It doesn't require a ton of research to realize that Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer is one of a kind. In addition to being a superstar at his craft, he has an in-game presence that sets him apart. He snarls at hitters (and managers) and stalks the infield like a velociraptor, or at least Steven Spielberg's version of them.
There is also, of course, his two different colored eyes, a trait that occurs in less than 0.1 percent of people. Even his name itself, 'Max Scherzer,' stands out.
There is another reason why Scherzer is a rare breed. He is by most accounts a lock to be in the Hall of Fame when his career ends, yet he is still in his prime. Scherzer, though he would likely head to Cooperstown if he retired tomorrow, is still at his peak powers.
Look around sports and that combination is difficult to find. There are many athletes in the four major U.S. leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL) who are going to be in the Hall of Fame someday, but are no longer in their prime. In D.C. alone you could count Adrian Peterson and Dwight Howard in that category. In baseball, Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera fit the bill.
There are also many athletes who have done enough to merit a Hall of Fame discussion but aren't yet considered locks. Sticking in Washington, you could put Nicklas Backstrom, Braden Holtby and Trent Williams on the list. Stephen Strasburg and John Wall aren't far behind.
Scherzer, though, has already made essentially an indisputable case for himself. He is one of only 10 pitchers with at least three Cy Young awards, the others being Roger Clemens (7), Randy Johnson (5), Greg Maddux (4), Steve Carlton (4), Clayton Kershaw (3), Sandy Koufax (3), Tom Seaver (3), Jim Palmer (3) and Pedro Martinez (3). All are in Cooperstown except for Kershaw, who is still active, and Clemens, who is held back by suspicions of steroid use.
Scherzer is one of only 35 pitchers to have thrown at least two no-hitters and he's one of only five to record 20 strikeouts in a single game. He is one of 13 pitchers to have at least 2,500 strikeouts and a career ERA of 3.20 or below. His strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio is fourth-best all-time and his strikeouts-to-walk rate is seventh-best.
Scherzer is on pace for his eighth straight season of 200 or more strikeouts. That would tie him for seventh-most all-time. The six who have done it more are Nolan Ryan, Johnson, Clemens, Seaver, Martinez and Bob Gibson.
Though Scherzer, like all pitchers of his generation, is unlikely to have a historic win total, he has been a winner by today's standards. Only five active pitchers have more than Scherzer's 164 victories. He has led the league in wins four times and his .652 career win percentage is 25th in MLB history.
Scherzer is already a baseball legend. His jersey is likely going to be retired by the Nationals someday and his name will be in the same sentence as the greatest pitchers of all-time.
All of that, yet he is still pitching as well as he ever has. This season, Scherzer has a 2.83 ERA, better than he had in two of his Cy Young seasons.
He leads the league in strikeouts, FIP (fielding independent pitching) and SO/9. He is probably going to be an All-Star, again and again, finish somewhere in the top-five of NL Cy Young voting. He could even win the award for the fourth time.
There just aren't too many like Scherzer, no matter the sport. In baseball, you can probably count the players who are both Hall of Fame locks and still in their prime on one hand. The list would look something like Scherzer, Kershaw, Justin Verlander, Mike Trout and Jose Altuve. Though the Altuve inclusion may surprise some, based on Baseball Reference's projections - which uses an equation from Bill James - he's a safe bet for Cooperstown.
In the NBA, the list would likely include LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. In football, you're talking Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Donald, Phillip Rivers, J.J. Watt and Ben Roethlisberger. And in hockey, the group probably includes Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Erik Karlsson and Patrick Kane.
Add it all up and it's roughly 25 athletes. That's it.
Consider the fact that Washington, D.C. has two of them in Scherzer and Ovechkin. Many cities have zero such players. For as great as Boston's teams are, they may only have one in Brady. They have many other stars like Chris Sale, Mookie Betts and Brad Marchand, but those guys aren't guarantees for the Hall of Fame quite yet.
D.C. is fortunate, but so are other sports towns. Pittsburgh arguably has three Hall of Famers at their peak in Roethlisberger, Crosby and Malkin. At least for now, the Bay Area can make the same claim with Curry, Durant and Karlsson.
And how about L.A. and Houston? Houston arguably has four in Harden, Verlander, Altuve and Watt. Los Angeles might have five in James, Trout, Kershaw, Donald and Rivers.
Most U.S. cities with major sports teams have zero that would qualify. Hall of Fame careers are built slowly over time and, usually, they aren't solidified to the level Scherzer's is until a player is on the decline. Sometimes it is a late career accomplishment that puts them over the top, or they benefit from longevity itself.
Scherzer, though, is already there and still adding to his file every fifth day. It's not often you can go to a stadium and know you're watching an all-time great in their prime. But with Scherzer, Nationals fans can make that claim.
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