Right Field

Initial Impressions of the Scherzer Signing

The Nationals have won the Max Scherzer sweepstakes.

The 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner will receive $210 million over seven years for his services.

Scherzer, who will turn 31 in July, was downright studly for the Tigers, posting both excellent traditional (W–L records of 16–7, 21–3, and 18–5) and advanced (K/BB ratios of 3.85, 4.29, and 4.00) statistics over the past three seasons. Just as noteworthy, he’s been injury-free since reaching the bigs in 2008.

Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs opines on why the Nats invested heavily in Scherzer at the expense of the club’s current ace, Jordan Zimmermann, who is entering his walk year:

[Scherzer has] done all this in the American League, and in the AL Central. In 2013, Scherzer’s average opponent had a 96 wRC+. Last year, his average opponent had a 100 wRC+. Two years ago, Jordan Zimmermann’s average opponent had an 89 wRC+. Last year, 91. Zimmermann works as a stand-in for most Nationals pitchers, here. Scherzer’s put up big numbers against higher-quality competition. Zimmermann’s been real good, and Strasburg has also been real good, but their numbers have largely come against relatively inferior competition, so that could be one more reason why the Nationals were willing to commit to Scherzer long-term. With Washington, he could reach another level. Alternatively, he could just have a more gradual decline.

As far as the immediate is concerned, the Nationals have another No. 1. It’s looked, at times, like they might try to subtract from the present to add to the future. This would be the opposite of that, an example of a team loading up to win right away. And there’s another reason why the Nationals would’ve been willing to do this — the team still has never won a playoff series since moving from Montreal. The Nationals were already in position to win the NL East rather comfortably, but this improves both their division odds and their World Series odds, as Scherzer joins a top-heavy roster one could see steamrolling through a few weeks.

In contrast, Fox Sports Just a Bit Outside’s Rob Neyer has a considerably less positive view on the acquisition:

[I]t seems to me if the Nationals are going to get better, it’€™s got less to do with Max Scherzer than who’€™s playing second base this spring. Because however good Scherzer is, he’€™ll be little better than whomever’€™s spot he gets. Which is why any talk of the Nationals suddenly becoming some sort of SUPERTEAM is at least mildly overblown.

Now, we might grant that while the Nationals won’€™t improve much (and probably not at all) in 2015, we might also agree that having Scherzer under contract for the long term is one hell of a start toward having the best team in the National League East for a few more years. But Scherzer instead of Zimmermann? This seems like a scheme cooked up by a certain SUPERAGENT. Since there’€™s little reason to think Scherzer will actually be any better than Zimmermann over the next (say) seven years. Sometimes we covet what we don’€™t have, and take for granted what we do have.

While I agree with Sullivan that, going forward, Scherzer is more likely to perform better than Zimmermann, Neyer is correct that the Nats mustn’t neglect an up-the-middle position on the diamond. The recently acquired Yuniel Escobar, who hasn’t played an inning at shortstop since 2007, looks way more like a stopgap measure than an ideal solution. If Washington general manager Mike Rizzo tries to deal Zimmermann in the coming days, will he look for a return that addresses that need?

Is Scherzer worth $210 million, though? ESPN Insider Dan Szymborski thinks so:

By Baseball Reference’s measure, Scherzer has been worth 12.7 WAR during the past two seasons, behind only Kershaw and Chris Sale, and neither of those two is remotely available on the market. Scherzer’s résumé of being a top pitcher is even a bit longer than that; the Silver Hammer’s 3.74 ERA in 2012 for the Detroit Tigers hid the fact that his strikeout rate that season jumped by nearly 40 percent, punching out 11.1 batters per nine innings after being at 8.0 the year before. That’s the sign of a pitcher who’s about to master the art of making hitters cry.

The ZiPS projection system agrees with this reasoning, predicting Scherzer will fit at the top of the Nats rotation with a 2.64 ERA in 204 1/3 innings, for a 144 ERA+ and 5.9 WAR.

All told, assuming $6 million per WAR in 2015 and 5 percent growth in the number, ZiPS forecasts Scherzer’s value at $210 million for the next seven years. And in characteristic projection system fashion, it’s not even being particularly exuberant in its assumptions. Scherzer has beaten 5.9 WAR each of the past two seasons, and ZiPS expects a mean projection of 200 innings for the first two years of the new deal. There’s a lot of money in baseball right now, and Scherzer is just that good.

More here, here, and here.

Jason Epstein is the president of Southfive Strategies, LLC. He was a public-relations consultant for the Turkish embassy in Washington from 2002 to 2007.

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