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MaxScherzerUpsideDownOne of the biggest oddities of the early-season Detroit Tigers has been the inconsistent results of starting pitcher Max Scherzer. He’s allowed 22 runs in only 31.1 inning of work, and has struggled to pitch deep into games (Max has pitched into the sixth inning in only three of six starts). But even though he’s labored in many of his outings, Scherzer currently finds himself leading the league in strikeouts per nine innings (at 10.3).

So, if he seemingly still has good stuff (and I don’t think he could rack up the strikeouts if he didn’t), then why hasn’t he been able to keep his ERA even below 6.00? I think it’s clear that Scherzer hasn’t pitched very well in several of his starts, I don’t want to absolve him of all the ‘blame’, but I think he’s also been more than a bit unlucky to start the year.

Max’s 6.32 is horrible, but his FIP and xFIP (two ERA estimators that look only at strikeouts, walks, and home runs) are 3.85 and 3.84 respectively. And we see that even though Max had a seven walk outing in New York, his 3.7 BB/9 rate, although higher than we’d like it to be, isn’t completely out of line with his 3.1 BB/9 career average. And neither the walk rate, nor his 1.15 HR/9 rate is enough to explain the 2.47 run difference between his actual ERA and his FIP numbers.

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Because of the huge difference between Scherzer’s ERA and FIP, we would expect to find an over inflated batting average on balls in play. And, indeed, Max has been saddled with a .407 BABIP. But I don’t think it’s correct to assume that every pitcher should automatically have a .290-.300 BABIP (although you would be correct with this more often than not). Max has allowed line drives at an elevated rate (21.5% of the batted balls this year), so we would naturally expect to see a higher BABIP for him than normal. I used an xBABIP (expected batting average on balls in play) calculator that uses batted ball types as inputs, and came up with a .342 number for Scherzer this year. That’s still quite high, but it more than splits the difference from his observed BABIP.

This difference in actual and expected BABIP is manifested in the metric tERA (true ERA) which uses linear weights by batted ball type to predict ERA. Scherzer’s tERA for this season so far is 4.34, which is still high, but much more reasonable than his actual 6.32 ERA.

The internet sort of sounded the alarm after Max’s shaky outing in the Bronx and, although it quieted a bit after his dominant outing against the White Sox, there still remains some doubt as to whether or not he can be a reliable pitcher down the stretch and into the playoffs. But, while some pessimism is certainly understandable given his history with mechanical inconsistencies, I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t expect him to get back on track.

Scherzer definitely has some things to work on – he needs to keep the walks in check, he can’t let home runs become an issue like last season, and he needs to see his line drive rate drop – but even if he can’t solve all of these issues immediately (or even this season), he’ll probably still end up as an above average starting pitcher in September.

Matt Snyder is the editor of The Tigers Den. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew.