Saturday, October 05, 2013

Verlander Looks to Build on September Success in Game 2.

After a masterful performance by ace Max Scherzer in game one of the American League Divisional Series late last night, the Tigers will send Justin Verlander to the mound against Athletics rookie Sonny Gray tonight.  While Verlander is still a feared pitcher, he has not been quite his usual dominant self this year (See Figure 1).  His ERA is up from 2.64 in 2012 to 3.46 in 2013 due mostly to an increase in walks (2.3 BB/9 IP in 2012 versus  3.1 in 2013) and hits (7.3 H/9 IP in 2012 versus 8.7 in 2013).

Figure 1: Justin Verlander's statistics in 2012 versus 2013

Data Sources:,

Much has been made of Verlander's decrease in velocity this year but, according to, his average fastball speed has dropped only about one mile per hour which seems like a natural progression since 2009.  His bigger problems have been location (as evidenced by increased walks) and decreased horizontal movement (Figure 2) of both his four-seam fastball and curve.  The latter issue might explain why he has been easier to hit this year rather just dismissing it as a result of bad luck on balls in play. 

Figure 2: Justin Verlander's Horizontal Movement By Year

The good news is that Verlander seemed to right the ship in September posting a 2.27 ERA in six starts.  He was particularly impressive in his last two games (although granted they were against two of baseballs' weaker offenses in Minnesota and Miami) when he reached double figures in strikeouts for the first time since May.  What has been most encouraging is a return of his control walking just 2.3 batters per nine innings.

Batter - Pitcher match-up data are always tenuous due to small sample sizes, but can sometimes give us a clue as to which hitters are most dangerous versus a particular hurler.  In Verlander's case, no Oakland hitter with more than 10 at bats against him has an OPS of as high as .800.  Switch-hitting Coco Crisp leads with a .777 mark in 24 at bats.  Outfielder Yoenis Cespedes has three hits in just six appearances.

The biggest challenge for Verlander versus the Athletics will be pitching enough innings so that manager Jim Leyland does not have to go too early to his thin bullpen,  After averaging over seven innings per start the last two years, Verlander has averaged only 6.4 innings per start this year.  The Oakland batters like to work the count and were third in the American League in bases on balls this year. 

Verlander has not received a great deal of hitting support lately getting shutout three times in September and tonight might face a similar difficulty with right hander Sonny Gray on the mound for the Athletics. Gray posted a 2.67 ERA with 67 strikeouts in just 64 innings in 12 games including 10 starts during the regular season.  Gray has never faced the Tigers which is typically an advantage for pitchers more than batters.

So, the keys tonight will be whether Verlander can limit his pitch count against the patient Athletics and whether the Tigers hitters can adjust to Gray.  I'm expecting another close low-scoring game tonight.

 Last night, by pure luck, I correctly predicted a 3-2 Tigers victory.  Tonight, my pick is Tigers 4 Athletics 2 with Alex Avila getting his home run (the one I incorrectly guessed last night).    


  1. I'm not sure how thin the bullpen is, actually. Nobody threw too many pitches last night, and if need be, Porcello could go two or even three innings with the off day Sunday.

  2. I'm not that concerned about the bullpen, but the only ones I trust in a close game are Smyly and Benoit, who I think are two of the best in the league. I like Porcello as a long reliever, but would be wary of him in a close game. I'm hoping for seven innings from Verlander.

  3. We'd still be better off if we had Raburn over Don Kelly if not Castellanos or Tui.



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