stuck with you, Dave. Thanks for the article.
1:48 PM Dec 2nd
 
 
©2022 Be Jolly, Inc. All Rights Reserved.|Powered by Sports Info Solutions|Terms & Conditions|Privacy Policy