Why Max Scherzer's now a lock for Cooperstown

by
Geoff Burke / USA TODAY Sports

If Max Scherzer hadn't begun writing his future Hall of Fame induction speech before now, he may as well get started.

Scherzer ran away with his third career Cy Young Award on Wednesday night - his second consecutive win - officially cementing his legacy as an all-time great.

Yes, with Cy Young No. 3 on his resume, Scherzer is definitely headed to Cooperstown, likely with a Washington Nationals logo on his plaque. And there should never have been any doubt - here's why:

Best of the best

When you think of elite starting pitching in this decade, the names Clayton Kershaw and Scherzer immediately jump to mind. Narrow that window down to the last five years, and Scherzer stands out even more. Here's a look at his numbers from 2013-17 with the Tigers and Nationals:

W (Rk.) ERA (Rk.) K (Rk.) IP (Rk.) K/9 (Rk.) WAR (Rk.)
89 (1) 2.87 (5) 1320 (1) 1092.1 (1) 10.88 (3) 29.3 (2)

(WAR courtesy Fangraphs)

That's a five-year run that rivals some of the best pitchers ever, including his contemporary (and fellow future HOFer) Kershaw.

And by career numbers, Scherzer's already pushed his way into greatness. His ERA of 3.30 is already lower than several Hall of Famers, including Fergie Jenkins, Bert Blyleven, and John Smoltz. That's not to mention his two no-hitters and his incredible strikeout numbers that include a string of six straight 200-K seasons and four consecutive years with 250.

He's also an old school-style workhorse in the era of big bullpens. Scherzer's not quite Roy Halladay, who once threw nine complete games in three straight seasons, but few will ever manage that again; indeed, Scherzer owns just eight career complete games. What he's done instead is consistently answer the bell, with five straight 200-inning seasons, and at least 30 starts a year since 2009. That's what you ask for out of a pitcher destined for baseball immortality.

Three's company

During the Cy Young Award's 61 years of existence, only 19 men have won at least twice. The list of three-time winners is even more exclusive, and membership all but guarantees induction in Cooperstown. Here's a look at the company Scherzer joined with his third Cy Young:

Pitcher Cy Youngs HOF
Max Scherzer 3 (2013; 2016-17) No (Active)
Clayton Kershaw 3 (2011; 2013-14) No (Active)
Tom Seaver 3 (1969; 1973; 1975) Yes
Jim Palmer 3 (1973; 1975-76) Yes
Pedro Martinez 3 (1997; 1999-2000) Yes
Sandy Koufax 3 (1963; 1965-66) Yes
Greg Maddux 4 (1992-95) Yes
Steve Carlton 4 (1972; 1977; 1980; 1982) Yes
Randy Johnson 5 (1995; 1999-2002) Yes
Roger Clemens 7 (1986-87; 1991; 1997-98; 2001; 2004) No

Besides the still-active Scherzer and Kershaw, only Clemens remains outside of Cooperstown, for reasons unrelated to performance. Three-time Cy Young winners come along just once or twice a generation, at most, so joining their company truly means something.

It's a testament to Scherzer's stature as a generational talent, an all-time great, and a Hall of Fame lock.

Magic number within reach

All that's left for Scherzer to do, really, is to pad his career statistics down the home stretch. And at 33 years old, he's showing no signs of slowing down, so the sky's the limit.

The magic 3,000-strikeout mark isn't out of the question given Scherzer became the third-fastest pitcher to reach 2,000 earlier this year. He needs health to stay on his side, but there's no reason to doubt him maintaining this kind of pace for at least the next few years.

Of course, getting to 3,000 would simply be the icing on the cake. Scherzer doesn't need it to reach the Hall of Fame anymore, not after Wednesday night. He's already there.