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:
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.