Saturday, June 01, 2013

Verlander Not the King This Year

While watching Verlander pitch against the Orioles today, I was thinking how he isn't the same electric pitcher he was in 2011 when he won the MVP and Cy Young awards and in 2012 when he probably should won another Cy Young.  We keep waiting for him to go off on an unbeatable streak where he is a threat to pitch a no hitter every time out.  Instead, he is not even the most exciting pitcher on the team (at least not so far this year) and fans now anticipate a start by Anibal Sanchez or Max Scherzer as much or more than a Verlander game.

It's not that Verlander has been terrible.  In fact, he has been good for the most part.  His 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings is the best of his career and third best among American League starters this year.  According to FanGraphs, he also has induced his usual high percentage of infield flies (14.3% of all batted balls).  So, he is still tough to hit, but when they do hit him they have hit him pretty hard.  His 24% line drive rate is third highest in the league and the highest of his career.  His control has also not been as good this year with 3.1 walks per nine innings, his highest since 2008.  The result is a solid but un-Verlander-like 3.70 ERA. 

It's not just the results though.  It's that he just seems so human on the mound this year.  While he still approaches 100 MPH from time to time such as a 98 MPH fastball today, his average fastball this year according Brooks Baseball is just over 93 MPH.  That's pretty unremarkable compared to 2009-2012 where he average 96 MPH.  He no longer is the fastest pitcher on the team as Scherzer's fastball has averaged 93.8 MPH.  In fact, Verlander is not throwing much harder than Rick Porcello who checks in at 92.4. 

The best way to illustrate Verlander's lack of dominance this year might be by looking at game scores (explained here).  He had six of the top ten game scores on the team in 2011 and generated five of the best ten in 2012.  That should come to no surprise to fans who would routinely planned their weeks around a Verlander start and seldom be disappointed. 

This year, Verlander has only one of the top ten game scores and that came versus the light-hitting Astros.  Sanchez has the top two game scores - his 17-strikeout game and his one hitter - plus one other in the top ten and  Scherzer has four of the top ten.

Verlander may return to his dynamic self over the last two thirds of the season, but a Verlander start is not the must-see event it was in the past.  For now, that title might belong to Sanchez or Scherzer. 


  1. he always starts out slow. and you're working with, still, a small sample.

  2. There is plenty of time left in the season and I'm not suggesting this is anything permanent. Still, May is usually a good month for him, so this is not par for the course. It could be that he is pacing himself, so that he plenty left in the tank for the playoffs.

  3. AnonymousJune 02, 2013

    If I had a dollar for every time I heard somebody show concern about Verlander this year, then I'd have as much money as Verlander makes off of one pitch. In other words I'd be rich!

    That being said I think he's just pacing himself during a long contract and trying to use as little as he possibly has to. He might not ever have another season where the Tigers are this much of a landslide favorite to win the division, so if there is any time to choose to cost, then the first year in a new contract with the easiest of times to win a division is the best time to choose to do that. I wouldn't want to see him burn up his usage right now and go 100% hard in every game. That would be like trying to go out of your way to see if you can break him and create a massive salary problem for the future.

    Verlander has hit about 1% on the concern meter of what is possible in a worst case scenario. I'd hate to see what people would be saying if he ends up in the other end of the spectrum. You have to think and plan ahead in order to try your best to mitigate those chances of disaster.

    1. AnonymousJune 02, 2013

      coat that is, not cost

      And as a follow-up to the recent discussion on this, today I tried to use Wordpress and it didn't work for some reason. So I tried Wordpress again after it gave me a second Wordpress option that appeared identical as the first choice, but this time it worked. Each time I post I have to pick Wordpress 2x because the first one is broken and the working one only becomes active after trying to select the first one.

    2. AnonymousJune 02, 2013

      COAST, not coat, and not cost! sorry

  4. While it may be early to look at results, his velocity is of moderate concern. Yes, velocities are typically slower for pitcher in April and May, but here's his velo's from the month of April 2008-2013: 93.9, 96.2, 96.6, 95.3, 94.4, 92.7.

    And his velo's from the month of May 2008-2013: 94, 96.4, 96.4, 96.7, 94.8, 93.9.

    I say that it's moderate concern because really, he hasn't lost a ton, around a MPH -- and he's pitched at this lower velocity before (most notably before his pre-2008 break out year). Also, it isn't entirely ruining his results in terms of strikeouts and walks. The production is still there and it's possible for pitchers to lose some velocity and maintain success, but the pitchers most likely to continue to succeed are guys that don't rely on the four-seam fastball as much as Verlander does.

    1. AnonymousJune 02, 2013

      This is a pretty interesting perspective on the matter and rationale for a higher concern. I arbitrarily just picked 1% on the concern meter simply because to me it seems like this is a planned and controlled effort to take it easy, so i think it's part of an intentional program.

      If you think he is purposely holding back, then the percent should be small, but if you think otherwise then that would be interesting to know what magnitude of concern you are having right now.

      So based on your analysis, where would your concern meter rank in contrast, would you say 2%, or 5%, or maybe even 10%?



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