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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