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Max Scherzer pitches historic one-hitter

On Sunday night, the Nationals' Max Scherzer pitched a one-hit shut-out of the Milwaukee Brewers, generating 27 swinging strikes with a rare 100 game score.

On Sunday night, Max Scherzer pitched just the 12th ever nine-inning outing with a 100+ game score.
On Sunday night, Max Scherzer pitched just the 12th ever nine-inning outing with a 100+ game score.
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday night, Max Scherzer pitched a game for the ages. Despite losing his bid for a perfect game in the seventh inning to a Carlos Gomez single, the Nationals' ace successfully completed a one-hit shut-out of the Milwaukee Brewers in historic fashion.

In 119 pitches on Sunday, Scherzer racked up 16 strikeouts, one walk, a single bloop-hit, an astounding 27 swings and misses (22.7% of his total pitches), and threw 72.3% of his pitches for strikes. It was the most dominant performance of the year by game score, besting Corey Kluber's 18-strikeout game and Chris Heston's no-hitter, each with a score of 98.

In fact, as Deadspin first noted, the '100+ game score' feat is actually rarer than a perfect game, and may be one of the most rare occurrences in baseball. Max Scherzer now leads the league in FIP (2.03), K-BB% (27.1%), and pitching fWAR (3.5).

Scherzer relied heavily on his four-seamer and slider to get whiffs against right-handed hitters, with a rare change-up thrown in to keep batters on their toes. Against left-handed hitters, his curve was tight and the change-up was used more frequently, as would be expected against an opposite-handed hitter.

Max Scherzer Pitch Location By Batter Handedness, 6/14/2015

He did a particularly good job at avoiding leaving pitches down-and-in to both left and right-handed batters (left and right above, respectively), and he clustered his pitches high in the zone and away. The matchup against the free-swinging Brewers was close to an ideal condition for an event like this to occur.

O-Swing % Z-Swing % O-Contact % Z-Contact % Zone % SwStr %
Rate 34.5% 69.4% 65.0% 86.0% 44.5% 10.8%
MLB Rank 3 T-1 19 26 22 T-5

The Brewers rank poorly by almost every major plate discipline metric. Per FanGraphs, they're among the top three in baseball in both outside swing percentage and zone swing percentage, and in the bottom half in baseball for both respective forms of contact as well. As a result, opposing pitchers challenge them in the zone less frequently than average, and Milwaukee is tied for the league's fifth-highest swinging strikeout percentage.

Naturally, when a team is frequently swinging at pitches while missing that often, they run into trouble facing a pitcher who consistently pounds the zone with as much movement as Scherzer. Compounding Milwaukee's issues further (and perhaps the most impressive part of Scherzer's performance) was the way velocity was maintained into the later innings.

Max Scherzer Velocity, By Inning 6/14/2015

Brooks Baseball reports that Scherzer averaged at least 95.0 MPH with his four-seam fastball every inning beginning in the 4th. He even hit 96.9 MPH in the 8th, and 96.4 MPH in the ninth inning. On top of that, the slider averaged 85.9 MPH and generated 31.7% whiffs on the day, his pitches' largest swing-and-miss contributor.

Max Scherzer identified himself as an ace, by even the most stringent definition of the term, years ago. On Sunday, all of his pitches were thrown with strong control, movement, and velocity; a dangerous combination for any batter. Combine that skill with a particularly favorable matchup, and something historic can, and did, happen.

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Spencer Bingol is a Contributor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @SpencerBingol.