Patience Will Be Key for Rangers Against Verlander

In Game 1 of the ALDS, C.J. Wilson wasn’t in top form, and the Rangers started in a 1-0 hole. The Rangers recovered in short order, taking the next three games to advance to the ALCS, but the margins were small, as the offense failed to produce a consistent attack. Now, Wilson has a chance to start the Rangers off on the right foot once more. He may need to be very good, as the Rangers’ hitters are unlikely to break free from their slumber against Justin Verlander.

Jim Leyland’s big gamble paid off, and the Tigers will oppose Wilson with Verlander in Game 1. While Verlander had far from his best start in Game 3, and the umpire seemed determined to help him win, he did have good stuff — he generated 18 swinging strikes, tallying at least four swooshes of air on every one of his offerings save his curveball. That could spell trouble for a Rangers attack that was fairly meek against the Rays. Yes, Adrian Beltre smashed three homers in the decisive Game 4, but he only had one other hit in the series. Four hits must have seemed like a lot to Mitch Moreland, Michael Young and Nelson Cruz, who as a trio combined for four hits. As it was for much of the second half, the offense was carried by Ian Kinsler and Mike Napoli.

The key for the Rangers offense will simply be to make Verlander work. The Yankees did a poor job of this on Monday. After a 22-pitch first inning in which Verlander seemed vulnerable, Verlander was efficient, needing only 37 pitches to navigate through the next four frames. Now again, some of that was the umpire, who had a horrific night behind the plate, but some of that was Verlander being Verlander. He eventually struggled, but the Yankees’ window of opportunity to dig into the Tigers’ bullpen all but evaporated, as Verlander lasted eight innings. Getting to that bullpen has to be the key for the Rangers. The only member of Detroit’s bullpen to escape the ALDS without allowing a run was Ryan Perry, and Detroit’s bullpen probably could have been hit harder than they actually were, as Yankees’ hitters missed a lot of gimme pitches, particularly last night. During their series against the Rays, the Rangers only saw 3.72 pitches per plate appearance, which tied them for last among the four AL teams. That’s slightly less than their regular-season pace of 3.78, which ranked 21st in the Majors. Of particular concern is Cruz, who following a two-homer game on August 26, is just 13-for-64 since, and has struck out 14 times against 1 walk. It doesn’t seem to be just bad luck either — since September 1, he has only hit two line drives. If Cruz and the rest of the bats bend like so many Singing Swords, it will be up to Wilson to keep things close.

Wilson should be up to the task, as his last start was likely an aberration. After allowing five or more runs in four straight starts from May 18-June 4 of last year, Wilson has made 61 starts. In that period, he has only allowed five or more runs in back-to-back starts once. But moreover, you could make the case that aside from falling prey to the best day of Kelly Shoppach’s career that Wilson didn’t have all that poor of a Game 1. Johnny Damon’s home run was four or five feet from being a long out, Matt Joyce’s RBI single seemingly had two sets of eyes, as it barely squeezed between two diving defenders, and had it not been for Beltre’s error, Shoppach’s second homer may have been a solo blast. Wilson generated his normal share of ground balls, walked just one Ray, and struck out six, four of whom were hitting right-handed — B.J. Upton (twice), Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist. It just so happened that three of the seven fly balls he allowed ended up as souvenirs (well, okay, one of the three didn’t technically end up as a souvenir).

Now, don’t get me wrong, striking out Upton — who had the 11th highest K% in baseball this year — isn’t necessarily anything to write home about, but he is a righty, and that brings us to the next point. Wilson is no pushover against righties — his 3.46 xFIP against them was 13th best in the American League this year. And while the specific players that comprise Jim Leyland’s lineups are becoming about as predictable as spinning a See ‘N Say, they should — aside from Alex Avila — hit right-handed. Leyland stacked eight righties in his lineup in both CC Sabathia starts in the ALDS, and will most likely continue to do so, with or without Delmon Young. Wilson is able to be effective against righties because he mixes his pitches, and attacks both sides of the plate, and should be able to confound the Tigers’ hitters, who didn’t exactly set the world on fire against New York — Detroit hitters saw the same 3.72 pitches per plate appearance against the Yankees that the Rangers did against the Rays — and whose team wOBA was 29 points worse on the road than it was at home this season.

It isn’t Texas’ modus operandi to work counts and draw a pitcher to an early exit through high pitch totals — they’re more a grip it and rip it bunch. But in order to beat the best, sometimes you have to switch up your strategy. C.J. Wilson should be able to hold the Tigers’ hitters at bay, but as the ALDS showed, the Tigers are familiar with close games, and won them despite a bullpen that was shaky. The Rangers’ best chance to win will be waiting out Verlander and getting to that bullpen, where they should bear fruit, provided they can shake the ‘pen a little harder than could the Yankees.




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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times and a writer and editor for FanGraphs. He has written for the Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


17 Responses to “Patience Will Be Key for Rangers Against Verlander”

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  1. Eric Cioe says:

    “While Verlander had far from his best start in Game 3, and the umpire seemed determined to help him win, he did have good stuff — he generated 18 swinging strikes, tallying at least four swooshes of air on every one of his offerings save his curveball.”

    In addition to being totally unclear, the Carson Cistulli impression with “swooshes of air” is pretty poor.

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    • Eric Cioe says:

      Also, the notion of waiting out Verlander didn’t work for much of anyone this season. He averaged almost 120 pitches and 7.1 IP a game, and never pitched fewer than 6 IP.

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  2. veeer says:

    shut up geek, go finish your bio homework

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    • joe says:

      The distribution is important though….
      http://www.brooksbaseball.net/pfxVB/location.php?pitchSel=434378&game=gid_2011_10_03_nyamlb_detmlb_1/&batterX=0&innings=yyyyyyyyy&sp_type=1&s_type=1

      Of the 5 balls that were called in the zone, 4 were marginal pitches (only 1 was a really poor call). If you look at some/most of the balls called strikes they were well out of the zone (typically outside pitches to lefties)

      The offset theory sounds nice but a ball on a pitch 6-8″ off the plate has an effect not just on that pitch but the batter’s approach the whole game as he knows the umps are ringing people up on that garbage and have to swing at more of those pitches. This is where actually watching the game and understanding the distribution of the calls and the impact on the game might be important (as opposed to a 5 is ~7 theory)

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      • Dwight S. says:

        Roy Halladay has made a living getting calls like Verlander got that game and I don’t remember see one article on here even hinting that the umps were trying to help him out. If you need proof, here’s a link to his perfect game, look at how many pitches he got called off the plate. Was there even a lick of complaining about it? I don’t think so. The fact is it happens all the time, yet you never and I mean ever hear people on here mention the umps strike zone, but the one time Verlander gets it, it gets brought to the forefront.

        http://www.brooksbaseball.net/pfxVB/pfx.php?month=5&day=29&year=2010&game=gid_2010_05_29_phimlb_flomlb_1%2F&pitchSel=136880&prevGame=gid_2010_05_29_phimlb_flomlb_1%2F&prevDate=529

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        In game 5, Carpenter v. Halladay, you could see both guys getting some benefit of the doubt in multiple ways.

        Watching Halladay pitch to Holliday is interesting to me because it pits an extreme control and command guy against a batter with (usually) very good plate discipline.

        In one at bat Holliday took a pitch that was just a fraction off the inside corner for a ball. The next pitch was called a ball very slightly low and away. On the 3rd pitch Halladay hit the exact same spot as ball 2, and it was called strike 1. Halladay was not pleased with the ball 1 and 2 calls, and Holliday was visibly frustrated with the strike 1 call. Whether TBS’s strike zone graphic is accurate or not, by all 3 pitches were out of the strike zone.

        IMO, it illustrates what we all seem to know … good hitters get the benefit of the doubt on occassion, and control pitchers often get rewarded if they put the pitch in the same location on consecutive pitches. It rarely seems to be called ball or strike two time in a row, if it’s close to the plate.

        Likewise, there was a pitch that Hallday threw that looked to be over the inside corner (RHB), but Ruiz and the umpire were set up on the outside corner, so hallday did not get the call because he did not hit his target, even though the ball ended up in the strike zone.

        I forget which batter got a delayed called strike 3 (RHB, maybe Molina), when Ruiz appeared to pull the ball 2 inches back over the plate. He was also set up on the inside corner.

        I have umpired behind the plate numerous times, and I cannot imagine the difficulty of getting everything right when pitches are 90+mph, with movement, with professional catchers framing pitches, and with high control guys on the mound. When they miss, it’s by mere inches (in general). Always seemed like calling balls and strikes behind the mound was far easier.

        That said, Halladay and carpenter seemed to induce A LOT of swing and misses at pitches out of the zone. Halladay particularly amazes me at how he gets batters to chase outside pitches on the first pitch. Given that he generally hits his location, I wondered if he had some advanced scouting that certain batters will fish for that pitch if they’re looking fastball on the first pitch. They swing at the pitch type, not the location.

        It is absolutely fascinating to watch the catchers set up middle, give the sign, and then at the very last instant shift their position drastically without the hitter detected the movement. It’s impressive that P and C can work together so well like that.

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  3. Cory says:

    Yeah being patient worked so well for the Yankees as he poured in strike after strike and caught guys looking constantly with that hook (particularly in that 10 pitch 3 K 5th inning). Horrible post.

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  4. CircleChange11 says:

    Jim Leyland’s big gamble paid off, and the Tigers will oppose Wilson with Verlander in Game 1. While Verlander had far from his best start in Game 3, and the umpire seemed determined to help him win, he did have good stuff — he generated 18 swinging strikes, tallying at least four swooshes of air on every one of his offerings save his curveball.

    Was it really a big gamble? I did not see much sabermetric analysis showing how much more valueable a 2-days rest Verlander would be as compared to another DET reliever? Again, FG is starting with the priori that Leyland is wrong, and we’re not being data-driven.

    How does Verlander’s Game 3 strike zone compare to the strike zone normally afforded elite pitchers?

    Sorry, but it seems like we’re just fishing for reasons why DET got lucky in the series. Anyway ….

    —————————————-

    If “being patient” means that Rangers hitters find themselves down 0-1 in the count for numerous at bats, then “being patient” probably isn’t the right move.

    You can only drive a pitcher’s pitch count up in a productive way if you lay off strikes that you can’t hit anyway and/or don;t swing at pitches out of the strike zone.

    Not sure TEX is really good at either of these facets.

    Texas is a low walk (22nd in BB %), low K team (lowest K % in MLB). 2nd in HRs, 3rd in runs scored. They are successful by being aggressive (generally speaking). Asking a team to do something it does not normally do is a dangerous suggestion.

    Ranger batters … if you get a good pitch to hit early in the at bat …. hit it. Intentionally trying to gt Verlander’s pitch count high is probably something that is going to work against you if he has his usual good control. Bat like you normnally do and try to force JV to change his approach, not the other way around. Just accept that it’s going to be a tough night against a good pitcher and don;t stand around waiting for a hittable pitch that might not come. When you’re continually behind in the count against an ace, you’re screwed.

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    • chuckb says:

      He started with the statement that it was a big gamble. He didn’t say that Leyland was wrong. You’re starting with the a priori that Fangraphs is wrong, even if you’re completely misinterpreting the statement you’re quoting.

      Regardless of how you feel about Leyland’s decision, it was unquestionably a gamble. It clearly paid off. That’s not such a bold statement.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Perhaps. However, isn;t it only a gamble if Verlander on 2 days rest following a high effort outing is better than the choice of relievers?

        Obviously, in terms of basic talent, Verlander is the best choice. But our metrics measuring his ability are based on full rest Verlander.

        Estimating whether X% of Verlander is better than Y% of another pitcher seems to me to be at the heart of what sabermetrics attempts to do, and really one of the main benefits of its applications.

        I would have loved to seen that data-driven analysis, rather than the conventional wisdom conclusion be accepted without scrutiny.

        My favorite book on sabermetrics is subtitled “Why Everything You Know About Baseball Is Wrong”, and the chapters go through to “prove it” with data-driven analysis. I love that shit.

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  5. CircleChange11 says:

    What I mean specifically in regards to forcing JV to change his approach is to not allow him to get ahead with his FB and work off of it. Jump on early FBs if they are in the meat of the plate. Of course try to hit them hard, letting him know that you’re not going to be taking cockshots just to see a pitch.

    Early success on 1st pitch FB’s might force him to start hitters with his offspeed pitches. These pitches are generally harder to throw for strikes and you make him show you them earlyin the at bat so you can gauge their speed and movement. Seeing your 1st curve with 2 strikes is exactly what any pitcher wants.

    Make him pitch backwards and by that I don’t mean with his back facing you although that would probably increase your odds of success.

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  6. Flip says:

    They need to learn how to make it rain after the 1st inning. This is Verlander, not some young pitcher that runs out of gas after 5 innings.

    Verlander is an elite power pitcher that can dominate a game for 9 innings just like Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, or Roger Clemens could.

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  7. CircleChange11 says:

    Perhaps. Was it a big gamble to pitch CC on short rest instead of a rested reliever?

    Really a just preferred to see some data anaylsis showing what a gamble it is.

    Certainly there has to be some data showing how elite starting pitchers have fared in playoff relief on short rest. Perhaps not after a high pitch start, but isn’t quantifying scenarios what sabermetric analysis does? Seeing if “conventionak wisdom” is accurate or not … Like what is done with sac bunts and stolen base attempts and closer usage and …

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  8. Tony Tarasco says:

    I would have expected to see some mention of the fact that Verlander has dominated the Rangers throughout his career, while Wilson has been crushed by Detroit throughout his. Huge advantage to Detroit in Game 1.

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  9. Colin says:

    Patience should be the goal verse any pitcher. However when you are facing a pitcher with some of the best control in the majors not named Roy Halladay, that strategy could backfire quickly.

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