Justin Verlander: Ready to Regain Righteousness

So last year in my 10-Team, 35 man roster, dynasty fantasy baseball league, I found myself in need of some starting pitching after the first two months of the season. I was last in my league in quality starts, and near the bottom in ERA and WHIP. Manny Machado was my cornerstone 3rd baseman, and he was hitting a fiery .355 for the month of May. For how good he is, I did not believe he was a batting title contender, so was interested in seeing what I could get for him.

Enter Justin Verlander. The Tigers’ ace, (at the time) had a 1.83 ERA and was 3-2 in April, and had hit a rough spot in May where he surrendered 16 ER in 12.2 innings. After going 17-8 with 239 K’s in 2012, I felt like this was a great time to buy low on the guy, while selling high on Machado. So I traded the Orioles’ phenom for the Mr. Kate Upton. Well, safe to say, that WAS NOT the trade that ended up winning me the league. From the end of May forward, Verlander posted a 3.36 ERA for the remainder of the season and was walking batters like it was the cool thing to do, posting a 3.07 BB/9 (which is AWFUL for him). He ended the season with a 3.46 ERA and only 13 wins, which were his worst totals in those categories since 2008. This isn’t an argument against Machado’s lack of offensive ability, which I will discuss at a later date. Instead, I will be telling you why Verlander’s performance last season was a fluke, and he will regain his Cy Young form in 2014.

As pitchers age, they usually lose a little oomph on their fastball. People will probably look at Verlander and assume this is the reason why he was less effective in 2013.




Fastball Velocity (average)














Based on the table above, you can see how he has lost some velocity on his fastball. For more detail, follow this link to view his velocity charts for 2013 and compare it to his prior years. If you notice, in his first five starts of 2013, his fastball average was hovering around the 93 mph mark, well below his average of the last four years, 95.2 mph. In those first five starts, Verlander posted an ERA of 1.83, had a K/9 of 9.38, WHIP of 1.19, and held batters to a .242 average. Even with a fastball that seems to be slowing down, Verlander has still found a way to retire batters, and more importantly, still strike them out. So the argument that his fastball is becoming “too hittable” isn’t necessarily correct.

BABIP, for those of you who don’t know, is the percentage of time that if a batter makes contact with a ball and puts it in the field of play, it will go for a hit. Generally, the league average for hitters falls somewhere between .290-.310. But there are plenty of factors that can influence BABIP, such as a player’s skill, defense behind a pitcher, and our good friend LUCK. More on that in a moment, but first, let’s establish what factors influenced Verlander’s BABIP. From 2008-2012, Verlander had an average BABIP of .282, which is below the league’s average range of .290-.310. Based on this sample size, we can assume Verlander’s skill set is above the mean for pitcher. Secondly, Defense. According to baseballreference.com, the Detroit Tigers ranked 12th out of 15 AL teams last year in errors and double plays. On a more optimistic note, they were 4th in fielding %. Those numbers indicate that they were a mediocre, at best, defensive team, which would cause Verlander’s BABIP to slightly increase toward the league mean. Lastly, we don’t have a way to measure luck, but Verlander’s 2013 BABIP was way above his recent average of .282, sitting at .316.

Point being, there were too many balls that were put in play that fell for hits considering all the conditions I stated above for Verlander.

It was not just his inflated BABIP that led to a down year in 2013 for Verlander. He posted a five-year high in BB/9, at 3.09. When you walk people and then give up hits, runners are bound to score. In 77.2 innings in June and July of last year he walked 33 batters. In the final 97.2 innings of last season and the playoffs, he only walked a combined 22 batters. He was able to regain his control in the second half that he had lost mid-way through 2013. I think the control he demonstrated toward the end of 2013 will carry over into 2014.

One more random stat to consider: Verlander’s IFH% (infield hit percentage) for his career sits at 5.9%. Last season, that stat jumped up to a recent high at 8.3%. Reasons for that stat being high could result from the inefficiencies of Miguel Cabrera at 3rd base, or inconsistent defense of Jhonny Peralta. The Tigers now have the more athletic Nick Castellanos at 3rd, and made a mid-season trade last year for Jose Iglesias. Both of those additions provide upgrades defensively for the Tigers compared to last year.

With everything that I’ve discussed, this guy is being way undervalued in fantasy drafts this year, going in the 5th or 6th rounds depending on the format. If you can grab him in the 4th over guys like Zach Greinke or Madison Bumgarner, I would do so. He still strikes people out at a high rate, posting 217 K’s last year. Also, don’t forget that he pitches for a team with one of the most potent offenses in the game. When Verlander’s BABIP regresses, his improved defense and control kicks in, he will regain his righteousness.

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jason randolph
jason randolph

Of course the BABIP went up when the line drive rate went up vs every type of pitch he threw. Maybe it has something to do with the lost velocity on the four seamer, which in turn may have allowed batter to pick up the change a split second faster. Although I do agree the BABIP will normalize some but to what degree remains to be seen. I don’t know much but if he loses a little more velocity this year and fails to adjust his pitches we could see some more ugly outings. Don’t get me wrong he will be a very effective arm but not near as righteous as we have seen in precious season

Spencer Dean
Spencer Dean

The whole righteousness aspect really reminds me of US Marshals with Tommy Lee Jones. The Antagonist/Protagonist character always talks about being righteous.