WASHINGTON -- It’s becoming almost an annual tradition for Max Scherzer, appearing on MLB Network each November a few weeks after the end of the season and waiting to hear the results of the National League Cy Young Award.
Each year since signing with Washington in 2015, Scherzer has earned NL Cy Young votes, finishing fifth in 2015 and then as a finalist every season after, winning the award in ‘16 and ‘17 and finishing behind winner Jacob deGrom of the Mets in the two most recent seasons.
Scherzer is already a three-time Cy Young Award winner in his career. If not for the back injury that robbed Scherzer of about six weeks this summer and lingered throughout the second half, perhaps he could have won this award again.
In the first half, Scherzer made 19 starts with a 2.30 ERA, 181 strikeouts with just 23 walks in 129 1/3 innings. His six-start stretch during the month of June, Scherzer put up numbers (6-0, 1.00 ERA, 68 strikeouts) matched by only Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson. It was a future Hall of Famer, somehow even better than ever, during a season where he turned 35 years old. A fourth Cy Young award seemed well within reach.
But Scherzer’s back started feeling stiff in the beginning of July. He sat out the All-Star Game hoping it would pass, but eventually two separate injuries -- an inflamed bursa sac and a strained rhomboid muscle -- required two trips to the injured list.
Scherzer made nine starts following his first trip to the IL, but was not himself by the time he returned to the mound down the stretch, even acknowledging that he wasn’t exerting himself fully after some outings. In his final eight starts of the year, he struck out 62 and walked 10, good underlying numbers but inflated by nine home runs allowed (matching his first half total in 86 fewer innings), which led to a 4.81 ERA.
Strasburg’s Cy Young case rested on his performance picking up the slack when Scherzer was down. In 33 starts, Strasburg led the NL with 209 innings pitched, with a 3.32 ERA and 251 strikeouts (second in the NL) and 56 walks. His 5.7 WAR was third among NL pitchers.
But at his peak this summer, there was no more intimidating, unhittable and dominant pitcher in the league than Scherzer, who after another dominant season already has a strong case to be called the best free agent pitcher signing in MLB history.
When Scherzer was at his best this season, he was better than ever and injuries robbed his 2019 season of realizing it’s full potential. Yet, still he finished as the runner-up for the Cy Young Award. Imagine if he put together a full season again.