Take a quick glance at his numbers and it's obvious Max Scherzer had a very good year in his first season in Washington. He set a record at the time with his $210 million free agent contract and lived up to the billing through Year 1 with a 2.79 ERA and 276 strikeouts in 228 2/3 innings.
But those numbers, and the fact he finished fifth in NL Cy Young voting, do not do justice for exactly how good he was for most of 2015. Through his first 16 starts - or the halfway point of his season - he held a 1.82 ERA. That was where he stood on July 2 after his fourth consecutive outing of at least eight innings.
After that, however, there was a difference. It began before the All-Star break and continued until the final week of the season. Scherzer started giving up more home runs and had trouble adjusting to solve the problem. His arm angle was throwing off his release point and all of a sudden hitters were sitting on his fastball.
From July 7 through Sept. 23 - a string of 15 starts - Scherzer gave up 20 homers and posted a 4.45 ERA in 93 innings. His strikeouts stayed up and his walks down, but he just couldn't keep the ball inside the park.
Scherzer highlighted the homer issue late in the 2015 season as an area of concern, as he ended up with 27 on the season, the second-most he's surrendered in his career. And, with the offseason halfway over, Scherzer is still trying to correct the problem.
"I’ve really thought long and hard - really in that second half – about why I was able to give up so many home runs," he said. "I don’t want to sit here and tell you those answers because it’s all in theory. I gotta actually go out and do it to see if I’m right or wrong. It’s something I took seriously and really thought about different things I can do differently and how I can pitch differently against the same hitters. Even in October I was thinking about those things."
Scherzer will now have a new pitching coach in Mike Maddux to help with those adjustments. Maddux comes to Washington from Texas where he oversaw the development of guys like Yu Darvish and C.J. Wilson. Scherzer is excited to start working with him.
"I’ve had some teammates who have been with him before in Texas and they’ve come back and said great things about him and how he prepares and the information that he gives to you," Scherzer said. "I’m excited to pick his mind as well. It’s always good to have new faces and new ideas because that’s how you get better."
Maddux is thrilled to work with Scherzer himself. He has admired him from afar throughout his career and loves the way he approaches the game.
"Love [his emotion]. I'd rather see a guy with snot coming out of his nose than I would a guy out there being a tinkerbell," Maddux said. "Sure, stomp your feet, make yourself known, if you hold yourself to a high standard. You can pitch with emotion, but you can't pitch emotionally, so you get mad, yeah you stomp it and it's done versus the guy that holds it in, holds it in, holds it in, and then freaking snaps. It's ok to let it out and I like that because all you're doing is holding yourself to a higher standard. I'm all for it."
Scherzer will have to develop a relationship with Maddux, but he is now entering his second year in the Nationals clubhouse. That could have its benefits, Scherzer says.
"The comfort level changes and that’s about it. I just have now more of a rapport with everybody. I feel more comfortable with everybody. I’m able to joke with everybody a little bit harsher now."