The Washington Nationals’ ace Max Scherzer, won the 2016 National League Cy Young award, his second, after an impressive season where he went 20-7, 2.96 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 284/56 K/BB ratio, with an 11.19 K/9 over 228 1/3 innings! Scherzer has been very healthy over the past four years, allowing him to average 220 innings during that same time span.
News broke on January 9, 2017 that Scherzer was dealing with a stress fracture in the knuckle of his right ring finger. It sounds like this injury is actually not new news, but instead there are reports that Scherzer injured the finger in late August 2016, and he pitched with this injury for over a month at the end of last season. Looking back at the game logs, Scherzer was not as effective during this time period as he was during the majority of the season.
However, it is difficult to blame all of this on the injury, as the long season lingers on, pitching effectively in late September and October, especially as the weather gets colder, seems to be an annual recurrence for even the best pitchers. Could it have played a role? Sure, but the extent of that is difficult to determine.
Max pulled out of the WBC soon after the injury news broke, and has been restraining from pitching in order to allow the knuckle to heal. Stress fractures are quite common, more often in the legs or bones of the foot, but one in the knuckle, especially for a pitcher, is something to take note of.
The Nationals’ pitching coach, Mike Maddux, is hoping that Scherzer is game-ready in the next couple of weeks. As Maddux reported he expects Max to miss possibly a start or two, so he is already expected him to not pitch on Opening Day.
Scherzer threw a bullpen session on February 24, but was only able to throw his secondary stuff, meaning that the stress fracture of his ring finger on his pitching hand is still bothering him enough to not allow him to grip his fastball without feeling pain. Yesterday, February 25, Scherzer threw his fastball with an altered three-fingered grip during a bullpen session.
The fact that he continues to avoid his primary fastball grip, a two-fingered grip, is concerning. It sounds like Scherzer will use the same three-fingered grip during another bullpen session tomorrow, February 27, and may even consider using it in games.
Scherzer is a right-handed pitcher who had the third-highest K/9 in the MLB for qualified starters in 2016, and he relies on his fastball to put batters away. Any issues with the fingers on a pitching hand can significantly alter the pitcher’s delivery, mechanics, velocity, spin-rate, pitch location, and oftentimes their effectiveness.
This seems to be true for Scherzer as well, as he continues to avoid putting any additional stress on that knuckle, even altering his fastball from a two-finger to a three-fingered grip, to minimize the pain associated with it. Without being able to apply the normal amount of pressure to the ball that Scherzer does when he throws his two-fingered fastball, Max is likely going to be less effective.
Scherzer is among the league-leaders in using all of his pitches to perfection in order to generate a ton of strikeouts, ground balls and pop-ups. With this stress fracture being in the location that it is, this is something that needs to be monitored very closely over the next month.
Fantasy tip: Max Scherzer is at least a top 3 SP in baseball – there is no disputing that. He’s currently being drafted as the number two SP behind Kershaw, with an ADP of 13. So what should you do if you are drafting your team in the next couple of weeks?
I would do two things, first closely monitor the injury news on him, which you can do here by following @TheFantasyDRS, and secondly also consider waiting a round or two for him, or possibly taking somebody like Madison Bumgarner or Noah Syndergaard instead.
I am definitely concerned about this injury, and it is definitely one that I could see lingering throughout the season if it does not heal appropriately.
And like Kershaw’s ailing back last season, an ace of Scherzer’s caliber can quickly derail a fantasy season for you because of how high you have to draft him. If you’re in a dynasty or keeper league, he is somebody’s ace, and the anchor of their rotation.
Selling him now will likely result in a discounted return, so if you own him in a league, like I do, I am going to stand pat until more information arises as the season comes closer to fruition. Stay tuned!