Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer is one of the best pitchers of this generation. With three Cy Young awards to his name and four consecutive sub-3.00 ERA seasons, “Mad Max” has become one of the most dominant presences on the mound.
His reputation as a workhorse has led to six straight seasons of at least 200 innings and 10 seasons with at least 30 starts. And last year–for the first time in his career–Scherzer surpassed 300 strikeouts in a single season, becoming just the 17th player in MLB history to accomplish the feat.
He has achieved nearly every individual accolade in the book. But with a revitalized Nationals team looking like contenders once again after some savvy offseason additions, the ultra-competitive Scherzer could be in line for another tremendous season.
Here are three goals for Scherzer in 2019:
1. Lead the NL in ERA
For all of his individual excellence, Scherzer has never been an ERA champion. That is somewhat surprising, considering that the 34-year-old has posted consecutive sub-2.60 ERAs.
Unfortunately for Scherzer, he plays in the same league as Jacob deGrom and Clayton Kershaw. While Scherzer’s ability to go deep in games has helped him lead the National League in wins twice in the last three seasons, he has yet to win the ERA crown thanks in part to the aces in New York and Los Angeles.
Kershaw’s 2.73 ERA was actually his worst since 2010, while deGrom posted the seventh-lowest average in modern history while notching 269 strikeouts in the one of the best seasons ever by a pitcher.
This could be Scherzer’s year to make a run at the ERA title. Kershaw is already dealing with shoulder discomfort. And although his peripherals actually line up surprisingly well with his sterling stat line, it is hard to imagine deGrom not regressing in 2019.
2. Top 300 strikeouts again
If Scherzer were to eclipse the 300-K mark once again, he would become just the 10th pitcher in history to record 300 strikeouts in multiple seasons, and just the sixth to do so in consecutive seasons.
There is no reason why he cannot go back-to-back here, having just posted the highest K/9 in his career. Scherzer’s velocity was also higher than it was in 2017, and his 30.2 pitch value with the fastball was the highest of his career, according to FanGraphs.
With the fastball continuing to dominate hitters, Scherzer’s changeup has also become an elite strikeout pitch. Should he discover the same effectiveness with his slider that he had in 2017 (when he posted a 30.3 pitch value), hitters will hardly stand a chance.
But the best reason to suggest that this will happen again is in Scherzer’s consistency and durability. He almost certainly will pitch over 200 innings once again this season, and is a legitimate candidate to throw a complete game every time he takes the bump. Those factors alone raise the likelihood of another 300-K season.
3. Reclaim the NL Cy Young (*then pitch like a Cy Young in the playoffs*)
After back-to-back NL Cy Young victories in 2016 and 2017, Scherzer finished as the runner-up to deGrom last year.
Given his reputation as a gamer and one of the fiercest competitors in baseball, you can bet that Scherzer is fired up to regain his throne as the best pitcher in the league.
Should he come achieve the first two goals and top 20 wins, it would be hard to see him missing out on his fourth Cy Young, which would also make him just the fourth pitcher in MLB history with a least four Cy’s (joining Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux).
The second part of this goal is dependent on the Nationals making the playoffs, but Scherzer actually has a somewhat mediocre track record in the postseason, posting a 3.73 ERA in 82 innings of work and folding on numerous occasions, including a relief appearance in Game 5 of the 2017 NLDS.
Washington could be a dark horse to win the National League pennant this season, but only if Scherzer pitches like a Cy Young winner in October as well.