Max Scherzer often talks about the cat-and-mouse game between pitchers and hitters, how a 162-game baseball season is all about making adjustments and trying to stay ahead of the curve. The Nationals right-hander - who is set to pitch Opening Day against the Braves - has consistently evolved throughout his career to remain elite in his profession.
Scherzer debuted in 2008 and in the nine years since he became a big leaguer, loads of new information has become available from the increased understanding of Pitch F/X to StatCast. The right-hander likes to use whatever data he can get his hands on.
"It's kind of hand-in-hand as you keep getting more and more information. Why not use it? If there are situations where you feel like it can make you a better pitcher, knowing different things about a hitter, of how they hit the ball in the past, it can help," he said.
"Where we've really seen the biggest increase is how we position everybody. Now we know exactly how they're hitting the ball and when the ball is in the air, we know everything. Based upon those types of spray charts, you're able to put guys in positions that you will have confidence that you know they're going to hit the ball most often in these spots."
Scherzer considers most stats useful, but there is not one that he believes tells the entire story.
"I think you look at everything... Just don't say anything is the gospel," he explained. "I take everything with a grain of salt. Even if you talk about the sabermetric numbers, you take those with a grain of salt, as well. I don't think there's any number out there that puts everything together. I think we think WAR does that, but I think there are still some things that it's missing."
Scherzer was excellent in his first season with the Nationals after signing a record free agent contract last winter. He posted a career-best 2.79 ERA and 7.1 WAR, threw two no-hitters and finished fifth in Cy Young voting.
Scherzer also made a positive impact on the Nationals in the clubhouse with his outgoing and unique personality. After working with him for less than two months, manager Dusty Baker has already been impressed by his demeanor.
"He’s our energy guy," Baker said. "He’s a heck of a guy and a heck of a competitor."
Scherzer said over the offseason he felt more comfortable heading into Year 2 with the Nationals in terms of being a vocal leader and in joking with teammates. During his preseason press conference ahead of Opening Day he even jabbed Jayson Werth for his age, calling him "grandpa."
Scherzer's status as a veteran on the Nationals has become even more clear with the infusion of young prospects to their roster this spring.
"It feels different in Year 2, because I'm realizing how much older I am than all these other guys. At 31, you feel pretty old in that clubhouse when you've got 23-year-olds in there that barely even know the O.J. trial even happened. That's the stuff I'm dealing with," he joked.
One year wiser, and with more ammunition to poke fun at his teammates, now comes the encore for Scherzer. Can he top his first season in Washington? It all begins Monday in Atlanta.