Fulfilling one’s potential doesn’t come easy in any walk of life. For Detroit Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer, though, the simple path to consistency was a considerably longer distance than most anticipated. Once there, his journey to dominance and ultimately the 2013 American League Cy Young award would begin, but that, too, was a long and winding road.
The potential for Scherzer to reach that elite level was always there. In fact, it was crystal clear when the Arizona Diamondbacks drafted him 11th overall in the 2006 amateur draft. At the time, Scherzer was viewed as one of the best pure arms in his class. His fastball was electric, clocking in consistently in the mid 90s, but his secondary pitches were in need of some refinement. Most agreed, though, that once they were refined, the sky was the limit.
It’s that same potential that motivated the Detroit Tigers to acquire Scherzer in a blockbuster trade that also involved players like Curtis Granderson, Austin Jackson and Edwin Jackson on Dec. 9, 2009. But the cold reality of the business of baseball quickly set in once he arrived in Detroit. Despite being a quick mover through the Arizona system, debuting at age 23 after only one full season in the minors, and a building block in the Tigers' future, he was sent back down on May 16, 2010 after posting a 7.26 ERA through his first eight starts.
Consistent success was still a ways off, but if there was a launching point to finding himself as a big league pitcher and finally harnessing his ability, that two-week minor league stint may have been it. After a strong finish to the 2010 season, where he won 12 games and lowered his ERA 3.50, Scherzer became more reliable for manager Jim Leyland with each passing season, and as a result took a step up in the Tigers rotation.
It was a slow and steady build, though anything but smooth. His 2011 (15-9, 4.43) could actually be viewed as a step back, but it wasn't just about the numbers. Scherzer's mechanics were improving and his confidence in his own ability was on the way up. The entire process was undoubtedly aided to some degree by spending day after day observing and interacting with Justin Verlander, and it was apparent following his 2012 season (16-7, 3.74) that he was poised to take a giant leap forward in 2013. And that's exactly what he did, even surpassing Verlander in becoming the Tigers ace.
Scherzer started his remarkable season by winning each of his first 13 decisions. That represented the best start to a season record wise since Roger Clemens started 14-0 in 1986, and was worthy of a selection to start the All-Star game opposite New York Mets ace Matt Harvey.
After suffering his first defeat at the hands of the Texas Rangers on July 13, Scherzer went on to win his next six decisions, improving to 19-1 on Aug. 24. Though he hit a bit of a rough patch before eventually earning wins 20 and 21 in late September, his Cy Young case was already cemented. And not just because of his win totals. Sure, he may not have finished No 1. in any of the underlying stats we often look at to separate candidates, but he found that consistency that allowed him to excel across the board.
Scherzer ended up finishing top 5 in strikeouts, second only to Yu Darvish (240), ERA (282), WHIP (0.97), K/BB (4.28) and WAR (6.7). And most importantly to Detroit, he topped 200 innings for the first time in his career (214.1).
In 2013, Max Scherzer arrived as an All-Star and was simply the best all-around pitcher in the American League during the regular season, and his postseason performance certainly wouldn't have harmed his case. Now the question is, can he sustain it? Will he remain dominant, or was that his peak? Those are questions the Tigers will be weighing heavily during the offseason, too, because trade rumors are swirling and and at 28-years-old Scherzer's value may never get higher.
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