Verlander’s Big Start

Justin Verlander came into the 2009 season working off of a 2008 campaign that saw his ERA rise from 3.66 coupled with an 18-6 record to 4.84 with a corresponding 11-17 record. That’s the impression most people would hold when judging how Verlander performed. More stat savvy fans would instead point to Verlander’s FIP barely moving at all, going from 3.99 in 2007 to 4.18 last year as proof that he wasn’t actually much different last year. Both view points are partially right.

Verlander was indeed worse in 2008. He had 20 fewer strikeouts with 14 more batters faced. He walked 20 more as well. A slight dip in home runs allowed (two) helped keep the FIP jump to a minimum. However, beyond the troubling strikeout and walk numbers, Verlander also lost a sizable chunk off his fastball velocity. His average fastball in 2006 and 2007 was right at 95 miles per hour. In 2007 that dropped all the way down to 93.6.

2009 has seen a marked reversal in all the above mentioned categories. Justin Verlander‘s fastball is up to a 95.3 mph average, the highest sustained speed of his career. Correspondingly, he is missing fat more bats than ever before as well and seeing his strikeout rate jump to over 12 per nine while his walk rate has returned to the 2006-7 level of right around three per nine innings. Verlander’s ERA is still 4.29, but his FIP is 2.39, illustrating just how big of an improvement he has made.

The only area Verlander has not seen gains in is in his batted ball profile. Verlander’s ground ball percentage dropping under 40% for the first time, to 39.9%, in 2008. It is currently at just over 28%. That’s a significant decline. Verlander has been keeping away from the home runs thanks to just 5.4% of his fly balls landing over the wall, a figure that is not sustainable.

Still, Verlander has been on a roll. Over his last four starts, he has recorded 9, 11, 11 and 13 strikeouts. He is a big reason why Detroit finds itself in first place in the AL Central.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

7 Responses to “Verlander’s Big Start”

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  1. Eric Cioe says:

    I think the increase in flyball outs is intentional. Rick Knapp taught all the Twins pitchers coming up to limit the walks and keep the ball in the air. Verlander’s stuff seems a lot better suited to flyball pitching than groundball pitching. He certainly looks more comfortable pitching around the letters than trying to pitch at the knees.

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    • Matt Harms says:

      “to limit the walks and keep the ball in the air”

      Why are those two somehow indicative of one another?

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      • Eric Cioe says:

        Not really. It’s just how the Twins teach their pitchers to pitch: they are usually one of the AL teams with the fewest walks and the most homeruns given up. I think Rick Knapp saw in Verlander a guy who was trying to be a groundball pitcher and failing. I think the idea was to let Verlander pitch to his strengths, rather than according to some top-down, organizational philosophy that Chuck Hernandez seemed to have. He wanted everyone to be a pitch-to-contact groundball pitcher. That makes sense with a lot of guys. But Verlander wasn’t one of them. As soon as he started putting his fastball at the top of the zone rather than trying to hit the low corners, he was throwing more strikes and getting more punchouts. Sure, the flyballs are eventually going to lead to homeruns. But because balls in the air turn into hits at a lower rate than groundballs, combined with a lower walk rate, I think the idea is that the homeruns he’s going to give up are going to be solo shots.

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  2. anon says:

    “Correspondingly, he is missing fat more bats than ever before”

    Nitpicking, but I’m guessing you meant “far” more bats than ever.

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  3. Luis says:

    I made a trade two weeks ago for Verlander. I gave up Grady Sizemore and got Verlander and Victorino in return. My hitting is stacked and I’ve got Carl Crawford among others, who take care of my SB. I was looking at Verlander’s numbers and I did see the 28% GB, which seemed really odd to me and almost made me back away from the trade I made. Then, I thought about it and thought it was just an aberration as his career numbers shopw GB% to be around 40%.

    Should I be worried about the amount of FB he is giving up and that only 5.5% are leaving the yard?

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    • Chris in Dallas says:

      Watch him pitch sometime. You won’t be concerned about the flyballs so much. Dude is practically unhittable when he’s on. I imagine a few more fly balls will start leaving the park (especially as we warm up weather-wise), but if he’s keeping guys off the bases via the free pass and striking out a pantload of hitters I’m thinking solo homers aren’t so bad. And he’s got Granderson to run down some of those potential big flys…

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  4. Charles says:

    Another reason why the fly balls aren’t as much of a concern as normal is because he plays half his games at Comerica Park. The outfield is one of the biggest in baseball. Left center and center are just enormous and right field is fairly shallow, but that doesn’t affect a hard throwing righty like Verlander as much. Center is a good 420 feet away from home plate which is huge, but the big key is that about 50 feet to the right and left of dead center has to be a good 430 or there abouts.

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