The Red Sox will take on Max Scherzer tonight, as they attempt to sweep the Detroit Tigers and win their fourth game in a row. Just which version of Scherzer shows up is the question of the day, though, as he's somehow been both great and terrible in 2012. And not entirely because of poor luck, either.
Scherzer struggling to start the season is nothing new. But generally, this happens because something mechanical is off with the righty, and that generally means extra walks and fewer strikeouts than his stuff is capable of. In 2012, however, Scherzer is leading the American League in strikeouts per nine, and has a 3.8 K/BB -- that's clearly not the issue.
Part of this is on the poor defense behind Scherzer. The Tigers are near the bottom in the majors in Defensive Efficiency, and that's been problematic for him, helping him to a .400 batting average on balls in play. That being said, Scherzer has clearly spent a lot of time in the strike zone, and had difficulties there: he's giving up 1.7 homers per nine on the season to go along with the inflated BABIP.
Even with the absurd punch out rate, Scherzer has struggled to put hitters away. While ahead in the count, hitters are crushing him at a .417/.563/.767 clip, for a split-adjusted OPS+ of 173. He's nowhere near as good as you think someone leading the league in strikeout rate would be while ahead in the count either, as his sOPS+ there is 108, actually worse than your average pitcher.
According to PITCHf/x, the problem is with the lack of his secondary stuff doing what it should. His change-up already sits at -6 runs, and his slider is at -2.5. His fastballs are in the black, but not by enough to offset the damage done by the rest of his repertoire. Scherzer's secondary pitches -- especially his slider -- are generally more productive than this, but as Red Sox fans know (see: Buchholz, Clay), sometimes reliable pitches can desert a pitcher for long stretches.
Some of it is luck. Some of it is poor command, and there's also the issue with reliable secondary offerings. Until things even out, Scherzer might continue to underwhelm with his ERA according to run estimators like FIP -- which has him at 3.99 on the year -- but in the meantime, the Red Sox hope that tonight is just another Scherzer start with plenty of runs despite the strikeouts.