Not long after Diamondbacks pitcher Yusmeiro Petit nearly threw a no-hitter Tuesday night, Max Scherzer was on his iPhone in the visitor's clubhouse, bringing up a Web site with charts and graphs of every pitch, trying to figure out what his teammate had done to put himself within reach of history.
During a road trip last month, Scherzer was scrutinizing a site that charted umpires' ball/strike tendencies, viewing it as a piece of information he could bring into his next start.
And earlier this year, he helped rationalize a string of seemingly incongruent performances by citing his batting average
on balls in play (BABIP).
For Scherzer, the Diamondbacks young right-hander, the realm of throwing a baseball in the major leagues is more complex than wins, losses and ERA. He embraces baseball's golden age of information and analysis of advanced statistics.
But at the same time, he views the game on the most basic of levels, acknowledging that the statistics do not have a major impact on how he approaches an outing.
"At the end, it really comes down to the same thing: Get ahead of hitters," Scherzer said. "It goes without saying that if you can throw Strike 1 well and get ahead of hitters with two strikes, you're going to pitch well.
"(The advanced statistics) are a different way to look at the same game and realizing what the driving forces are that make a pitcher successful. If I want to go out there and lower my ERA, I've got to do certain things that are the driving forces."
Entering his start Thursday against the Pirates, he had been among the better starters in the National League, posting a 3.80 ERA and striking out 115 batters in 111 1/3 innings, the fourth-best strikeout rate in the league.
His stats-based world view is somewhat unusual in a major-league clubhouse, where time-tested beliefs are hammered into pitchers' heads: Keep the ball down. Change speeds. Throw strikes.
These pitching tenets are time-tested for a reason. They work. But Scherzer wants to know why they work.
He traces his mind-set back to his freshman year at Missouri, where he said the coaching staff looked closely at first-pitch strike percentages. Those who got ahead of hitters were the ones who pitched. Scherzer barely saw the mound.
"When you have to ride the bench because you're not throwing strikes, you learn quick to throw strikes," Scherzer said. "That's when I think I really bought into the idea of really taking a systematic approach to pitching."
But it was his younger brother, Alex, a business economics major at Missouri, who got him interested in baseball's deeper statistics. Scherzer said they had a months-long debate after Alex told him a pitcher has no control once a batter hits the ball.
"It took about a year of arguing with him for me to realize that actually is the correct way to think," said Scherzer, referring to BABIP, a stat that can be used to gauge a pitcher's luck or quality of the defense behind him.
As such, he values the pitching statistics that take fielding out of the equation and recently has become particularly interested in a stat called tERA, which assigns values to every batted ball based on trajectory, velocity and location. He also has taken time to examine his Pitch-f/x data, the information drawn from cameras that trace every pitch thrown in every big-league game.
"The numbers are more for the macro side," he said. "They're for the long-term. I'm well aware that the numbers aren't everything. They just explain a good portion of what happens."
For his first full season in the majors, Scherzer has set the goal of being at least a four-win pitcher. As in, four Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP), a stat that tries to express the difference between a player and an average fill-in type, such as a readily available Triple-A call-up. For context, Chicago's Ted Lilly and St. Louis' Adam Wainwright were roughly four-win pitchers last year.
As if he needs a reminder, Scherzer's brother will sometimes needle him.
"He sends me text messages all the time saying, 'Why can't you be a four-win pitcher?' " Scherzer said, laughing.
Maybe he will be. He was at 2.5 wins entering Thursday.