Scherzer's dominant season earns King Tiger honor
Annual award recognizes on-field and off-field contributions
Miguel Cabrera repeated as American League Most Valuable Player last month for the follow-up to his Triple Crown campaign. Max Scherzer won his first Cy Young Award after posting the best winning percentage by a 20-game winner in the big leagues in five years.
In at least one team award, Scherzer's contributions won out. It's the King Tiger Award, and it's presented by the Mayo Smith Society, a nationwide organization of Tigers fans. The award, revived in 2004 after starting in 1964, takes into account a player's on-field and off-field work.
Cabrera and Justin Verlander alternated years as King Tiger since 2008, with Cabrera's Triple Crown season helping him easily win the honor last season. Scherzer's win continues the trend of pitchers winning every other year, but it's the first such honor for Scherzer, recognizing a season in which the right-hander emerged as a force on the mound as well as in the community.
Scherzer was baseball's only 20-game winner during 2013, taking the momentum of a 13-0 start to post the best win-loss record by a Major League pitcher since Cliff Lee went 22-3 for the Indians in 2008. No pitcher had that long of a winning streak to begin a season since Roger Clemens in 1986. However, Scherzer said he didn't want to be judged on wins and losses, calling it a fluky mark.
He didn't have to lean on wins. With a 0.97 ratio of walks plus hits to innings pitched (WHIP), he was baseball's only starter to allow less than a baserunner per inning. His 6.4 wins above replacement (WAR) led all AL pitchers, according to the Fangraphs formula, and trailed only the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw among Major League hurlers.
What Verlander meant for the vaunted Tigers rotation for past several years, Scherzer meant to the team this season, even with the best run support in baseball. After displaying some of the toughest pitches in baseball the previous couple of seasons, this was finally the year the results followed. His ability to control his pitch count and deliver deep starts every five games helped the Tigers endure their first-half bullpen struggles, while his strikeout ratio eased the pressure on Detroit's defense.
When Scherzer did find trouble, he was often at his best. Opponents hit just .223 against him with runners in scoring position, including 0-for-10 with the bases loaded to go with a walk and five strikeouts. When the score of the game was two runs or closer, Scherzer held opponents to a .184 average (103-for-560) and 185 strikeouts.
Off the field, Scherzer and his wife, Erica May, created a program called Scherzer's Superstars, which brought eight young people and their mentors from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Detroit to watch batting practice on the field and meet Scherzer before a game. Scherzer also became the spokesperson for the Pennies for Paws campaign, which raises money to support the Wildlife Without Borders Tiger Conversation Fund for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Members of the Mayo Smith Society plan to present Scherzer with his King Tiger award during their annual trek to Spring Training in March.