Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Scherzer's Big Day

There are plenty of reasons why I watch sports, but one of the biggest reasons I watch sports is to see someone do something unexpected and amazing. I had the pleasure of watching Scherzer’s 16 strikeout master piece on Sunday in person from just behind the Nationals dugout in Milwaukee. It was easily the most impressive pitching performance I’ve ever seen live, but let’s take a look at some numbers from the game to fully appreciate what Scherzer did.

From the vantage point I had on the third base line, it looked like Todd Tichenor might have had a big zone, so I pulled the PITCHf/x data to find out. The red triangles are called strikes and the green triangles are called balls on pitches from Scherzer.

Fully expecting to see some red triangles outside the strikezone, I am a little shocked to see that Scherzer didn’t get any help from the home plate umpire. Although you do see the outside zone to lefties extending a little beyond the plate, that is pretty standard operating procedure from any umpire. Despite recent research that has shown umpires help the pitcher out when they have a no hitter going, Scherzer didn’t get (or need) any handouts.

Pretty much any stat you pull from Sunday’s game is impressive. For example, Scherzer only went to a 3 ball count twice the whole game, and once was on the long at bat that ended with a Scooter Gennett walk. Scherzer only let 3 balls out of the infield. In fact, Scherzer was so effective at limiting the Brewer’s ability to make contact that FanGraphs didn’t register a single hard hit ball and only 33.3% of their contact was even “medium” contact, which means a whopping 66.7% of contact made against was classified as soft. For reference, the league is averaging hard contact 29% of the time this season and only 18.5% soft contact.

It’s easier to limit contact when you get ahead in the count early, and Scherzer did just that, throwing a first pitch strike in 69% of at bats. That allowed Scherzer to work the edges of the strike zone en route to a 22.7% swinging strike rate. That blows the league average 9.7% swinging strike rate out of the water. And I can tell you from firsthand experience, calling them swinging strikes might be generous to the Brewer hitters. They were flailing.

Of Scherzer’s 16 strikeouts, 13 were swinging and 3 were looking. While the strikeout may be fascist, Scherzer was pretty democratic with his put away pitches, racking up six strikeouts with the slider, two with his changeup, three on curveballs and five with the fastball, which topped out at 97 on Sunday.

We can all agree Scherzer was dominant on Sunday, but how dominant was he? He didn’t get his no hitter because of a broken bat blooper that would have been an out if Anthony Rendon was 2 inches taller. Not all no-hitters are created equal, of course. Edwin Jackson’s no-hitter, for example, featured a whopping eight walks. That doesn’t seem as dominant as Scherzer was, but how do we compare? As is often the case, Bill James has us covered. He created the Game Score stat that measures how dominant a pitcher was using several statistics like strikeouts, innings pitched, hits allowed, walks, etc. The maximum possible score is a 114, which would be achieved by pitching all 9 innings and logging 27 strikeouts. The highest score ever recorded in a game was the 105 Kerry Wood logged in his no-walk, 20 strikeout game in 1998. Scherzer’s game on Sunday was just about as good, as he logged a 100 on the Game Score scale. For reference, Chris Heston, the young Giants pitcher who just tossed a no-hitter, only made a 98 on the Game Score scale, good for second best on the season.

So, if you believe in Bill James, Nationals fans were just treated to a pitching performance more dominant than a no-hitter. Wasn’t it fun?

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