Verlander Outpitches His ERA

Last year at this time, I was writing articles about the disappearance of Justin Verlander‘s fastball. He was averaging just 92 MPH with his best pitch and getting beaten around because of it. His velocity recovered a bit as the season went on, but he had his worst year as a pro and entered the 2009 season as something of a question mark.

Through his first three starts of 2009, his ERA is 7.88, and he’s only managed to get through 16 innings. With another season where he’s getting poor results in April, one might assume that Verlander’s just continuing his regression from last year.

One would be wrong.

Forget the results – Verlander is back to his ’06 form. His fastball is averaging 95.6 MPH, and he’s consistently hitting 97 when he’s throwing it by people. That’s showing up in his true outcome categories as well – he’s striking out 11.25 batters per nine innings through his first three starts. His ERA is skewed by a ridiculous 38.6% LOB%, essentially pointing to the fact that other teams have bunched their hits together against him, and that’s just not going to continue. He’s also had some brutal defense played behind him so far (Carlos Guillen defended like he had been drinking before taking his left field spot on Friday night), and a .389 BABIP won’t continue.

If there’s one pitcher whose results haven’t matched his underlying performance so far, it’s Verlander. If he was a stock, I’d be yelling “Buy! Buy!” like the mad money guy on CNBC. If you play in a fantasy league and the guy who owns Verlander doesn’t read FanGraphs, make a phone call and see if you can buy low. If you’re a Tigers fan who is frustrated by Verlander, have some patience – your ace is back.

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

36 Responses to “Verlander Outpitches His ERA”

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  1. brian recca says:

    I plan on making a trade for Justin Verlander in my fantasy league. But I don’t know who to give up. My starting pitching staff includes Francisco Liriano, Javier Vazquez, Yovani Gallardo, Matt Cain, and Zach Greinke. Who would you trade?

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  2. brian recca says:

    i also have Scott Baker. My relief pitchers are Qualls, Morrow, Francisco, Mike Gonzalez, and Kevin Gregg

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  3. taro says:


    It depends on the fortmat, but I’d probably take Verlander over Matt Cain.

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  4. Sean says:

    The only difficulty I see with Verlander is that he will continue to have a brutal defense behind him. His strand rate isn’t going to be 40% of course, but last year it was 65% and that may be a reasonable over-under for this year too.

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    • tiger says:

      Actually, the Tigers’ fielders have played better defense behind every other starting pitcher. Brandon Inge, in particular, has made two very costly errors in Verlander’s starts that probably cost him 2 wins (1 win for sure.)

      I think his strand rate will be low this year, too, because Jim Leyland misuses him. He always leaves him in the game one inning too long, and then he gets pulled with runners on base, which the bullpen promptly allows to score. IMO, that was the main reason for his low strand rate in 2008 – extremely poor bullpen support.

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    • Nick says:

      Tigers defense this year is infinitely better than it was last year. Cabrera is doing a solid job learning 1st (already posting a + UZR), and Inge, Everett, Polanco, and Laird are all very quality defenders. The only subpar defenders on the team right now are Magglio, and whoever plays LF that isn’t Josh Anderson. I think Verlander might be able to handle the lack of gold glovers in the corner outfield.

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  5. Eddie says:

    He was filthy Friday night. Not only was he blowing mid-high 90′s smoke past hitters, he was buckling their knees with his curve. He’s back.

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  6. taro says:

    Early in ST, I heard that they were working on softening Verlander’s landing leg. I don’t know what they were specifically working on (probably trying to not land as stiff on the leading leg), but Verlander tended to land on his heel in the past (which can lead to command issues)..

    I expect more Ks this year with the increased velocity, and hes also quietly increased his O-Swing% each year. I suspect this is because hes decreased the difference between his fastball and offspeed pitches in the last few years.

    After a rocky start, his command in the start against Seattle was tremendous. I wouldn’t be suprised to see the BB rate to also go down despite the higher BB/9 this year (if they fixed his landing leg flaw).

    It could be a breakout season for Verlander this year.

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  7. brett says:

    I have one concern. He’s been awfully hittable from the stretch so far. Absolutely dominant from the windup but as soon as he allows a baserunner it all seems to fall apart. Has anyone done a study on this sort of thing? Do pitchers ever just not have it from the stretch or this unquestionably bad luck?

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    • taro says:

      Interesting, with the mechanical changes there might be something to that.

      Have you noticed anything different?

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    • SmokeAndMirrors says:

      Isn’t that the issue with Dave Bush as well? Absurdly high LOB rate since he’s significantly worse out of the stretch. I could see that being an issue with Verlander as well

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      • taro says:

        The thing is Verlander hasn’t really had these issues in the past..could be something there, could be an early season fluke. Its something to look out for though.

        Either way, theres no way hes running a 38.8 LOB%.

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    • taro says:

      I wonder if he reverts to his old mechanics in the stretch…I’m posting too much.

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      • brett says:

        Honestly i haven’t paid any attention to his mechanics other than what we’ve all been reading about his release point (and the landing foot thing, which is news to me). Maybe i’ll break out the no-hitter dvd and take a look.

        Although, if it is a mechanics thing Knapp should catch it pretty fast.

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  8. Dave Allen says:

    Verlander is a great get if possible. His fastball has gained more speed than any other starter (09 fastball thus far compared to 08 fastball speed). This time last year the two pitchers with the largest increases were Ervin Santana and Tim Lincecum.

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  9. tiger says:

    I’m not surprised opponents are bunching their hits together against him. He melts down on the mound at the slightest sign of adversity and starts rushing his pace and delivery.

    Million dollar arm, 10 cent head.

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    • Nick says:

      You have him confused with Bonderman. Verlander really only had this problem last year, which I’m going to blame entirely on Chuckie Hernandez.

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  10. brett says:

    Not sure i buy that yet. He’s always quick pitched dating back to college if not earlier. And i don’t remember many big meltdowns in ’06-’07.

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  11. Mike R says:

    As a Tigers fan who’s never been as big of a Verlander fan as most every other Tiger fan, I feel obligated to point out that he’s sporting a 9.2% BB rate thus far to go with his 26.3% K rate. He’ll always walk too many batters to be anything more than a No. 2 — and I’m not even sold that his K rate is sustainable. I think he’s more around 20% at best.

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  12. RollingWave says:

    so is it too early to declare Verlander the newest member of the JVSOUPP ? (Javier Vazquez school of under performing periphals)

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  13. Nick says:

    Reading some of these comments, I wonder if some of you realized he actually pitched full seasons in 2006 and 2007.

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  14. Joe says:

    OK so he’s a free agent in my league. I’m dropping Wakefield immediately after tomorrow’s start to pick him up(he always shreds my Twins in Fenway) But I’m already temporarily running one extra pitcher so as to get all of my starts this week. The question is who do I drop or trade between the rest: Billingsly, Liriano, Cain, Nolasco, Jurjens, and Chamberlain? My relievers are Soria and Qualls, neither of whom I’m keen to part with.

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    • Kevin S. says:

      “illingsly, Liriano, Cain, Nolasco, Jurjens, and Chamberlain?”

      One of these six is not like the others. Drop Jurrjens.

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  15. Gibby says:

    Would you take him over Volquez?

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  16. Dan says:

    This is plagiarized from

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  17. LarryWayne says:

    Hahah, yeah, Dan, Neyer pointed to this today in his blog, and, as always, gave Dave credit.

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  18. mymrbig says:

    Dave said – “Carlos Guillen defended like he had been drinking before taking his left field spot on Friday night”

    Hilarious. Somehow I missed this when I first read the post, but that is some funny stuff coming from a Mariners fan:-)

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  19. Big Oil says:

    Can someone who watched the game last night give me the report on his performance? Defense, velocity, pitch location/control…what gave?


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  20. Eric Cioe says:

    Ryan Raburn, recently called up from AAA, botched two pretty simple plays in right field last night. He added probably 20 pitches onto the outing. Verlander didn’t pitch well, but he certainly didn’t deserve to have all of those runs be earned. The official scorer there has been ridiculous this series. The first inning HR came on a curveball that ended, rather than started, at the knees. The fifth inning, he gave up 3 hits in a row on fastballs away. He rarely comes in with it. And as we all know, 95 mph is no better than 85 on that side of the plate. You have to come in with it for the velocity to be an advantage.

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    • Big Oil says:

      One thing I was able to take note of was his (somehow) increase in BABIP after the start, likely thanks in no small part to Mr. Raburn.

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  21. Steve Balboni says:

    I watched him last night and this thought occured to me: The k/9 (and secondary stats built on that) can be misleading when a guy puts a ton of batters on base. Striking out 11 of 40 batters faces is less impressive than 11 of 35. Seems like K/plate appearance would be more meaningful.

    I’m sure others have thought this through, so why do we still use k/9. Because its easier? Or is it more meaningful in a way that escapes me?

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  22. sh says:

    since they are two hot players of discussion here…

    who would get the better of a Verlander for Fukudome trade?

    Going into the season, I thought (felt in my gut by channeling my inner Charlie Manuel) that Fukudome would perform ‘better’ this year compared to last, though certainly not as well as he’s produced thus far. But I’ve always been a Verlander fan, and think he has the higher upside, even with the struggles last season.

    If we are speculating on both players, who do people think will end up with the better lines at the end of this season?

    I missed Verlander’s performance last night, so it’s interesting to hear that Detroit defense & bullpen both added to his recent woes.

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