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Max Scherzer has reached a new level of dominance

The right-hander is dominating the starting pitching scene. Here’s how he’s doing it.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Washington Nationals Patrick McDermott-USA TODAY Sports

Max Scherzer’s resume speaks for itself, however, the two-time Cy Young winner is in the midst of a lofty stretch that has catapulted him right onto the inside track to win a third such honor.

Scherzer has struck out 10 or more batters in each of his last five starts, but the superlatives do not stop there. Over those last five contests, Scherzer has dazzled observers with several pitching feats:

  • He has held opponents to a .132/.192/.228 triple-slash.
  • He has put up a 58-7 SO/BB ratio.
  • He has thrown 73 percent of his 540 pitches over those five games for strikes, 20 percent of which were called strikes.
  • His average game score of 79.8 during this time would rank among the highest average of any starting pitcher for any stretch in 2017.
  • He singlehandedly built the transcontinental railroad with the help of his trusty sidekick Babe the blue ox.

Only one of those facts is untrue, but the others shown there are just as Bunyan-esque as any tall tale.

We should not be surprised

The simple fact is that we should not be surprised by what Scherzer is doing.

In Scherzer, we are talking about a pitcher who has consistently performed at the top of his craft. Dating back to the beginning of 2013, Scherzer has pitched to a 2.90 FIP across 999.1 innings, while striking out 10.8 hitters per nine. He has been incredibly durable during that time, pitching 200+ innings each year, likely due to the fact that he has given up just 6.8 hits per nine innings during that span.

So what are we to make of Scherzer’s recent dominance? How has he unlocked a new level?

To start, Scherzer has lowered his line drive rate by 4.1 percentage points to 15.8 from his career rate of 19.9. This is nearly a full five percentage point drop from the current National League rate of 20 percent.

An ability to better freeze a hitter has recently come into play for Scherzer. During this five-game stretch, Scherzer has generated called strikes at a 20 percent clip, a substantial five percentage point improvement over the rest of his 2017 to date.

If we look deeper at those called strikes, we can see a clear trend emerge.

Max Scherzer’s called strike pitch usage by count
Max Scherzer’s called strike pitch usage by count

This view — courtesy of Statcast — shows us Scherzer’s pitch usage on called strikes, on all pitch counts. Despite carrying a four-pitch mix, Scherzer seems to know where his bread is buttered, consistently relying on a four-seam/slider combination.

These pitches are clearly working for him, even if they ultimately land in the strike zone, as the following map tells us:

Max Scherzer’s called strikes by zone map
Max Scherzer’s called strikes by zone map

Again, this map shows us where Scherzer’s called strikes are landing. The bulk of these have come in the heart of the strike zone.

That is awfully impressive work from the right-hander. Not only has Scherzer maintained his usual excellence, he now seems to be pitching at the zenith of confidence. It takes a very able pitcher to be able to challenge hitters in such a way. It takes a very special pitcher to do so and get away with it on a consistent basis.

That is exactly what Max Scherzer has done over his past five starts.

With his track record, there is no reason to think that he will be stopping any time soon.

Jason Rollison is a believer in sliders that fall off the plate and other pitching euphemisms. Follow him on Twitter.