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Strasburg and Scherzer Similarities

November 7, 2019
The following is an excerpt from a section on Pitcher Repertoires in the 2020 Bill James Handbook, which is on sale now at ACTA Sports and wherever you buy your books.

Let's talk about two pitchers, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals. Their career stats have been circulating this season for being nearly identical. Take a look:

  ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9 H/9 HR/9
Max Scherzer 3.20 1.092 10.6 2.4 7.4 1.0
Stephen Strasburg 3.17 1.086 10.6 2.4 7.4 0.9


It's amazing to see the similarities in their career stats, but [in this section of the book] we can look at the pitches they threw this season to see if there are similarities here too.

Both threw fastballs 48% of the time, with Scherzer edging out Strasburg in velocity by one mile per hour (94.9 to 93.9). It's in their secondary pitches this season that we begin to see a difference. Scherzer's was the slider which he threw 21% of the time (it was his most effective pitch), whereas Strasburg threw that pitch less than one percent of the time.

His secondary pitch was a curveball that he threw 31% of the time with great effectiveness. Scherzer threw a curveball only nine percent of the time. Scherzer and Strasburg align again with their tertiary pitch, the changeup. They threw it 14% and 21% of the time, respectively.

They have both seen a steady decline in their fastball usage. Scherzer threw the heat 72% of the time during his rookie season. Strasburg's usage peaked at 73% in 2011—right after his Tommy John surgery.

Speaking of Tommy John surgery—Scherzer is the only pitcher in the 2019 Nationals starting rotation not to have had it. Along with Strasburg, whose season ended abruptly in 2010, Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez, and sometimes starter Erick Fedde have all had the surgery. Corbin and Fedde both went under the knife in 2014.

Scherzer's career numbers give him a good chance at Hall of Fame enshrinement. We'll see if Strasburg can pitch well enough in his 30s to someday share a common bond with Scherzer there too. 

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COMMENTS (4 Comments, most recent shown first)

Brock Hanke
This is interesting to me. I've been tracking, from time to time, pitcher injuries vs. the percentage of their pitches that were curve balls (an idea which first came to me while watching Sandy Koufax' arm explode over and over again). My working hypothesis is that curve balls are not good for pitching arms, although there are enough pitchers who worked their curves hard well into their 30s that it's obvious that this is not ALWAYS true. But it does make sense, in that context, that Scherzer, who featured his slider and threw few curves, should not have had TJ surgery, while Strasburg, who throws many more curves, has had it. I don't have a copy of the book yet, so I can't check the other guys.​
8:11 PM Nov 14th
After the World Series, I looked up the career stats for Scherzer and Verlander. Their stats--especially their proficiency stats--are also very similar. (Verlander started three years later than Max, so his counting stats are lower.) I'm guessing the Tigers still wish that they had both of them!

The career proficiency stats of Zack Greinke--another 2019 WS pitcher--were not too far off Scherzer and Verlander. All of three of those guys were born within 18 months of each other, too.

I think Verlander is a lock for the HOF, and Zack and Max have great chances, too, especially if Max can get over 200 wins; he's currently at 170 at age 35.

5:20 PM Nov 8th
I largely agree with you, Maris, but keep in mind that Scherzer's first five seasons were anything but Hall-worthy. Not until his 6th season, when he won his first CYA, did he have an ERA under 3 or a K/BB ration over 3.

You never know with the voters. After his age 34 season, he has all of 170 wins (to be sure, with a percentage over .650). There may still be writers who are moved by that.

I think he probably goes in at the first opportunity, but I wouldn't bet the house on it.
11:35 AM Nov 8th
Just a stray comment: I know that this wasn't a central thing for the article, but, I'd say you understated Scherzer's as-of-now career:
"Scherzer's career numbers give him a good chance at Hall of Fame enshrinement."

I'd say he's already a very clear Hall of Famer, someone who (barring some extreme heretofore unknown kind of thing) would make it via the BBWAA by his 2nd or 3rd try at worst, even if his career ended right now.
12:16 AM Nov 8th
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