Opening Time: The maddening case of Max Scherzer

It's easy to be seduced by the potential of Max Scherzer. Strong arm, imposing frame, big velocity. First-round pedigree. Zesty strikeout rate. If you've played fantasy baseball over the last five years, you've probably owned Scherzer — or at least coveted him — at least once or twice.

So why isn't he a star by now? Is this another talented arm who's destined to land in the tease file?

Scherzer wrote another chapter in his 2012 Bad Luck Tour on Wednesday night, allowing seven hits and eight runs (five earned) in 4.1 innings against Cleveland. He only struck out two men, his lowest total of the year. A couple of Cleveland batters (surging Michael BrantleyCasey Kotchman) took him deep. Mad Max's ERA swelled to 5.88 on the year, and his WHIP jumped to 1.59. The sad trombone wails on Woodward Avenue.

Do we primarily blame the pitcher or the roto gods for those messy ratios? Outlier ERAs routinely come with outlier bad-luck stats, and Scherzer certainly has a case to be made in his defense. Opponents have compiled a .378 BABIP against him. His strand rate sits at 68 percent, and 18.1 percent of Scherzer's fly balls have cleared the fence. The FIP metric suggests a 4.43 ERA for his component stats, while xFIP spits out a 3.39 number.

Which ERA makes the most sense to you? The current number in the high 5s, the FIP-suggested number in the mid-fours, or the HR-forgiving number that puts him in the star class?

I'm not going to sign up for the xFIP case on Scherzer. For one thing, his career HR/FB rate is 11.7 percent, over the league average. He allowed homers on 12.6 percent of his fly balls last year. For all his swing-and-miss stuff, batters regularly make loud contact on this guy. He's allowed at least one souvenir in eight straight starts. Scherzer is also allowing line drives 22.7 percent of the time, over the league average.

And then there's the pitch-count problem with Scherzer; even when he has his good stuff, it's rare to see him work deep into a game. He's only pitched more than six innings in three of his 12 turns this year and he's yet to polish off a full eight innings against anyone. He has a modest 41 wins over 122 pro appearances (113 starts), and that's largely due to this efficiency problem.

The dazzling strikeout numbers aren't going anywhere, of course. Mad Max has 80 punchouts over 64.1 innings, and he fanned 15 Pirates less than three weeks ago (that Pittsburgh offense is the gift that keeps on giving — it's far and away the best matchup a pitcher can face). A 11.19 K/9 rate is obscene, and he's getting 3.33 whiffs for every walk. Most of the time we see that sort of profile, we're likely to invest no matter what the rest of the stat line says.

Not me, though. I've had it with the inconsistency, I've had it with the gopher problems, and I've had it with the short starts. Scherzer wouldn't be the first fireballer with plus stuff who allows more homers than we're comfortable with — consider the path of guys like Josh Beckett and Ricky Nolasco. I'm tired of judging Scherzer on what he might do or what he might develop into; as we close in on his 28th birthday, I'd like a more stable performer. Stop the ride, I'd like to get off.

What's your sticker price on Scherzer going forward? Do you see him blossoming into a Top 30 pitcher, as the luck numbers normalize and the strikeout rate carries the day? Or is it time to put a Scarlet T on his chest and stop chasing the rainbow? State your case in the comments. And if you happen to find yourself in Wrigley Field's bleachers next Tuesday, when Scherzer stops by for a start, bring your glove (if not a safety helmet). Round objects will soon be heading your way.

I'm probably the last Yahoo! expert to come around on Michael Saunders, and as a result I didn't snag him in any of my leagues. But there's still time for many of you to get in on the fun: the Seattle outfielder is ready for pickup in 87 percent of Y! leagues. He's on a 22-for-51 burst at the moment, with two homers and four steals, and left-handed pitching hasn't bothered his sweet swing one bit (.873 OPS). His home numbers might scare some people off the case, but given Sanders has logged two-thirds of his at-bats this year on the road, I'm willing to write off his Safeco slump as a small-sample fluke. I hope Brandon Funston and Andy Behrens saved me a seat on the bandwagon.

Saunders had three knocks and a steal in Wednesday's victory in Anaheim, a win the Mariners locked up with five scoreless innings of relief work. Stephen Pryor recorded five outs in the middle of it (dancing around two base runners), and Brandon League had a smooth eighth. But how can skipper Eric Wedge deny Tom Wilhemlsen the biggest chair in the bullpen? The 6-foot-6 fireballer is giving opponents the Willies this year, posting 37 strikeouts over 31 innings and trimming his walk rate down to 2.61/9. He's done his best work since the League demotion, racking up 7.2 scoreless innings 93 H, 1 BB, 8 K).

For all the time we spend projecting changes and guessing what teams will do, there's something to be said for momentum. Most managers are unlikely to change the ninth-inning plan until the incumbent takes a misstep, so perhaps Wilhelmsen can keep the handshake gig so long as he keeps performing this smoothly. If I had to guess on Seattle's save leader for the rest of the season, Wilhelmsen gets the check mark.

The Trevor Bauer promotion is inevitable in Arizona (and my guess is that it happens this month), but Wade Miley isn't doing anything to speed up the timetable. The unheralded rattler has reeled off six winds in his last nine turns, including Wednesday's cruise through the Colorado lineup (8 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 5 K). Obviously a 2.53 EA and 1.09 WHIP play in any format.

The secondary numbers throw some cold water on the story, of course. Miley only strikes out 5.45 batters per nine innings (at least he hardly walks anyone), which makes him less enjoyable in leagues with low participation caps, and he's been enjoying good fortune with his BABIP and HR/FB rates (.257 and 4.3, respectively). No one stays that lucky for long. FIP grades him as a 3.19 pitcher to this point, while xFIP suggests a 4.06 number. Miley does deserve some credit for his ground-ball rate, however (49.3 percent); once we graduate Little League, ground balls don't turn into home runs.

Miley faces a heaven-and-hell tour next week, pitching at Arlington (good lord, no) and then back home against the Mariners (that's acceptable, especially with the pitchers hitting). No matter what he does in those assignments, I feel like he'll be in the rotation for a while. Maybe it's going to take an injury to someone before Bauer gets his chance.

With all due respect to Albert Pujols, who appears to be fine, it's funny how the Angels had corner pop on their roster all the while. Kendrys Morales has four homers over his last nine games — he's going to be playing some first base in Coors this weekend, with Pujols shifting to third — and Mark Trumbo has been an offensive overlord and a fantasy godsend in 2012 (.337-26-12-31-4). Heck, Trumbo even qualifies at three positions, first, third and the outfield.

The Big A isn't thought of as a fun place to hit, but Trumbo's turning it into his personal playpen: he's rocking a .404/.424/.702 slash line at home, despite his aggressive approach (four walks, 21 strikeouts). You'll get "sell high" suggestions from some pundits, but to the Trumbo owners, I say you sit back and enjoy the ride. The average is probably going to drop under .300, but the power is well established over 732 at-bats in The Show.

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