Justin Verlander: Is He Finished?
Is the one time best pitcher in baseball, the long time ace of the Tigers, finished as a fantasy contributor? We'll explore.
After 11 starts Justin Verlander is 5-4 with a 4.04 ERA, 1.50 WHIP and 6.31 strikeouts per nine. The former elite arm, often the top arm taken in fantasy drafts for years, looks like a completely broken man. Is there anything to recommend Verlander or is he broken beyond repair?
As I pointed out last November in his Player Profile, Verlander has thrown a boatload of innings and pitches. From 2007-2013 only one man in baseball threw more than his 1,574.2 innings (Verlander also threw another 69.2 playoff innings in 2011-13). Guess what, that man, CC Sabathia, recently broke down with a knee issue. Coincidence perhaps, but nonetheless interesting. So far this year Verlander has thrown 71.1 innings, the 5th highest total in the AL. He's still piling up the innings despite the middling results.
While Sabathia threw the most innings from 2007-13, the man who threw the most pitches was Verlander at 25,966. That's just under 1,500 more pitches for Verlander than Sabathia or anyone else. Is his arm simply wearing out?
This is scary bad folks. The numbers clearly show the tale of Verlander's struggles.
From 2009-2013 he averaged 9.17 K/9.
He never had a season below 8.79 the past five years.
This season his K/9 rate is 6.31.
That's more than 2.5 batters off the pace.
That's simply horrible.
Moreover, his 6.31 K/9 mark is more than a batter off the league average of 7.65.
Simply put, you don't go from striking out a guy per inning to falling to 6.31 batters per nine unless there is a serious, an I mean catastrophic, type issue going on.
All the innings and pitches have taken their tole, again, something I pointed out last November. It's obvious when you look at the velocity numbers. Verlander is working on a 5th straight year of declining velocity.
92.1 mph this season
Don't need to explain this too much. He's just lost the high end heater.
Not only is his velocity down, not only are his K's plummeting, but Justin's walk rate has exploded. After a 4-year run with a BB/9 rate under 2.90, and a mark of under 2.20 in 2011-12, Verlander walked 3.09 batters per nine last year, his worst mark in five years. This years he's added even more to that total as he's saddled with a 3.79 mark. That's a full batter above his 2.81 career level and more than half a batter above the league average. His command is eroding.
His 49.4 percent strike percentage is a career worst.
His first pitch swinging strike percentage of 56.5 is a career worst (the mark has been over 61 percent each of the last five years).
For his career Verlander owns a solid 0.78 HR/9 mark (the league average is usually around 1.00). The mark has only been above his career rate once in the last five years (it was 0.86 in 2011), but only once in nine years did he finish a year under 0.72 showing remarkable year-to-year consistency (it was 0.56 in 2010). The fact is that his current rate in 2014 of 0.38 is less than half his career mark. When that number rises, and it could/should double, his ERA could explode (his xFIP which normalizes performance based on the league average HR/F ratio estimates that his ERA should be 4.68). The lack of homers allowed is the only thing keeping him even remotely relevant right now.
Verlander is totally lost. His velocity continues to tumble. The strikeouts have vanished. He's allowing more walks than ever before. Heck, he's throwing less than 50 percent of his pitches for strikes at the moment. Speaking totally out of turn, he might be dealing with some physical issue. However, it could just be that he's no longer got “it.” His ERA, K/9, BB/9 are all well off the league averages, and then there is this – his WHIP is 1.51. Read that again and let it sink in. His WHIP is destroying fantasy teams right now. You simply cannot start a man with a WHIP over 1.50 if you want to win. His 1.51 WHIP is more than double the big league leader – Johnny Cueto (0.74). It's not just 11 starts either. Over his last 45 starts, dating back to the start of the 2012 season, Verlander has a 1.36 WHIP. The big league average in that time is 1.30.
You cannot confidently start Verlander in any setup right now. Things have taken such a turn for the worst that I cannot even recommend you try to buy low on him. Hidden injury or not, and it's shocking to say, but Justin Verlander isn't even a league average pitcher right now. He just ain't.