Are Justin Verlander’s Days Of Being An Elite Starting Pitcher Behind Him?

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

No one is going to argue that Justin Verlander is not still one of the better starting pitchers in the league. However, is he still among the elite? That’s an entirely different question and the answer might surprise you.

First of all, his numbers from 2013:

13 Wins
218.1 Innings
3.46 ERA
1.31 WHIP
217 Strikeouts (8.95 K/9)
75 Walks (3.09 BB/9)
.316 BABIP
74.5% Strand Rate

Obviously, while they are good, they aren’t “great”. Yes he struck out 200, something we would expect to continue as long as he’s healthy. However the ERA and WHIP were pedestrian, at best, and the problem is that a lot of the underlying numbers hint towards continued struggles.

First of all is the line drive rate, which has now been elevated for two straight seasons. In fact, it’s been up in each of the past four individual halves that are up:

  • First Half ’12 – 21.6%
  • Second Half ’12 – 22.8%
  • First Half ’13 – 22.0%
  • Second Half ’13 – 23.8%

It’s noteworthy because over the prior five seasons the only year he was over 19.1% was 2009 (21.2%).

We also have seen a consistent drop in velocity over the past five seasons:

  • 2009 – 95.6
  • 2010 – 95.4
  • 2011 – 95.0
  • 2012 – 94.3
  • 2013 – 93.3

Obviously no one is going to complain about a 93 mph fastball, and he also has slowed his change up to keep a good variation (in 2010 it was 85.7 mph, as compared to 84.0 last season). He has been able to continue generating swings and misses (10.5%), helping us to forgive the drop in velocity. Still, it’s something that needs to be noted and kept in the back of our minds.

You have to ask about the sheer number of innings Verlander as thrown. Over the past eight seasons the fewest innings he’s thrown (including playoffs) is 201.0 and he’s had has many as 271.1 in a year. All told, his Major League career has yielded 1,863.1 innings and you have to wonder if this is simply a natural downturn. It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibilities.

Just to continue with the questions, Verlander’s control regressed last season to a 3.09 BB/9. A strong finish helps (BB/9 of 2.31 and 2.27 over the final two months), but it still raises a red flag. Let’s not foret that his career BB/9 is 2.77.

Couple the increase in walks (not that it’s a bad number at all) with his increased line drive rate and you no longer get an elite WHIP. More base runners also should lead to a higher ERA, making last season look potentially like the new norm instead of an aberration.

Does that mean he’s a poor pitcher to own? Absolutely not, but it’s hard to consider him as one of the elite. Win potential and strikeouts only take you so far, and the days of impressive ERA and WHIP appear to be behind him.  If he comes at a value than sure, otherwise he’s not a pitcher to anchor your staff with.

Sources – Fangraphs

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  1. KC says:

    Thanks for the write-up. Given the potential for a continuation of the 2013 Verlander, what are your thoughts on the following Dynasty league trade:

    Verlander & Alex Gordon for Cutch & Cingrani

    Thanks again.

    • Rotoprofessor says:

      I don’t love Cingrani, who I think could be destined for a bullpen role. That said, I’m a proponent of trading someone like Verlander a year too early as opposed to a year too late.

      McCutchen is clearly the best player, though.

      Do you have enough pitching? If you do, I’d be willing to make the deal (though I may ask for someone other than Cingrani)

  2. Capoeira says:

    If JV was a hitter all the smart money would be on a regression back to the elite stats.

    All his struggles can be deduced back to a high babip. In his last two months of the season he was already back to his old self. His k rate is above 9 and the whip will go back to 1.2 or less.

    (No more miggy at third will help)

    • Rotoprofessor says:

      In general I would agree, though his BABIP has nothing to do with his drop in velocity or increased line drive rate.

      I’m not saying that he won’t get back there, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned. There’s a lot of innings on his arm and it’s not impossible that it’s worn on him.

  3. Doug says:

    Also read where Verlander discover a mechanical flaw, made the correction and his Sept/Oct numbers look a lot like his elite stats. They also would explain some of the velocity loss, though not the long term trend.

    I think he reverts close to his elite status and is a relative bargain this year… or his arm falls off :-)

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