Sunday August 18th, 2013

scherzer-wordpress The last pitcher to reach 18-1 before Max Scherzer was Roger Clemens in 2001. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Max Scherzer and the Tigers won the rubber match of their five-game series against the surging Royals in Detroit on Sunday afternoon by a score of 6-3. Miguel Cabrera drove in three runs with two hits, including his 40th home run of the season, to increase his season RBI total to 120. Scherzer needed no more than that, holding the Royals to two runs over eight frames for his 18th win of the season.

Scherzer's record on the season is now 18-1, which happens to be the exact mark achieved by the Pirates’ forkballing relief ace Roy Face in setting the single-season record for winning percentage (minimum one decision per ten games in the season) back in 1959. Face's .947 winning percentage has stood alone ever since, though at least for the next four days, Scherzer has tied it.

He's not the first to do so. Roger Clemens went 18-1 in 2001, then moved ahead of Face by winning his next two starts to go to 20-1, but the 39-year-old Clemens lost two of his final three games that season to finish with a 20-3 record and an .870 winning percentage. Seven men since Face have had higher qualifying winning percentages than Clemens did that season, but none surpassed Face, nor Johnny Allen, who set the record for a starting pitcher with a 15-1 record. All of Allen’s decisions came in games he started, and he finished with a .938 winning percentage for the Indians in 1937.

Here are the ten highest winning percentages among qualified pitchers since Face's record-setting 1959 campaign, not including Scherzer, whose final number has yet to be determined:

Pitcher Team Year W-L Pct.
Greg Maddux Braves 1995 19-2 .905
Randy Johnson Mariners 1995 18-2 .900
Ron Guidry Yankees 1977 25-3 .893
Bob Stanley* Red Sox 1978 15-2 .882
Cliff Lee Indians 2008 22-3 .880
Tom Seaver Reds 1981 14-2 .875
Ron Davis* Yankees 1979 14-2 .875
David Cone Mets 1988 20-3 .870
Roger Clemens Yankees 2001 20-3 .870
Orel Hershiser Dodgers 1985 19-3 .864

*Relief pitcher

Scherzer will move ahead of Face if he wins one more game, but if he loses one more, his chance to claim the record will vanish. If Scherzer starts every fifth game for the Tigers for the remainder of the season, he'll make seven more starts. If he loses one but wins the rest, he'll finish 24-2, which translates to a .923 winning percentage, shy of both Face and Allen.

Speaking of which, Scherzer would need to win all seven of his remaining starts to become the first pitcher since Bob Welch in 1990 to win 25 games in a season. Only three men (John Smoltz in 1996, Randy Johnson in 2002, and Justin Verlander in 2011) have won 24 games since Welch won 27 that year. Both totals are a long shot for Scherzer, who, despite his 18-1 record, has not won more than six consecutive starts all season and would have to win seven straight (including Sunday's win) to get to 24 and eight straight to get to 25. Still, he has already joined Clemens in 2001 as the only starters to open a season 18-1 since the Giants' Rube Marquard went 19-1 to start he 1912 season. Clemens bested Marquard's start with his 20-1 record in '01 prior to those final two loses. Where Scherzer falls among that trio remains to be seen, but he's already in their company, and with Felix Hernandez having stumbled in his last start, Scherzer may just yet deserve the Cy Young award he seems increasingly likely to take home come November.

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