Analysis: Is Scherzer Cooperstown bound?

Ace building convincing case despite changing expectations for starting pitchers

January 22nd, 2018

WASHINGTON -- When Max Scherzer won the National League Cy Young Award in November, it marked a significant milestone in his career. Scherzer became a three-time winner of the award, which has historically been a lock for a player's Hall of Fame candidacy.
Scherzer became the 10th pitcher to win at least three Cy Young Awards, a decorated list that includes Roger Clemens (seven), Randy Johnson (five), Steve Carlton (four), Greg Maddux (four), Sandy Koufax, Pedro Martinez, Jim Palmer, Tom Seaver and (all with three). That list reads like a who's who for all-time pitching greats, and all of them are in the Hall of Fame except Kershaw, who is still active, and Clemens, who would be a lock if not for his connections to performance-enhancing drugs.
"When you start talking about winning it three times, I can't even comprehend it at this point in time," Scherzer said after winning the award in November. "It's such an unbelievable feeling and unbelievable moment, you really won't process it until years later."

Scherzer may still be processing his latest accolade, but with the results of the 74th Baseball Writers' Association of America Hall of Fame election set to be revealed Wednesday at 6 p.m. ET live on MLB Network and simulcast live on, this seemed like a good time to examine Scherzer's Hall of Fame candidacy. How close is the Nationals ace to one day having his name enshrined in Cooperstown?
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The short answer: Scherzer is not a lock right now, but he certainly is on the right path.
Evaluating starting pitchers for the Hall of Fame has become somewhat of a more difficult task since starters stopped racking up high win totals in recent decades, even though that stat began carrying less importance. Since 1992, BBWAA voters have elected only 11 starting pitchers to the Hall of Fame, and the most recent inductees were the no-doubters like Maddux, Martinez and Johnson. Some pitchers with strong cases have lingered on the ballot, such as Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling.
Where recording 300 wins used to be a guaranteed ticket to Cooperstown, that number has become nearly out of reach in modern baseball. Scherzer currently has 141 wins, and he'lll likely finish with a little more than 200 wins. That should not hamper his status as an elite pitcher, but it is worth noting that determining the value of a starting pitcher has become harder in recent years, not easier.

Using the JAWS metric to measure a Hall of Fame candidacy -- a number intended to compare a player to others at his position already enshrined -- Scherzer still has some work to do. The average JAWS score for a starting pitcher is 62.1 and Scherzer currently has a 43.7, which is 119th all time among starting pitchers.
Of course, Scherzer still has time to improve on that number. He is 33 years old, he's coming off winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards, so he has shown no signs of slowing down. He had a few nagging injuries during the 2017 season, which landed him on the DL for just the second time in his career, but he still managed to throw 200-plus innings for the fifth consecutive season. The Nationals have been so impressed by the care Scherzer puts into his body and how he maintains his arm health that they believe he will age gracefully and avoid a sharp decline.
Look at Scherzer's closest historical comparisons in terms of WAR over the past four years, and you'll see he's in good company. From his age 30-33 seasons, Scherzer most similarly compares to pitchers like Bob Gibson, Kevin Brown, Roy Halladay, Seaver, Cliff Lee, Palmer, Mussina and Mark Langston. During the next five seasons, the average WAR per season for those eight players went as follows: 5.4, 4.8, 1.8, 2.3 and 1.6. With a normal aging curve and a couple more years of his prime, Scherzer should be in great position to join the elite ranks.

With his excellence in recent years, Scherzer has established himself as one of the most dominant pitchers of this generation. He threw a pair of no-hitters in 2015 and almost routinely flirts with throwing another one. In '16, he became one of three pitchers in MLB history (Clemens, Kerry Wood) to strike out 20 batters in a nine-inning game. His presence on the mound, stomping around and screaming to himself when he gets in a groove, makes him one of the most intimidating pitchers in baseball. Where other pitchers who were merely very good for an extended period of time might get penalized during Hall of Fame discussions, Scherzer's routine dominance should give him a boost in consideration.

One limiting factor: Scherzer got off to a somewhat late start to get his career rolling. He made his first All-Star team and won his first Cy Young Award with Detroit in 2013 at age 28, but he has put together a dominant five-year run to build an already-strong Hall of Fame resume.
No player is currently in the Hall of Fame with a Nationals cap on his plaque, but perhaps if Scherzer continues on his current path, he could be destined to be the first.