Max Scherzer, the 32-year-old right-handed pitching ace from Chesterfield, Missouri, gets the start Thursday for the Washington Nationals in their National League Division Series-deciding Game Five at Nationals Park in the nation’s capital. Though the game against the West Division Champion Los Angeles Dodgers will mark the 12th postseason start, and 14th postseason appearance, of Scherzer’s nine-year Major league Baseball career, he calls it “probably the biggest start of my career, the biggest start of my life.”
A Nationals victory sends the team to the NL Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs — the team with the best record in baseball this year — and a chance to go to the World Series for the first time in franchise history.
Here’s what you need to know about Scherzer.
1. He Led the National League in Wins This Season
Not only did Scherzer win 20 games this season, leading the NL and second in baseball only to Boston Red Sox righty Rick Porcello, he was arguably the league’s best pitcher overall. He also led the NL in strikeouts with 284, inning pitched with 228 1/3, and WHIP (walk plus hits per inning pitched) with a low 0.968, which was also best in the Majors.
His 2.96 ERA was eighth in the National League and his number of hits allowed per nine innings pitched, at 6.504, was second in both the NL and in MLB. His WAR — the advanced sabermetric stat “Wins Above Replacement” — of 6.6 rates Scherzer the most valuable pitcher in the National League and third overall.
2. He is the Eighth-Highest Paid Player in Baseball
Scherzer was picked in the first round of baseball’s 2007 draft, 11th overall, out of the University of Missouri at Columbia by the Arizona Diamondbacks. He made his big league debut with Arizona the following year. But following the 2009 season, the Diamondbacks sent Scherzer to the Detroit Tigers as part of a three-team, seven-player trade.
He pitched for the Tigers for the next five years, helping Detroit reach the postseason in all five of those seasons — and to get all the way to the World Series in 2014, where they lost to the San Francisco Giants. Scherzer won 21 games in 2013 and 18 the following year. But after 2014, Scherzer became eligible for free agency and spurned a $160 million offer to re-up with Detroit.
Instead, he inked a seven-year, $210 million pact with the Nationals, the largest in their history and the second-highest ever for any pitcher, behind the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw. David Price surpassed Scherzer, though not Kershaw, when he signed with the Red Sox in the 2016/2016 offseason.
But Scherzer’s contract is heavily weighted toward the back end, with a large percentage of his salary deferred, meaning that Scherzer’s salary of “only” $22,242,857 made him the 17th-highest-paid player in the game over the past season.
3. His Eyes Are Two Different Colors
In addition to his extraordinary pitching talent, Scherzer has another distinguishing characteristic — he was born with a condition known as heterochromia iridium — a genetic trait that causes each eye to be a different color. Scherzer has one blue eye, and one brown eye.
“He was 4 months old. I looked down at my baby, and he had a blue and green eye. Very clearly. I have pictures and everything,” his mother Jan, said in a 2005 interview. “I took him to the pediatrician shortly after that, and he said, ‘They may go back and forth. They may change again this year.’ As the year went on, the blue eye got bluer, and the green eye changed to brown.”
Other famous people who have the same condition include actors Christopher Walken, Kate Bosworth and Jane Seymour.
4. He Dedicates His Starts to His Late Brother
Alex Scherzer, who was four years younger than Max, suffered from clinical depression, committing suicide in 2012 at the age of 24. He was Max Scherzer’s only brother and the two were extremely close. In fact, Alex — an economics major at the University of Missouri — played an integral role in his older brother’s career, introducing Max to sabermetrics — the use of advanced statistics to analyze a player’s performance.
“He got me into that type of thinking,” Scherzer told MLB.com in an interview shortly after Alex’s passing. “I remember arguing with him, ‘There’s just no way that can be right.’ You only see baseball from the mound. You never thought you could put a number on it or evaluate it from a different angle. And yet, probably for a year, he kept chipping away at me and saying, ‘See? Look at this. I called it.’ Finally, I was like, ‘You’re onto something.’
“There were some other driving forces to what makes a successful pitcher beyond just the normal scouting reports, executing pitches and all that. That was a part of the game that we shared, to have that type of mind to be able to see it from both sides. No one way is right. That’s I think what he brought to me.”
5. Scherzer is Often Mistaken for Jewish, But He’s Not
The name “Max Scherzer” is often mistaken by fans as indicating that the Nationals pitcher is Jewish, which would make him one of only nine Jewish players to play in the Major Leagues in 2016. Even a 2012 article in The Jewish Journal newspaper identified Scherzer as Jewish.
But Scherzer is not Jewish, according to an article in The Washington Post last year.
In fact, the name Scherzer is of German origin and could mean “jester” in German, or it could be the name of a family that traces its ancestry back to Scherz, a tiny town in Switzerland.