Justin Verlander: Atypical Game, Typical Results

“You labored, it wasn’t a typical Justin Verlander game.”

That was TBS’s Craig Sager, just after Phil Coke made Justin Verlander’s Game 3 performance officially stand up: 8.1 innings, three hits, no walks, just one run.

It’s not good enough for Justin Verlander. Justin Verlander only struck out three Yankees; never mind that the Tigers’ ace held the New York Yankees to one run over 8.1 innings in Game 3 of the ALCS, we bolt to attention because he didn’t record enough strikeouts.

This is Justin Verlander’s level.

Really, Sager is absolutely correct — as are the others to express the sentiment, like Verlander himself and manager Jim Leyland. This was not the typical Justin Verlander game.

He cruised early, retiring the first nine Yankees he saw and notching two of his three strikeouts. “What was working for me? Pretty much everything,” Verlander responded when asked about early-game success.

Mostly, it was the fastball, flashed on 27 of the 33 pitches those first nine Yankees saw. Verlander tossed 19 for strikes — three whiffs — against eight balls as he threw six first-pitch strikes. Even though his fastball wasn’t quite up to its typical triple-digit peak yet, it’s a more than formidable pitch at 95 — deadly on the corners, but still able to get outs when it misses over the plate.

The short work was over; from here on Verlander honestly labored. It took 99 pitches to record his final 16 after just 33 for the first nine. Verlander lost control of the first-pitch strike, throwing just seven to 19 batters faced beyond the fourth.

“The approach was to get ahead and be agressive… kind of went out the window in the 4th,” Verlander said in his postgame press conference.

Evidence of the plan was still there in his pitch selection by count:

After sticking to the fastball completely, Verlander engaged his secondary pitches as the Yankees took their second and third hacks against him. Verlander threw 47 pitches in the last six innings with either two strikes or in an 0-1 count — 12 curveballs, eight changeups and five sliders (or 25 total off-speed pitches) against 22 fastballs. When he owned the advantage, Verlander aggressively used his off-speed pitches to try and end at-bats.

On 33 other occasions, Verlander found himself behind in the count (excluding full). He threw five changeups and one slider.

He exaggerated in the post-game presser: “I was behind everybody and had to throw fastballs… fastballs almost down the middle.”

He’s not lying:

Joe Girardi‘s reformulated lineup didn’t show any more life than its previous postseason arrangements. Still, this was a group featuring seven hitters with a 100 wRC+ or better against right-handers since 2008. It featured three hitters at 129 or better — Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira. They’ve shown they can hit before.

But maybe this postseason the Yankees can’t hit any pitch down the middle. More likely, Verlander’s fastball is so good he can afford to live down the middle and get away with it like no other pitcher in baseball. Of the 11 fastballs closest to the zone, Verlander generated just one swinging strike, but three were taken, five were fouled off, two went for outs and only one became a hit.

As Leyland said, “He made them mishit the ball pretty good.” Verlander’s velocity kept rising. He went from 94.7 in the first six innings to 97.7 in the final three, topping out at 99.3 in the ninth. That is where mishits are born.

Tuesday wasn’t the Verlander we’re necessarily used to seeing. Tuesday wasn’t Verlander at his his best, wasn’t the one we think of when we think Cy Young Award Winner Justin Verlander. He missed on some of his pitches and he was forced to work in the middle of the zone and pitch to contact instead of inducing whiff after whiff.

But this is what makes Justin Verlander the best pitcher in baseball right now. Even when he’s off or he doesn’t pitch his typical game, he’ll still throw 8.1 innings and allow just three hits and one run in Game 3 against the Yankees.

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Jack Moore's work can be seen at VICE Sports and anywhere else you're willing to pay him to write. Buy his e-book.

20 Responses to “Justin Verlander: Atypical Game, Typical Results”

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  1. J6takish says:

    The mastery of the Tigers pitchers combined with the sudden mind boggling offensive ineptitude of the Yankees is making this one of the more surreal series. Seriously, how does an entire lineup forget to hit all at once? Sanchez was money but Verlander and Fister turned in lackluster starts that had amazing results due to the hilarity of the Yankee offense

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    • Nathan says:

      Verlander turned in a lackluster start by his standards. By any other standard, his start was still pretty excellent.

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  2. Slats says:

    I am concerned that he is throwing too many pitches.

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    • JayT says:

      Well, he only has 1-3 more starts left this year, so I think he’ll be ok.

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    • Big Daddy V says:

      Ha! Ha ha ha ha ha. Ha ha ha. Oh man. That is a pretty good joke, well done.

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    • Eric Cioe says:

      He’s led the world in both pitches and innings over the last four years. Do you see signs of decline?

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    • Brian says:

      Two words: flawless mechanics

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      • Eric Cioe says:

        A few more: perfectly tailored workout regiment.

        Verlander might have been born with some gifts, but he certainly doesn’t seem to think that ability alone is going to get it done forever. Lincecum and others could learn a lesson.

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      • GG says:

        He doesn’t have picture perfect mechanics, but they happen to work very well for him. His hips open very early, he doesn’t lead with the hips well, he throws across his body. He is a freak… in a good way!

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Wouldn’t opening the hips early prevent throwing across his body from occurring?

        You throw across your body when your hips don’t open.

        Verlander also “heel lands”, but overall his mechanics are pretty good.Not ideal, but pretty good.

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    • Ben says:

      Verlander throws 120+ pitches almost every start.

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  3. GG says:

    No pitcher can afford to live down the middle of the plate, not even Verlander. On average, Verlander gives up 2.64 runs / 9 IP. This day he wasn’t at his best, so if its normal to throw 1-run ball while throwing the fastball down the middle and he conceivably does better while not throwing as many pitches down the middle. While he can get away with mistakes more than potentially any other pitcher, the Yankees lineup helped him out last night. They needed to win this and they could have been able to score some runs with Verlander off his game a bit.

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    • the fume says:

      With the cool weather and the breeze blowing in and the fair outfield dimensions I think he is actually good enough to get away with 94+ with movement up in the zone middle of the plate against most teams. Maybe not to the extent of 3 hits over 8.1 IP, but good enough to make the other team fight for runs.

      There is a caveat to that, in that when he has typically been hit hardest (basically inning 1, maybe 2), he was actually very sharp. I think all the pitching changes and the Hughes injury and the 6+ batters the Tigers started sending to the plate from the 4th inning on got him a bit out of rhythm due to the waiting, but as Avila he still had the stuff, even if he couldn’t locate it, and that’s still difficult to center even without location.

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  4. Marty says:

    Certainly the Yankees hitters had a uniformly poor night but the cold weather and wind blowing in helped as well.

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    • JG says:

      This is an important point. Nothing for either team was hit very far, save Delmon’s laser home run and Cabrera’s double.

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  5. Eric Cioe says:

    They had two singles through 8 innings on a night when he didn’t have a curveball, a slider, or a changeup. He chuck and ducked his way to a victory. He doesn’t even have to be good to be good.

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  6. ralph says:

    Maybe this is so obvious, that no one ever mentions it… but, no one ever mentions it (that I’ve seen).

    An offense based heavily on drawing walks is an offense that is very vulnerable to a pitching staff with excellent control, since, as much drawing walks is a hitter’s skill, it’s the one hitters skill that a good control pitcher can pretty much decide to eliminate. That’s at the risk of more hits/HR of course, but it’s one way where the old good pitching/good hitting cliche seems like it might have a kernel of truth.

    There’s also the part where a high-walk offense is also almost certainly a relatively high-strikeout team, so if you take away the walks, the strikeouts may or may not experience a similar dropoff. And if an offense doesn’t cut its strikeouts when a pitching staff isn’t giving up many walks (see the A’s vs Tigers series), it makes it very difficult to get on base.

    Now I’m not saying facing relatively good control staffs is the sole cause of the Yankees problems this postseason or anything, but I’m surprised that no series previews or reviews I’ve read have mentioned the possible perils of the Yankees being denied walks, especially since the A’s possible strikeout problems against a strikeout staff were brought up in multiple pieces I read.

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    • Westside guy says:

      Except the Yankees aren’t exactly a team whose only skill was drawing walks – even if you just look at plain old batting average, they were the eighth best hitting team in the majors (only .009 below the #1 Angels, and .003 below Detroit). They also had the best slugging percentage in the majors – .031 higher than the #7 Tigers.

      They’ve just chosen a bad time to have most of their big boppers go into a slump.

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      • ralph says:

        Right, which is why I said “Now I’m not saying facing relatively good control staffs is the sole cause of the Yankees problems this postseason or anything.”

        But the 2012 Yankees offense had the third-highest walk rate of any team. So yeah, I’d say that they relied upon walking as one of the main pillars of the offense that allowed them to leverage their excellent power, and survive streaks when BABIP isn’t going their way.

        The Tigers pitching had the sixth-lowest walk rate of any team, and I suspect just focusing on Verlander/Fister/Sanchez/Scherzer would make them look even better as compared to other top-4 starters.

        Jack kind of hints at the possible significance of this by saying upfront Verlander allowed zero walks, but I’m just kind of surprised that no one I read has expressly mentioned how the clash of a high-walk offense against a low-walk pitching staff might mean the high-walk offense could be significantly hindered. Or maybe it really is just that obvious.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      If a team is not getting walks, they need to get more hits.

      To get more hits, they need to put more balls in play.

      To put more balls in play, they need to cut down on strikeouts.


      Do major league teams know this? Are batting coaches aware of this? I think you may have just solved the riddle that has been haunting teams for over a century.

      I’m not even going to critique a team that has trouble hitting Justin Verlander.

      In other words, I’m certain the NYY were well aware of what they needed to do at the plate …. but knowing it and being able to do it are two different things.

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