For veteran right-hander Max Scherzer , dominant seasons with a sub-3.00 ERA have become second nature. It got to the point where if he didn’t have an excellent year, it was more surprising than when we did something fantastic. His 3.74 earned run average (ERA) in 2020 was the first time since 2014 (3.15) that his ERA was above 3.00. Wow. It was also the first time since the 2016 season that his HR/9 was over 1.00. Some bad luck in the HR/FB department (14.3%) did him in, but an elevated walk rate (7.8%) also didn’t do him any favors. After what was a down year for Scherzer — which is considered a good year for many — what do we make of the star righty in 2021?

His strikeout rate was down, but for Scherzer’s standards. It was 31.2 percent last year, which put him in the 84th percentile. Ha! Imagine a “down” year being a strikeout rate in only the 84th percentile. Must be nice! Like many pitchers as they get older, Scherzer isn’t using his four-seam fastball as much as he used to. However, unlike pitchers who use their four-seamer less, it isn’t because his fastball is losing zip.

Overall, his four-seamer continues to generate a healthy amount of whiffs. However, overall, his swinging strike rate took a hit. When you take a look at each of his pitches, the majority of them enjoyed at least a sizable uptick in whiff rate. However, his changeup took a sizable downturn. In fact, his changeup was walloped in 2020, to the tune of a .328 batting average and .466 slugging percentage. Yikes.

Surprisingly, Scherzer found the heart of many a bat in 2020. His 8.4 percent barrel rate was easily his highest mark in recent memory, and his sweet spot percentage topped 36 percent for the first time in the past six years. His mark in 2020 was 41.9 percent. Yikes. Of qualified pitchers, only Josh Lindblom (45.0%) found the sweet spot -- or unsweet spot for a pitcher, I guess -- more than Scherzer. Wow. There were four pitchers in 2020 to post a SwSp% at 40 percent or higher, and they were Lindblom, Scherzer, Ryan Yarbrough (41.5%) and Alex Young (41.3%). That is company with which Scherzer doesn’t typically accompany himself.

Expanding on this further, look at his line drives rates in 2020. Holy blue line!

Overall, his line drive rate compared to 2019 jumped nearly eight percentage points, easily making it a career high. Take a look, courtesy of Baseball Savant, of his batted ball profile in recent years.

























I would expect numbers to normalize in 2021 for Scherzer, making that 2020 line drive rate an outlier. Go back to the graph above for his line drive rate. Other than that yellow line for his slider, and perhaps even the orange line for his sinker, very few of those pitches have a trend line that was steadily rising prior to 2020. They were more or less uncharacteristic increases. Again, things should normalize for the star righty.

Through his first four spring starts, he’s posted a 20:3 K/BB ratio across 13.2 innings of work with a 3.95 ERA. So, the strikeouts are there, as if you wanted any reassurance heading into your draft.

A down year where he was a hit around a little bit still isn’t enough to push Scherzer out of the top 10 starters! Per NFBC data, he’s the ninth starter off the board, coming in at pick 27, right in between Philadelphia’s Aaron Nola and Cincinnati’s Luis Castillo . The 36-year-old right-hander isn’t getting any younger, but in a year where innings will matter, he’s as steady as they come. Washington should put up enough runs for Scherzer and he remains one of the game’s more prolific strikeout guys. I have no problem making him my fantasy team’s ace, and he should bounce back quite nicely in 2021.

He can be drafted with confidence in 2021, and I would take him before Nola, despite the Philadelphia right-hander going off the board roughly three to five picks earlier.


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