When Max Scherzer signed his historic three-year, $130 million deal to come to the Mets—a deal that shocked everyone and seemingly altered the baseball landscape overnight—he inserted himself at the top of the rotation alongside homegrown ace and hometown favorite Jacob deGrom. Coming into the 2023 season, he once again finds himself as a co-ace for the staff, but this time he will share the spotlight with newcomer Justin Verlander, whose record contract signed over the offseason matched Scherzer’s AAV for the highest ever by a starting pitcher.
Scherzer is no longer the shiny new toy at Buck Showalter’s disposal. He enters 2023 as the veteran of the staff, with only Carlos Carrasco boasting more years in orange and blue under his belt. There’s a good chance Scherzer will find himself getting the ball on Opening Day, an opportunity he wasn’t afforded last year and one that he has earned through his impressive Hall of Fame resume.
The three-time Cy Young Award winner made a great first impression for the organization that he spent much of his career tormenting as a member of the Nationals, but his age showed in the form of an eight-week stint on the IL for an oblique injury. Prior to last year, Scherzer had made at least 30 starts in all but one season dating back to his 2009 campaign (not accounting for the truncated 2020 season). Scherzer, who is good for 200-plus innings seemingly every year, has been the picture of health aside from some nagging ailments in 2019, which made the oblique injury he suffered in a May 18 start against the Cardinals all the more startling and disconcerting.
Despite the road block, he enjoyed the kind of season you would expect from Scherzer, posting a 2.29 ERA, a 2.62 FIP, and a 0.91 WHIP in 145 1⁄3 innings across 23 starts. He punched out 173 batters, giving him 3,193 for his career, although his 10.7 K/9 was his lowest mark since 2014. But he posted a HR/9 (0.8) and BB/9 (1.5), both of which bested his career norms, and he finished the year with a 5.2 bWAR. It’s safe to say that he was that. for much of the year, he was the guy the Mets thought they were getting when they shelled out a record-setting contract.
Then, he concluded his season with his two worst showings, which, fairly or not, marred what was an otherwise strong year. In the biggest regular season series of the year against the Braves, Scherzer, gave a non-competitive outing, allowing four earned runs on nine hits over 5 2⁄3 innings, which contributed to the team choking away the division. That was just the appetizer for the main course of disappointment, which was his Wild Card round-opening letdown, where he was torched for seven earned runs on seven hits over 4 2⁄3 innings. The Padres tagged him for four home runs, and the defeat effectively set a negative tone in a series the Mets would go on to lose in three games.
Scherzer will look to set the tone early on and erase the memory of those two bad starts, and there’s no reason to think he won’t return to his dominant self. Going into this year, the Mets are projected by many to be favorites in the NL East following Steve Cohen’s offseason spending spreee, and a lot of that will fall on the backs of a rotation which is anchored by the 38-year-old Scherzer and 40-year-old Verlander. If nothing else, last year showed the value of load management and making sure your big guns are primed for the playoff push. The team’s top guys were burned out late, and it will be interesting to see how Buck Showalter handles his veteran staff, balancing the need for winning as many games as he can en route to a potential division title while also managing their innings in order to keep them fresh. Luckily, the team’s depth should offer opportunities to keep Scherzer (and Verlander) from accumulating too many innings and burning out.
Concerns about age aside, one of the most fun things to watch this year will be the strikeout battle between current (and former) teammates Scherzer and Verlander. As previously mentioned, Scherzer owns 3,193 strikeouts, which is good for 13th on the all-time list. Verlander enters the season with 3,198 strikeouts, which places him at 12th. The two of them will spend much of the year leapfrogging each other on the all-time list, which will be a fun storyline. In the distance, both have a shot at surpassing Hall of Famer Phil Niekro, who is 11th on the list at 3,342 strikeouts.
There are few competitors in the game more dedicated to their craft than Scherzer. Look no further than his terrifying glare as he stares down opposing batters from the mound and seemingly looks to destroy them with just his stare. It’s easy to imagine his last two starts did not sit well with him, and Scherzer will likely enter the year looking to ease fans’ concerns and erase those memories from their minds. It’s hard to predict injuries, especially among players who’ve played for 15+ seasons, but if Scherzer can avoid any serious time on the shelf, you can expect his performance to be exactly what you would want from him. And, if nothing else, the friendly competition between him and Verlander should bring out the best in both of them, which could result in a special season.