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How does Max Scherzer's recent dominance compare to other stretches in MLB history?

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How does Max Scherzer's recent dominance compare to other stretches in MLB history?

This isn’t going to be news to anyone reading it, but still, here goes.

Max Scherzer is really freaking good at pitching.

I know! A real hot take, right? He’s only one of the most accomplished starting pitchers ever, having won three Cy Young Awards (only four pitchers have ever won more). In 2018, he also became only the 17th pitcher ever to strike out 300 batters in a single season. Given the current state of Major League Baseball, with pitchers throwing fewer innings every season, it’s possible he’ll be the last one to do so for a while.

So, back-to-back National League Cy Young awards, followed by a 300-strikeout season is a halfway decent three-year stretch (I know, I just keep going out on limbs here). How does it stack up all-time though?

There have been some pretty incredible three-year peaks for pitchers throughout baseball history. To find guys to compare to Mad Max, however, I wanted to focus on pitchers who threw during at least somewhat similar eras. You won’t find Walter Johnson or Christy Mathewson here.

The cut-off used is 1956, which was the year in which the Cy Young Award was introduced for the first time. It seems fitting, since the first place I went to look was the list of players who have won the award multiple times, and they make up the bulk of the list. In fact, just two of the players listed failed to do so.

So, where does Scherzer’s 2016-18 fall? WAR is the most straightforward, simplest way to compare players who played decades apart from each other, so that’s what this list will use. Bear in mind, however, other factors may shape how you view each pitcher’s historical peak.

NOTE: bWAR refers to Baseball-Reference’s version of the stat. For the purposes of consistency, this article will not use fWAR, which is FanGraphs’ version.

15. Tim Lincecum 2008-10, bWAR: 18.5

Lincecum is included on the strength of his back-to-back Cy Young seasons, an impressive feat by any measure, though his numbers don’t hold up to the other legends on this list. He did lead the NL in strikeouts three straight years, but despite playing half of his games in the pitching-friendly confines of San Francisco, he never led the league in ERA. 

14. Nolan Ryan 1972-74, bWAR: 19.9

It’s kind of hard to believe that Nolan Ryan never won a Cy Young, but as one of the most well-known, dominant pitchers ever, it seemed strange to leave him off the list. This is on opportunity to mention that during this stretch, in an era when strikeouts weren’t nearly as common as they are today, he averaged 360 K’s per season.

13. Steve Carlton 1980-82, bWAR: 21.3

Carlton’s best season came nearly a decade earlier, but his best multi-year peak came in the early ‘80s. His success was built mostly off his durability, however, as he didn’t come close to leading the league in ERA. He did strike out the most batters twice, and came away with two Cy Youngs in a three-year stretch because of it. His 1980 season alone is almost equivalent in WAR to his next two season combined, however.

12. Max Scherzer 2016-18, bWAR: 22.2

Scherzer’s WAR total keeps him lower on this list than Nats fans may have hoped for, but his numbers are mighty impressive nonetheless. Scherzer won back-to-back Cy Youngs and spent most of the third season as one of the clear favorites for another. In an era with Clayton Kershaw dominating headlines as the best pitcher of his generation, Scherzer led the league three straight times in both strikeouts and WHIP, and he did so while winning games for a competitive ballclub. His “high” ERA is the only thing keeping him from jumping up the list.

11. Jim Palmer 1975-77, bWAR: 22.5

Obviously pitcher wins aren’t valued the way they once were, and it’s not the reason Palmer was included, but he did lead the league with 20-plus wins in each of these three seasons. The back-to-back Cy Youngs and incredible durability stand out, but not many other statistics fly off the page in this stretch. 

10. Clayton Kershaw 2013-15, bWAR: 23.2

Despite his postseason problems, Kershaw will almost certainly go down as the best, most accomplished pitcher of the last 15 years, if not even longer. His ‘13-’15 is particularly notable, as he won two Cy Youngs (and easily could have had another, as he, Arrieta and Greinke each had historically great seasons in the same year), kept his ERA below 2.00 twice, and joined the elite club of pitchers to strike out 300-plus batters in a season. 

Injuries are probably the only reason he hasn’t had several peaks even better than this one.

9. Johan Santana 2004-06, bWAR: 23.5

Santana rode his changeup to a short-lived but dominant peak in the mid-2000s. He led the league in strikeouts three straight seasons, ERA twice, and won two Cy Youngs. His totals weren’t quite as gaudy as some others here, but in an era dominated by sluggers, he stands out as a consistently elite pitcher with one of the greatest single pitches in history.

8. Greg Maddux 1994-96, bWAR: 25.4

Maddux is known as the most successful “crafty” pitcher of all time. He never had the stuff of a peak Clemens or Feller, but consistency beat hitters with intelligence and precision.

It’s a little unfair, as fans often overlook his ridiculous stats. Maddux won four straight Cy Youngs, including two in this three-year peak. Despite not striking out a ton of batters, he had an ERA of 1.56 and 1.63 in ‘94 and ‘95, and his ERA+ of 271 and 260 in those years are two of the top-5 single seasons in MLB history. In any era. 

7. Tom Seaver 1971-73, bWAR: 26.0

Seaver’s peak lasted several seasons, but his best was in the early years of the decade. He won just one Cy Young in this stretch, but finished in the top-5 all three years. He also averaged 20 wins, and led the league in ERA, strikeouts, and WHIP twice.

6. Sandy Koufax 1963-65, bWAR: 26.1 

Koufax won three Cy Youngs in the span of four seasons, and we’re including the year in which he also won NL MVP (1963). He struck out 300 batters twice in this stretch, and his highest ERA was 2.04. This is an all-timer of a peak, and it’s the reason he’s in the Hall of Fame. 

5. Gaylord Perry 1972-74, bWAR: 27.2

Perry won the Cy Young in 1972, and while he didn’t come particularly close to winning the award again in the following two seasons, he still accumulated an additional 16.4 WAR in ‘73 and ‘74 combined. His numbers don’t jump off the page otherwise, though he did win 64 games across the three years. His high WAR is a result of his durability and consistency more than a level of dominance in any one statistic.

4. Roger Clemens 1996-98, bWAR: 27.7

It’s easy to make jokes about steroids when it comes to Clemens, but frankly, the numbers he put up are wild. It would have been easy to pick any number of three year stretched, but this one stands out. He won 20-plus games twice, led the league in ERA twice, led the league in strikeouts three straight times, and in 1997 had a WAR of 11.9. Oh, and he also won back-to-back Cy Youngs. 

3. Pedro Martinez 1998-00, bWAR: 28.8

When I sat down to put together this list, I assumed Martinez’s turn of the century peak would be the clear number one. He falls all the way to number three here, but don’t let that take away from his truly ridiculous numbers. His ‘99 season is the stuff of legend, and then he went out and topped himself with 11.7 WAR in 2000. 

Right in the middle of the Steroid Era, Martinez finished top-5 in MVP voting twice. And it wasn’t crazy. That says everything you need to know. 

2. Randy Johnson 2000-02, bWAR: 28.9

It's fitting that Martinez and Johnson are so high on this list, as they both dominated the same era of baseball, and both were inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame in the same class.

Probably the most physically imposing pitcher ever, plenty of hitters have described how truly terrifying it was to face The Big Unit from the batter’s box. That was especially true during this stretch, in which he won three of his four consecutive Cy Young awards. He averaged 21.3 wins and 351 strikeouts per season.

Allow me to repeat for emphasis. 351 strikeouts. On average.

As a reminder, only 17 pitchers have ever hit that mark, and Johnson did four years in a row. In retrospect, it’s no surprise he ended up this high on the list.

1. Bob Gibson 1968-70, bWAR: 30.5

Gibson won two Cy Youngs and an MVP in this three-year stretch, including winning 20+ games in each year, but the real story is his 1968. In that MVP season, Gibson sported an eye-popping 1.12 ERA, which is a modern record. His stunning numbers helped change the game, as Major League Baseball decided to lower the mound after his dominant season. It should be no surprise, then, that he ends up number one with a bullet on this list. 

I have a general philosophy: If you’re so incredibly dominant that the sport has to enact immediate rule changes, then you are a deserving number one on any list.

In the end, while Scherzer only ended up 12th on this list based on WAR, a more subjective view could easily push him up a few spots. Palmer and Perry were both volume-driven, and there are very strong arguments to be made for Scherzer’s peak as stronger than Kershaw’s, Santana’s, and even Seaver’s.

Gibson, Johnson, Martinez, Clemens, Koufax and Maddux are pretty unassailable as owners of the greatest peak three-year stretches in the modern era, but when you combine his award hardware, consistent dominance, propensity to do amazing things (like throw no-hitters and strike out 20 batters in a single game), and historic strikeout totals, Scherzer’s 2016-18 have an argument as anywhere from seventh to 12th-best in the last 70 years of Major League Baseball.

It’s been an incredible run, and probably not one that’s been matched by any other D.C. athlete (not named Ovi) in recent memory. It’s one of the most impressive peaks ever, and fans in the nation’s capital are fortunate to get to watch such a master as work every fifth day.

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Nationals reportedly have no plans to give Bryce Harper a mega-deal comparable to Manny Machado’s

Nationals reportedly have no plans to give Bryce Harper a mega-deal comparable to Manny Machado’s

Bryce Harper is going to sign with a team any minute now, right?

The momentum for him finally inking a deal somewhere is real with Manny Machado agreeing to a 10-year, $300 million deal with the San Diego Padres Tuesday. But when it comes to matching that or beating it for Harper, according to a report from MLB.com, the Nationals have no interest in playing.

Before the end of the 2018 season, the Nats presented Harper and his agent Scott Boras a 10-year, $300 million offer to which they declined. That deal appears to be no longer on the table. From MLB.com:

Sources told MLB.com on Wednesday that the Nationals have no plans to give Harper a mega-deal comparable to Machado’s 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres, likely ending any chance for Washington’s longtime face of the franchise to remain with the club.

This week at Spring Training, the Nationals said they were operating with the team they have now. In the offseason, they made a number of other big moves - including signing marquee pitcher Patrick Corbin - that leave their roster in good shape even if Harper doesn't come back.

According to MLB Network Insider Jon Heyman, Harper is believed to have turned down multiple offers over $300 million in recent weeks with the Phillies, San Francisco Giants and the Nats still in the mix.

But according to USA TODAY Sports' Bob Nightengale, the Padres are out of the Harper sweepstake completely. 

Whether or not Harper gets a long-term deal like Machado's with Philly remains to be seen. Phillies general manager Matt Klentak told MLB.com he doesn't want to spend all the team's money in one place. 

"We have to remember that there will be other free agents after this offseason," he said. "There will be plenty of opportunities in the future to spend money and to make our team better. We cannot allow ourselves to be put in a position where we have to do something at all costs. There’s a significant cost that we’re willing to pay to add, but we have to be willing to walk away at some point.”

If Harper does ink a deal with the Phillies close to the offer Rizzo and the Nats presented him with, don't expect the 26-year-old to receive a warm welcome when the Nats host the Phillies April 2-3.

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Anthony Rendon is ‘all ears’ if the Nationals want to continue talking extension

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Anthony Rendon is ‘all ears’ if the Nationals want to continue talking extension

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Anthony Rendon begrudgingly hopped onto the same black counter in the clubhouse as last year, swallowed hard, then took his medicine.

Being the center of a media pack is among Rendon’s least-favorite activities. He’s groused in passing or directly about talking to reporters. That side of his personality runs counter to the one he shares with teammates -- a jovial sort who called a “travel” Wednesday on Brian Dozier when the new second baseman dragged his foot during a drill. Rendon often works with his hood and guard up. Tedium is exhausting for him. Why did he hit two homers one night? He doesn’t know. If he did, he would just do it every night. What kind of pitch was he looking for? One to hit.

There is no push for outside popularity. And, it’s probably cost him to this point. Rendon has finished fifth, sixth and 11th, respectively, in National League MVP voting in three of his six years in Major League Baseball. Yet, he’s never been an All-Star.

The rare instances when Rendon shakes his reticence to public speaking reveals insight and consideration. He’s entering the final year of his contract with the Nationals well aware his agent, Scott Boras, and the Washington front office are discussing an extension. That, like so much else, is a simplistic idea to Rendon.

“I’m all ears,” Rendon told NBC Sports Washington. “I think it’s like any other job. If you want an extension as a reporter or a media guy or whatever you want to do, I think you are going to open up your ears to talking about a raise or whatever it might be. I’m in the same position. Why wouldn’t I want to be open to hear what another team or what this team has to offer or what they want to say?”

Rendon is part of Scott Boras’ expansive clientele list in the Nationals’ clubhouse. He may also be the first Boras client to wrest some control of the conversation, though Boras’ voluminous speaking style dwarfs Rendon’s few public conversations.

Wednesday, Rendon made a distinct point about the client-agent relationship with the game’s most powerful broker. 

“The thing is, what everyone has the misconception of is they think that we work for Scott,” Rendon said. “Like, no. That's not the way it works. Like, I'm telling him how's it going and you can ask him. We've gotten some jibber-jabbers before too, so like, I'm paying him. Nah, that don't fly with me.”

His viewpoint of tolerance with Boras is another layer of Rendon’s fight against anything superfluous. Rendon decided to exert distinct control over Boras’ activity, something he’s not sure other players have done in the past. He’s heard grumbles about Boras’ ways. He’s also decided maybe those who became irritated with Boras’ service were at fault, too.

“It’s awesome to know that you’re working with someone who has been doing it as long as he has,” Rendon told NBC Sports Washington. “Who’s had the amount of success he has with his players. But, obviously, just like everybody else, there’s been negative talks about him where former players have been upset about him. But I think that’s when players don’t maybe establish that line or maybe give him too much leeway or maybe even the players themselves aren’t communicating enough to their agent about what they really want or are what they are really striving for. I’m upfront with him. I’ve made it clear already what I want as a player and what I want for my family and he’s understanding that. I feel like he’s been tackling that goal ever since I’ve been with him.”

Yes, Rendon remains open to extension talks. Yes, they can go into the season. No, they can not dominate once it starts. Rendon hasn’t set Opening Day as a firm deadline for the conversations to close. However, he also doesn’t want to be bombarded during the year with twists and turns of the negotiation. He’s directly involved. Which doesn’t mean he will worry, but does he mean if the process becomes a distraction, he’ll close it down.

“I hope that the discussions don’t get more in-depth during the season because obviously the season and the games are going to be first priority,” Rendon said.

Outside of baseball, pieces of Rendon’s public armor fall off when the topic is his beloved Houston Rockets or 6-month-old daughter, Emma. She arrived late last season, sending a jolt through Rendon’s life in the midst of a wobbling team season. Quickly, pre-birth advice turned out to be actual truths. Friends informed Rendon he would have to relinquish all selfishness now that he was a parent. He nodded along at first, then lived out the situation immediately after his daughter arrived.

His time and Emma were more available to him in the offseason. Instead of stopping somewhere on the way home, he headed straight back to see her. He’s conscious of the amount of time he spends on his phone while holding her -- shiny objects get her attention -- as well as what he says and does in front of her. He read about childhood retention levels between the first day and 10 years old. The idea sticks in his mind.

“It’s only been six months since she arrived,” Rendon said. “But over the last six months, it’s the crazy thing of them growing a personality or following you around the room. They’re watching you now to see how you carry yourself. 

“It’s our responsibility to take care of them and be the best example of who we want them to be when they grow up.”

Rendon claims baseball could go away tomorrow, and he would just move on. His parents provided a stable but far from luxurious upbringing. Simplistic toilings around his Houston neighborhood are among his favorite memories. No press, no stadiums, no one trying to define him as different. He’s an emphatic Rockets fan. Does his daily work. Goes home to see Emma and his wife when done. Will listen if someone offers a raise. What’s different about that? To him, nothing. 

“If this game is taken away from me at any time, I'd be fine going back to the house and living a happy life,” Rendon said.” If that happens, it happens. I'm going to play as long as I can, but my identity is not in this game. This game doesn't define who I am as a person.”

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