Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Whether it be stepping on the foul line one too many times or getting chatty during one of teammate Justin Verlander's potential no-hitters, Tigers starter Max Scherzer must have done something to upset the "baseball gods."
Scherzer has been the unluckiest pitcher in baseball this season, and it's clouding what would be a breakout year for the 27-year-old right-hander.
The Missouri native, a former first-round draft pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks who came over to the Tigers in a three-way trade with the New York Yankees prior to the 2010 season, has watched an inordinate amount of balls put in play find holes against him while also having an extreme percentage of his fly balls reach the seats this season.
Scherzer's .363 BABIP is worst in baseball, and his 11.3 HR/FB rate is 14th worst, according to Baseball-Reference.com. The second number is especially troubling considering Scherzer has a GB/FB ratio of 0.59, tied for ninth lowest in baseball. Due to those unfortunate strokes, Scherzer has posted a 4.84 ERA through 102 1/3 innings, seventh worst in baseball among pitchers with 100 or more innings.
However, the results within Scherzer's direct control -- swing-and-miss percentage, contact percentage and ball-in-play percentage -- reveal that the right-hander has been one of the more dominant starters in baseball. Once his luck begins to turn (and in baseball, everything usually regresses to the mean over time), Scherzer should post top-15 SP numbers in fantasy leagues, which would make him a SP-2 with SP-1 upside in 12-team mixed leagues.
Scherzer has induced a swing-and-miss 20 percent of the time, recorded a contact percentage of 72 and a ball-in-play percentage of 24 this season. Those figures rank fifth, ninth and second in baseball, respectively. The Tigers right-hander has also registered an average fastball velocity of 93.9, sixth best in Major League Baseball according to PITCHf/x.
As a result, Scherzer has fanned 125 batters in 102 1/3 innings, a K/9 of 10.99, second in all of baseball among starters. Only Washington's Stephen Strasburg has a better K/9. And while Scherzer's BB/9 has increased from last season, he's walking less batters per nine than he did in 2010, his best pro season, so the slight increase in free passes can't be what's behind his subpar earned run average.
No, the multitude of runs scored against him can be attributed directly to that abnormally high BABIP, which is 67 points above this season's MLB average of .296. Even if Scherzer was only able to experience a regression to his career norm (.317 BABIP, which is still slightly unlucky), he would still see a dramatic increase in production.
Scherzer is technically available in just 20 percent of Yahoo leagues, but when you consider all of the fantasy owners who possess the right-hander but are unappreciative of his talents, that percentage is substantially higher.
Keep in mind that Scherzer has improved his performance in each of the last two second halves, going 6-5 with a 2.47 ERA in 15 second-half starts in 2010 and 5-5 with a 4.09 ERA in 14 post-break starts last season. I think he'll settle somewhere in the middle of those two extremes in 2012, and it would benefit fantasy owners to acquire his services now before the surge propels him to new heights.