In 2011 there wasn't a better pitcher in baseball than the Tigers' Justin Verlander. He threw 251 innings with a 2.40 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 250 Ks and 24 victories. He wasn't quite as good in 2012 but he was still excellent with 17 wins, a 2.64 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 239 Ks in 238.1 innings. In 2013 the rug was pulled out from under him as he reverted to being a very solid hurler, but not a fantasy baseball staff leader. Let's take a look.
Verlander ended up going a league average 13-12. Wins are variable, I say that all the time, but after winning at least 17 games in each of the previous four seasons and six of the last seven a season with 13 has to be considered a big disappointment. He also lost 12 games. He lost all of 13 games in 2011-12 and those 12 loses was only the second time in eight years he lost more than nine games.
But he was good in other areas, right? Not really. In fact, he wasn't much better than average in some respects.
Verlander had a 3.46 ERA. While that was clearly lower than the 3.99 AL average in 2013 it was a hugely disappointing number for a guy who had been under 2.65 in each of the previous two seasons. However, maybe we all just got ahead of ourselves there. For his career Verlander owns a 3.41 ERA.
Verlander had a 1.31 WHIP. That was a mere one hundredth of a point better than the AL average of 1.32. That's not good. It's also a gut punch given that Verlander threw 218.1 innings (more on that in a second). That's a whole lot of innings to be league average. The 1.31 WHIP was also the highest the mark had been since 2008. Moreover, his WHIP was under 1.10 in 2011-12 and the last time it was higher than 1.18 was 2008. Not good.
Verlander threw a big total of 218.1 innings. However, that was was also a five year low. He's gone over 200 innings the past seven years though an it's not like 218.1 innings is a low mark. It's just that the loss of 25 innings did lower his strikeout total as well. After seasons of 250 and 239 he “fell” to 217 Ks in 2013. That mark also represented a five year low. And then there is this. You remember how everyone freaked out when Tim Lincecum lost two mph off his fastball? Hello Justin Verlander.
2009: 95.6 mph 2010: 95.4 mph 2011: 95.0 mph 2012: 94.3 mph 2013: 93.3 mph
That's a loss of two mph amidst a trend of receding fastball velocity in each of the past four seasons. That's a concern, is it not? It's extremely likely that all those innings, all those pitches, have just sapped that little extra from Verlander. He can still crank it up when needed, and it's not like he can't throw 97 mph in the 8th inning if he has to, but you hopefully get my drift here – it's just not there as much as it used to be. The loss of two mph has also shrunk the gap between his heater and off-speed pitches. Maybe that is part of the reason that he walked 3.09 batters per nine innings in 2013 after 4-straight seasons under 2.86 including three seasons under 2.37?
When he was throwing 95.6 mph in 2009 he threw his fastball 68 percent of the time. The last four seasons he's failed to hit 59 percent with his heater and the last two years that number is 56 percent. He's also failed to reach his career strike percentage – the number of pitches he has thrown inside the strike zone – for 4-straight years. His career mark is 48 percent. The last three years he hasn't even gotten to 44 percent. He also induced a 33.2 percent swing rate on pitches outside the strike zone in 2013, another three year low.
On the downside his line drive rate of 22.7 percent was a seven year low while his BABIP of .316 was four year high and the second highest mark of his career. Do you chose to believe that these numbers will return to his “normal” level given everything you read above?
At the same time, there was a lot of “normal” for Verlander in 2013. Check out some other key measures.
2013: 0.78 HR/9, 7.8 HR/F, 0.99 GB/FB, 74.5 left on base percentage career: 0.79 HR/9, 7.9 HR/F, 1.01 GB/FB, 73.8 left on base percentage
If this was all there was I'd be flashing a big yellow warning signal with Verlander. However, his three playoff starts were extremely encouraging. After a middling season, for him, Verlander cranked things up in the playoffs and was as dominant as ever. In three starts Verlander had a 0.39 ERA, 0.57 WHIP, 12.1 K/9 and 10.33 K/BB ratio. Wow is flipping right. After all those innings, all those blah efforts during the regular season, he was vintage Verlander in the playoffs.
So what do we do with Verlander? First thing to do is to forget 2011. Ain't ever happening again. It would also be wise to put 2012 out of your heads as well. Those ratios are highly unlikely to be seen again. However, I'm not going to bet against Verlander matching his career ERA (3.41) and WHIP (1.19) in 2014. He also fell just short of a K per inning so it's not likely his stuff has evaporated even if the totality of information suggests that his stuff just isn't quite what it once was. The wins could easily bounce back, they're pretty random most of the time anyway.
Is Verlander a SP1 in mixed leagues for 2014? I'd say the answer to that question certainly could be yes though he's way more likely to be the 20th best pitcher in baseball in 2014 than the second best.
By Ray Flowers
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The co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87: Mon-Thurs 7 PM, Fri. 9 PM EDT), Ray also hosts a show Sunday night (7-10 PM EDT). Ray has spent years squirreled away studying the inner workings of the fantasy game to the detriment of his personal life. Specializing in baseball, football and hockey, some consider him an expert in all three.
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