A Look Into the Unhittable

It was a two-start stretch in June of 1938 that has since lived in baseball infamy. A rookie for the Cincinnati Reds, Johnny Vander Meer, completed what many to this day still believe is an untouchable feat: back-to-back no hitters. An accomplishment that seems more fairy tale than reality, this old legend has been passed down through baseball generations. Until now. Fast forward 77 years to the same month and to nearly the same days. A new legend has appeared right before our eyes.

Max Scherzer, the prized and expensive right arm of the Washington Nationals, just threw back-to-back starts that can only be compared to Vander Meer. Such a comparison has Scherzer in disbelief: “ It just seems so improbable, to be able to do that… You’re really speechless to even be mentioned with that.”

Although Scherzer did not accomplish Vander Meer’s remarkable feat (Scherzer allowed a bloop single to Milwaukee Brewers’ Carlos Gomez), his performance might be even more impressive. Comparing Scherzer and Vander Meer’s stat lines, Scherzer’s statistics show a different level of domination and achievement:

IP H R ER BB HBP K
Vander Meer 18 0 0 0 11 0 11
Scherzer 18 1 0 0 1 1 26

Washington’s right-hander capped off this line with the second no-hitter in Nationals’ franchise history. Scherzer’s June 14th start in Milwaukee may not have received the same accolades, but it was one of the finest starting pitching performances in modern baseball history. Throwing a franchise record 16 strikeouts and allowing one hit, Scherzer accumulated a Game Score of 100—something that has been done only five previous times in baseball history.

June 20, 2015 was Scherzer’s next start, and the date when he joined Baseball’s No-Hitter Club. While Scherzer’s Game Score didn’t reach 100—it fell to a “mere” 97—it capped off one of the best two-start stretches in major league history. Scherzer was within one strike of a perfect game when his 2-2 pitch, an errant slider, hit the elbow guard of Pittsburgh’s Jose Tabata. Though Scherzer would complete his no-hitter the next at-bat, Tabata’s hit-by-pitch was the only blip to a perfect afternoon in the nation’s capital.

These two starts fully displayed Scherzer’s arsenal against opposing hitters. To date this season, opposing batters are hitting just .213 on Scherzer fastballs, .112 against his sliders, .174 on his changeups, and .154 against his curveballs. All of this accumulates to a major-league-leading .180 batting average for opposing hitters. The Nationals’ right-hander is leading numerous pitching categories, and is in the top-five in baseball strikeout rate, K-BB rate, ERA, FIP, complete games, shutouts, and innings pitched.

Max Scherzer pitches on raw emotion, and has become know for the intensity he brings to the mound. But what goes unnoticed is his intelligence and sophisticated approach to pitching. Part of what makes Scherzer unique is his understanding and appreciation of the statistics and analytics being used in baseball today. In a 2014 Sports Illustrated article, Scherzer was quoted as saying, “the advanced stats are great to look at for my long-term goals and what I’m trying to accomplish. It shows me there is an inherent failure in pitching. The luck involved, the factors you can’t control. You just have to let go of those and focus on the next batter, the next game. You can’t do anything about bloop hits. I didn’t understand that before, and now I do.”

Well, it was a bloop hit that prevented Max Scherzer from joining Johnny Vander Meer in back-to-back no-hit folk tales. But one thing is for certain: Max Scherzer’s arsenal in 2015 is legendary, and good luck to those trying to hit against him.

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