Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Mad Max

I was going to write about a few prospects who got the call-up recently but after watching Max Scherzer destroy the Astros, I had to write about him.

For those who are not familiar with his repertoire, Scherzer exhibits a nasty, heavy fastball that sits at 93-96 and touches 98 (Edit: The TV gun was slow and I revised this thanks to new information). His fastball is reminiscent of Kevin Brown in his prime; the ball simply explodes through the zone, forcing weak contact and getting lots of swings and misses. He was working up and down in the zone, getting 94 MPH fastballs at the knees for strikes early and then elevating later in the count (increasing the velocity as well). He also shows an average change-up from 84-88 and a show-me slider.

The major knocks on Scherzer are that really only has one plus pitch (his fastball) along with a strange head-whack he has toward the end of his delivery. The head-whack is a bit overstated, in my opinion. He jerks his head down and toward first base just before he releases the ball. This may put more strain on his shoulder long-term since it's moving his body farther away from the ball's release point but it doesn't seem to effect his control at all. He keeps his head facing toward the plate, unlike someone like Okajima, and can command both sides of the plate.

Edit: I looked through the tape again and found that his command wavered at times but improved near the end of his outing. He got quite a few players to swing at balls, which shows how much movement his fastball has. However, he doesn't need to have pinpoint command. If he can keep his walks down, then I think he'll be fine.

As for his line: 4.1 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 7 K. Not bad, right? This wasn't luck, either. He looked incredibly dominant. When he matched up against Lance Berkman, he got ahead with a fastball, a hard foul ball with a change-up, then blew Berkman away with two more fastballs (first one fouled off, the second one up and away). Berkman looked off-balance and was late on most of the fastballs. Now, Berkman is an outstanding fastball hitter. This wasn't luck. This was dominance.

I'm not sure if Scherzer can sustain this level of performance unless he can refine his offspeed pitches more. His repertoire might be better suited for a relief role as a dominant closer. I do want to see them give him a chance as a starter. He maintained his velocity through the four innings and he showed no control problems in the minors.

The skinny: This kid is the real deal. He could be this year's Joba (for you fantasy guys) and possibly even more. If you get a chance, watch a game and see how his fastball dominates big-league hitters. It might make you giggle (I definitely did) and it will certainly provide more evidence that the Diamondbacks are going to be a quality team for years to come.


Adam said...

I haven't seen this guy pitch, but I agree that if his only plus pitch at this time is his fastball, major league hitters are going to catch on quickly and he won't succeed down the road unless he diversifies.

To me, dominating with velocity "only" touching 91-94 with the fastball and without any other pitches to really throw a batter off, means that there has got to be something in his delivery that is messing with the hitters since they've probably never seen him before.

Plus, Joba is a converted starter, who has at least 4 average to plus pitches. As a set-up man, he only needs his fastball and slider.

sanstodo said...

To be fair, Scherzer's fastball sits 91-94 and touches 96. So he can crank it up if he needs. Also, if you watch him pitch, the fastball is really heavy and explodes through the zone. It gets on hitters much faster than they realize.

His delivery may create the deception because he is very smooth to his equilibrium point and then uncoils violently toward the plate. While this may be an injury risk over time, it does make it seem as if the fastball is at a higher velocity than it really is.

I don't think hitters are going to catch on all that quickly, maybe half a season or so, because his fastball can be that dominant. That said, long-term he should continue working on his changeup and slider in the off-chance that he can become a starter.

Adam said...

I put "only" in quotes since a comfortable 91-94 with movement, location, and some added "sneaky" speed, is more than enough for the Bigs.

Batter still have about half a second before the ball is on them, and even less then that to decide to swing or not. Amazing.

Mooch said...

my understanding of the concern with his head motion at the end of his delivery is that any motion of the head is a huge issue for pitchers. Keeping themselves focused on the catcher's glove and their head level and solid during delivery is key for proper follow-through and control.

It IS true that we as humans get comfortable with repeated actions and as an example, actually do not keep our eyes on the object we are about to pick up the moment we make contact (check that out sometime, by the way, it's cool. Go through the normal motions of picking up a glass and notice how your eyes immediately move away at the last instance before contact.), but I'm not sure pitchers get away with that considering the amount of pinpoint control they need. Maybe he is just so comfortable in his delivery he doesn't need a steady head but I'd not dismiss that worry just yet. If his mental makeup is such that he can't get back to that comfort zone during trouble that head motion is going to be huge.

sanstodo said...

I agree though he had shown no control problems in the minors and had good control last night. It might become an issue but he might simply be an exception like okajima. I'm wouldn't adjust his mechanics yet until they become an issue.