Verlander’s Best Ever

Justin Verlander was pretty amazing Thursday night in his complete game shutout victory over the Athletics in game five. If you boil it down far enough, that start was the best postseason start ever. Boil it down, as in: he collected eleven strikeouts against five baserunners with no runs in a complete-game deciding win in American League playoff game. He was the first person to hit all of those benchmarks at the same time. He set the strikeout record for complete-game-shut-out winner-take-all-wins.

The crazy thing, though, is how well his game five performance stacks up even if you relax each of those determining factors.

If you zoom out a little and focus on games pitched in deciding postseason games — even losses — with double-digit strikeouts, he’s already in elite company.

In 1997, Randy Johnson threw a complete-game, 13-strikeout, two-walk gem of a game four for the Mariners against the Baltimore Orioles. He also gave up three runs and lost the game. The Mariners lost the series 3-1. Charles Nagy did something similar for the Indians against the Orioles the year before. He struck out 12 in six innings (two walks and two earned runs) in a game four for them. Of all people, Roberto Alomar hit a single for Baltimore in the ninth, though. The Indians lost the game and the series in the twelfth… when future Indian Roberto Alomar stuck the knife in further with a home run. Roger Clemens pitched well that world series game seven loss against the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001 (6.1 innings, 10 strikeouts, one walk, seven hits, one run). Mike Mussina struck out ten against no walks and one hit in eight innings for the Orioles against the Indians in 1997! The Orioles lost the series when Tony Fernandez went deep off of Armando Benitez in extras. (Benitez, oh Benitez.) John Candelaria in 1975 “helped” the Pirates get swept by the Reds with his game three effort in 7.2 innings. 14 strikeouts, two walks, three earned.

But those were losses, and series losses to boot.

Sterling Hitchcock won game four over the Astros (and Randy Johnson) in 1998 by throwing six one-run innings with 11 strikeouts and no walks. The Padres won 3-1. If you want more innings, try John Smoltz, who threw a complete-game one-run clincher to help the Braves sweep the Astros in 1997. He struck out 11 against one walk and three hits, which stacks up well against Verlander. (Poor Astros, twice burned.) Back in 1945, Detroit Tiger Hal Newhouser pitched a complete game to beat the Cubs in game seven of the series. He struck out ten against one walk but he also gave up ten hits along with three runs.

These were in the National League (or National League parks), which gives the pitcher a little pat on the ass when the lineup turns over.

There are three more apt examples, though. One came from a National League team, but in an American League park — Sandy Koufax struck out ten against three walks and three hits to clinch game seven for the Dodgers against the Twins in the 1965 world series. That used to be the strikeout record in a win in a winner-take-all complete game shutout before Verlander Thursday night. But, as a reader points out, the American League wasn’t using designated hitters in 1965.

The other two (more recent) comp games were both from games with DHs. There was Cliff Lee in 2010. He beat the Rays in a nine-inning, one run, 11 strikeout gem to clinch the series in St. Pete. He actually avoided walking anyone, which is something Verlander couldn’t manage Thursday night (despite a healthy zone to lefties, perhaps). Stupid Brandon Moss.

But Cliff Lee gave up three hits to Jason Bartlett and a hit each to B.J. Upton, Ben Zobrist and Sean Rodriguez. Six hits. Just a little while later, Tim Lincecum beat Lee and his Rangers by pitching eight innings and giving up only one run in the deciding game five. He struck out ten and walked two before giving way to Brian Wilson.

Justin Verlander only gave up hits to four people. He only gave up five baserunners overall. He didn’t give up a run. He pitched a complete game to clinch his series in an American League park. These things actually seem to matter when you are splitting hairs like this. So that puts him ahead by a nose over Cliff Lee and Sandy Koufax for Best Ever Double-Digit Strikeout Rate Performance in a Deciding Postseason Game. That’s quite an honor, and Verlander knew it himself, as he called the game “just about tops on his list” after the game — “given the situation.”



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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


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James
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James
3 years 7 months ago

What’s crazy is he didn’t even have his best curveball most of the night. His fastball and change-ups were excellent though.

the fume
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the fume
3 years 7 months ago

I agree, that’s pretty remarkable. In fact, I don’t think Verlander has brought his “A” stuff as much this year as he did last year. There were more times last year IMO where he’d have 3 great pitches, and this year there’s been more times where he might have 1 that would be great (by his caliber). To have the FB and CU working last night, unfortunately for the A’s, was more than he needed. But he’s so sharp in the mental game and keeps improving in that aspect, and I think he’s finally found a balance as to how to approach inning 1, that he still puts up awesome numbers and great outings.

Baltar
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Baltar
3 years 7 months ago

I’m still going with Don Larsen’s perfecto.

dat dude
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dat dude
3 years 7 months ago

Except that wasn’t a deciding game — which is what this entire article is about.

baycommuter
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baycommuter
3 years 7 months ago

I was there… if the A’s had to lose, glad to know I attended a historic performance. His fastball started at 95 and got up as high as 98. We were mainly hoping his pitch count would rise enough that he couldn’t go nine. Cespedes did him hard, twice, a double and a line out.

tigerdog
Guest
3 years 7 months ago

You pretty much gotta get to him in the first inning. Once he settles in, he’s unstoppable.

Tiger fans are so fortunate to witness two of the all time great Tigers, Verlander and Cabrera, at the same time.

Kevin
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Kevin
3 years 7 months ago

Pitch counts are almost irrelevant with someone like Verlander. He really is a throwback to the “old days” when pitchers were expected to go deep. Sorta like Roy Halliday but I think after this year there’s little doubt that pound for pound, Verlander is the top pitcher in baseball right now.

Ivan Grushenko
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Ivan Grushenko
3 years 7 months ago

You just added that “pound for pound” to eliminate Sabathia, didn’t you?

Well-Beered Englishman
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Well-Beered Englishman
3 years 7 months ago

“If you boil it down far enough, that start was the best postseason start ever.”

This is not pursued later on as the focus narrows, which is why Don Larsen isn’t calling.

Mike
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Mike
3 years 7 months ago

… or Rocket’s 15-strikeout one-hitter against the M’s in 2000.

The Real Neal
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The Real Neal
3 years 7 months ago

Or lots of other examples. (Maddux against the Indians comes to mind).

I hate these “Let’s take five criteria and find that nothing matches it”…. it’s the kind of argument that makes Andre Dawson the greatest player of all time. Seriously what other player won multiple gold gloves at multiple positions, had HR a and RBI title, lead the league in hits and sacrifice flies and HBP simultaneously, while amassing 500 doubles, 400 HR’s and 300 stolen bases?

Mike
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Mike
3 years 7 months ago

Appreciate the work, but the article needs some editing.

outliarbaseball.com
Member
3 years 7 months ago

The AL wasn’t using DHs in 1965

David Wiers
Member
Member
3 years 7 months ago

I should have done a chat.

Sigh.

colin
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colin
3 years 7 months ago

You and I both knew this would happen Wiers!

David Wiers
Member
Member
3 years 7 months ago

I’ve learned my lesson. My “hosting game chats vs. A’s winning the game” has an R^2 of 1.00.

Now I know my duty.

guest
Guest
guest
3 years 7 months ago

I’m happy that Verlander pitched great since I’m a Detroit fan, but I hate Leyland’s management. I actually think that Verlander should have been pulled after 7 innings to save him for his next start. Losing a six run lead with two innings left is extremely unlikely but Leyland doesn’t follow probability and insists on stupid managerial choices like putting in his closer with a 2 or 3 run lead.

Does anybody else feel this way or was Verlander dealing so well that he would have been better than Benoit or Albuquerque even after 100 pitches?

Ryan
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Ryan
3 years 7 months ago

You’re insane.

Eric Cioe
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Eric Cioe
3 years 7 months ago

He threw 121 pitches. That’s normal for him. He wasn’t coming back on short rest to start game 2 of the ALCS anyway.

The only reason to pull him would have been that he was wearing down. Do you think he was showing any signs of fatigue? The A’s certainly didn’t.

RationalSportsFan
Guest
3 years 7 months ago

You wanted to pull him after 97 pitches? Even if you did that, he is still pitching games 3 and 7.

And he only ended up throwing 122 pitches. He has thrown 120 or more 10 times this year. With little to no sign of that workload wearing him down. Why would this start be different?

the fume
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the fume
3 years 7 months ago

I was a bit concerned how he would fare after the half-hour top of the 7th, but he went back to 1st inning Verlander and the A’s couldn’t take advantage at all. After that, there was no point taking him out unless he hit 135 or so. He’s the best pitcher in baseball, it was his game, he’s earned it, he wanted it. Plus he might have killed Leyland if he tried.

Brian
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Brian
3 years 7 months ago

Really?

What the hell are you saving him for? It’s not like he threw 149 pitches. He had a typical Verlander start.

And every managers uses their closer poorly, get over yourself.

guest
Guest
guest
3 years 7 months ago

Just because everybody makes the mistake doesn’t mean you should follow the crowd blindly. I would have thought that fangraphs readers would have been more objective in knowing the win probability of a 6 run lead after 7 innings than the general public, guess I was wrong. :(

Brian
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Brian
3 years 7 months ago

On what grounds is it a mistake?

catswithbats
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catswithbats
3 years 7 months ago

Pulling him early to “conserve” his energy or whatever makes no sense. He routinely throws 120-130 pitches in a start; the only reason I could see them pulling him that early would be if they intended to use him on short rest in the ALCS, and they won’t do that. The whole reason Verlander is allowed to throw 120-130 pitches every start is because he always gets the full allotment of off-days to “recover.”

Krog
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Krog
3 years 7 months ago

This was a must win game. You don’t conserve anything when losing means your season is over.

chuckb
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chuckb
3 years 7 months ago

The only way this would be a rational decision is if Leyland honestly felt that the A’s had a better shot of hitting Verlander than Albuquerque or Benoit in the last 2 innings. If he really thought that Verlander was tiring or would get into trouble going the 3rd or 4th time through the order, he should have used one of his better relievers.

Pulling him to save him for the ALCS would have been a monumental blunder…a fireable offense, in my opinion.

guest
Guest
guest
3 years 7 months ago

Ok, what if the tigers were winning 10-0 after 7 innings? What about that? Or 15-0? The win expectancy is VERY high then.

tigerdog
Guest
3 years 7 months ago

Furthermore, the fact that Verlander had to pitch in game 5 of the LDS at all didn’t change the fact that Leyland won’t let him start more than two games in the ALCS. He would have started games 1 and 5. Now, he’ll start games 3 and, if necessary, game 7.

Personally, I’d want him in games 1, 4, and 7, but Leyland is allergic to the whole concept of “short rest”, and Verlander is very much a standard routine pitcher. Remember 2009, when Leyland started Alfredo Figaro, who hadn’t made a start at any level in three months, in game 161? He could have started JV on “short rest” (or the same rest that every pitcher had for a century prior to the coddling era), but no way, even with the season on the line.

Now Sabathia starting game 5 very likely means that he gets two starts instead of potentially three in the LCS.

Nathan
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Nathan
3 years 7 months ago

One thing to add to everything else that has been said to this point… not only would 97 pitches already be enough to prevent him from going on short rest, but the Yankees and Orioles were in the midst of a dogfight.

So at the time, if you’re sitting in the dugout deciding whether or not you can pull him and get him to go earlier in the ALCS on short rest, you’re looking at the scoreboard and thinking, not worth it, the other club is probably going to be in the same situation.

I realize that this is faulty reasoning, but that’s beacuse it comes from the faulty premise of the OP. I’m just pointing it out for argument’s sake, that even if we grant the OP his point, doesn’t follow consistently.

tigerdog
Guest
3 years 7 months ago

I’m also a Tiger fan and I think you’re freaking crazy. They didn’t have anyone in the bullpen that could do what Verlander was doing. You missed a good game.

Kevin
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Kevin
3 years 7 months ago

Considering the amount of thumbs down…. yeah, nobody else feels that way.

The fact that you are even considering asking if he was better than Benoit…. you sure you are a fan?

As others mentioned, 121 pitches is actually pretty par for the course with JV. If you wanna do raw averages, he averages right around 114 pitches per game. If you look at his velocity it was classic Verlander. He clearly wasn’t tired late in the game.

This site has a cornucopia of stats you can compile about Verlander. I really suggest using them.

Eminor3rd
Member
Eminor3rd
3 years 7 months ago

****ing Verlander…

maguro
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maguro
3 years 7 months ago

Pretty sure the Pirates did not sweep the Reds in 1975.

dan
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dan
3 years 7 months ago

If Lincecum pitched 8 one-run innings, does that mean he gave up 8 runs?

Anon
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Anon
3 years 7 months ago

If you boil it down far enough, that start was the best postseason start ever.

Not even close to true. A more accurate statement is: with enough carefully chosen qualifiers, this performance can be a unique statistical event. Also, not considering the strikeout environment in historical comparisons is ridiculous.

Great clinching shutouts? Carpenter did the same in the NLDS last year (except with only a 1 run lead).

Great postseason performances? Larsen, Halladay, Gibson (specifically ’68 game 1)

Scott
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Scott
3 years 7 months ago

What about Randy Johnson’s performance in the one-game 1995 playoff against the Angels?

Kate Upton
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Kate Upton
3 years 7 months ago

Justin Verlander! Again???

Rob Moore
Member
Rob Moore
3 years 7 months ago

That Koufax game was pitched on 2 days rest and according to the radio call from Vin Scully that’s out there on the web somewhere, he didn’t have his curveball that day, so he was throwing all fastballs and was laboring heavily the whole game. That game was in Minnesota, not in Dodger Stadium.

Caveman Jones
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Caveman Jones
3 years 7 months ago

How about Josh Beckett’s Game 6 2003 World Series complete game shutout? 9:2 K:BB, 5 hits, 106 pitches in Yankee stadium. Beckett’s WPA was .651 versus Verlander’s WPA was .340 WPA.

Eric Cioe
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Eric Cioe
3 years 7 months ago

WPA for starting pitchers is kind of like RBI for hitters: they’re so situation dependent, and you can’t credit a guy for what his teammates do or don’t do. Verlander’s WPA would have been .950 or so if it were a one run game, but you can’t fault him for the Tigers offense finally showing up.

J.D. KaPow
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J.D. KaPow
3 years 7 months ago

I’ll still take Jack Morris, thanks. Yeah, okay, 7 hits, 2 BBs, 8 Ks isn’t as flashy, but give me 10 shutout innings and a 1-0 Game 7 WS victory over anything that happens in a DS.

J.D. KaPow
Guest
J.D. KaPow
3 years 7 months ago

Caveman Jones reminds me: Morris’s WPA? 0.845

TKDC
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TKDC
3 years 7 months ago

The Indians beat the Orioles in 1997.

TKDC
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TKDC
3 years 7 months ago

Just to be clear, since i didn’t include any sarcastic cracks, this is wrong in the article:

“He lost the game and the Indians lost the series when Tony Fernandez went deep off of Armando Benitez in extras.”

Why Not
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Why Not
3 years 7 months ago

Mussina’s performance was insane in that ’97 postseason. 4 GS, 29 IP, 1.24 ERA, 41k/7bb

Patrick
Guest
Patrick
3 years 7 months ago

I was frustrated to see Verlander get 3-6″ off the outside corner to left handed hitters in both of his starts vs. the A’s. I know his late movement is partially responsible but the strike zone in both of his starts was egregious.

In his first start Verlander was shaky in the first couple of innings until he saw what the umpire was willing to give him. The A’s were simply not willing to swing at 6″ outside. It is amazing– if the catcher sets up 6″ off the outside corner but never moves his glove, how often the ump gives the pitcher the call. Id like to see more analysis on where a catcher sets up vs. strikes called.

It was not even close. Verlander was good to exploit it, but knowing how good Verlander is, the umpires gave the Tigers game 1 and 5. I am surprised more people are not discussing this…

chuckb
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chuckb
3 years 7 months ago

I think the strike zones in a lot of these playoff games have been horrendous. The umpiring, in theory, should get better in the playoffs since, presumably, you’re only using the best umpires. Joyce’s strike zone in the Cards-Nats game was atrocious, for example. It’s like the umpires are saying, “it’s the playoffs; those hitters should be able to hit balls 4 inches off the outside edge.”

colin
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colin
3 years 7 months ago

Yeah, it’s not like the Athletics had the exact same zone to work with! The umps totally gave the games to the Tigers!

Wally
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Wally
3 years 7 months ago

Exactly. If you give one of the best pitchers in the game, if not history, a zone like that, its just plain not fair. Also, it wasn’t just the outside call, it was well outside and low that got called several times as well.

Several of the A’s hitters were clearly frustrated with Bell’s zone last night. A couple of Reddick’s and Crisp’s at bats come to mind. They just couldn’t do anything other that attempt to foul those pitches off into the dug out.

Of course, the A’s pitchers had the same zone and couldn’t exploit it, but if you take that advantage of Verlander’s away, there is no way this is a historic performance, and who knows what the result of the game may have been either.

Eric Cioe
Guest
Eric Cioe
3 years 7 months ago

Of course every other of these important postseason games by marquee pitchers has had a perfect zone, too.

Better yet, remember the last pitch of Halladay’s perfect game? Or how about the entire careers of certain Braves pitchers? A big zone isn’t anything new. A’s hitters likely had to deal with a zone at least this big dozens of times this year.

4 inches off the outside corner didn’t make Reddick go 0-6 with 5 strikeouts and a walk against Verlander, didn’t make the A”s bat .194 with no power during the whole series. And it certainly didn’t make Crisp play so deep that he let at least three balls fall in front of him, two of which scored runs. Stop whining about the zone because while it might have been a bit big, it wasn’t egregiously bad, and it wasn’t what sunk the A’s.

Kevin
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Kevin
3 years 7 months ago

If you take that advantage away….. verlander still beats them. Not only did Oakland not “exploit” the strike zone, they also made a billion mistakes with their pitching in game 5. This was a young team and boy did it show in this situation. Plunking miggy with the bases juiced when you are ahead 0-2? If Oakland fans were honest they would complain about things like this.

Or not complain at all, because they gave one hell of a run, but in the end, you were facing the best pitcher in the game.

Ian
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Ian
3 years 7 months ago

According to the pitch chart, I see 4 balls outside the typical zone that were called strikes for Verlander, and 4 balls outside the typical zone that were called strikes for the A’s. I really don’t get all the whining from A’s fans. It was a huge strike zone to lefties – the Tigers were hurt by it all night too, but they just didn’t complain as often inside the box.

tigerdog
Guest
3 years 7 months ago

They called the same way on Fielder, Dirks, Avila, and Berry. Not saying it’s right but it was consistent and not at all uncommon.

Kyle
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Kyle
3 years 7 months ago

You have a point, but it seemed both teams benefited from an expanded strike zone. Verlander did get 2 or 3 pitches that even with that sick movement weren’t even close to the outside corner.

Some of the pitches he was getting called for strikes had movement that looked like the pitches may have clipped a piece of the plate before being caught 3 inches outside.

Patrick
Guest
Patrick
3 years 7 months ago

Jeff,
Good comment… I would argue that as soon as a hitter tries to adjust to 3-6″ outside of the real plate area he gives up the inside corner….and it would take Verlander all of 1 pitch to fix that problem. I think Verlander looked hittable against lefties EXCEPT for the strike calls off the plate. This goes back to game 1 observations. I believe it made the difference in 3-4 runs per start. The A’s had 6,7,8 lefties in the lineup? Whenever Verlander actually pitched in the zone they hit him. He was just very good at pitching outside the zone–and the hitters were very good at not chasing — until the umpires called it over and over again.

colin
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colin
3 years 7 months ago

Considering 6″ is over 1/3 of the entire strike zone, and 3/4 runs per start? I’m going to go ahead and say you are being a little bit bitter and unrealistic.

Patrick
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Patrick
3 years 7 months ago

I am not an A’s fan, so I am not bitter. The live graph on TV showed at least 1/3 of the plate off being called for Verlander. Maybe the live graph was off, but the A’s hitters weren’t acting like it. 3-4 runs is easy when a pitcher has to stay in the zone, even Verlander.

the fume
Guest
the fume
3 years 7 months ago

Looked hittable? Do you base that off the 7 batters that actually got hits?

Verlander got the outside corner against LHB games 1 and 5 no doubt, and it may have made him impossible to hit, but there’s a long way between that and 3-4 runs per start. He still had a margin for error if he needed it: his fastball isn’t just some flat thing that you can hit if it’s over the plate. Nor the change-up for that matter. He barely touched his slider because he didn’t need it. Not to mention that I’m sure he had a few extra mph in his back pocket.

Maybe there are some lineups that could give him trouble with a true strike-zone, but I don’t think Oakland’s was it.

Patrick
Guest
Patrick
3 years 7 months ago

the fume…. in order for your comment to hold water you would have to show that Verlander was as effective inside of the real strike zone as he was outside of it. I have not done the leg work, but the amount of swing and misses, or called strikes within the real zone paled in comparison to the alternative. The A’s did not miss often within the real strike zone, and I did not see them take more than 1 or 2 third strike looking within the real zone.

Most of the time pitchers are effective outside of the real strike zone by relying on swing and misses (ie Felix Hernandez)–Verlander in games 1 and 5 relied on called strikes that were well off the plate.

the fume
Guest
the fume
3 years 7 months ago

actually you would have to show that he isn’t since you are arguing against the null hypothesis. i just have to point to his season/career statistics against LHB and drink a beer.

Eric Cioe
Guest
Eric Cioe
3 years 7 months ago

Verlander threw 243 pitches in 2 starts. He had 36 swinging strikes for a 15% swinging strike rate.

The A’s had 5 innings in which they could have hurt Verlander in game 1. He was on the ropes. They had all kinds of baserunners. He couldn’t find even that big zone. And yet they got 3 hits all night.

So just agree with us and say that yes, it was a big zone, and yes, he exploited it, but that is what the best pitchers in baseball do. And what they have always done. No one looked happy walking away from a called strikeout from Unit or Roger, either.

Jeff
Guest
Jeff
3 years 7 months ago

I’d prefer someone to crunch some numbers rather than just say, effectively… it is what it is, deal with it.

I’m interested in subjects like these that appear to have affected the outcome, but may or may not have actually. Not interested in speculation.

I, personally, will not consider this a historical performance until I see evidence either way.

Eric Cioe
Guest
Eric Cioe
3 years 7 months ago

Jeff, you must be a ball at parties.

Jeff
Guest
Jeff
3 years 7 months ago

lol Eric…

I typically avoid parties b/c I get drunk and black out and get naked and do drugs and break the law… you know all cool stuff.

then again I’m not really concerned with being popular…

Eric Cioe
Guest
Eric Cioe
3 years 7 months ago

They got a whole 7 hits in 16 innings. You’re saying their hit total would likely triple with a few inches less on the outside corner? I’m not sure you have the right pitcher in mind.

ron paul
Guest
ron paul
3 years 7 months ago

Verlander knew going in that the Tigers needed him to throw a complete game after their bullpen was flat-out awful before game 5…..he went out and dominated for 9 innings!! Their offense is also hit and miss, so a shutout may have been necessary to continue their season too.

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