Rankings Review: Why Justin Verlander Should Not Be Viewed As A Top 20 Starting Pitcher

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

When we posted our Top 20 starting pitchers earlier this week (click here to view) it surprised many to find Justin Verlander omitted.  He ultimately lands at #24 on our rankings, but after what appeared to be a renaissance in 2016 the consensus is that Verlander is arguably a Top 10 option heading into 2017.  Why do we see things differently?  First, let’s look at the numbers:

227.2 IP
16 Wins
3.04 ERA
1.00 WHIP
254 Strikeouts (10.04 K/9)
57 Walks (2.25 BB/9)
33.7% Groundball Rate
.255 BABIP

There are some obvious risks, just looking at these numbers on the surface.  It’s easy to point towards luck (his BABIP, as well as a 79.9% strand rate).  It’s easy to be concerned about home runs, something that plagued him last season as well (1.19 HR/9).  As you dig in, the concerns grow even greater.

 

The Split
Overall the numbers look great, but there’s a distinct split between halves:

Half
Innings
ERA
WHIP
BABIP
Strand Rate
First117.14.071.13.27572.7%
Second110.11.960.86.22990.6%

You can definitely argue that his ERA should’ve been a bit better in the first half, but the second half marks are unreasonable expectations (and ultimately made his entire season look more palatable then it should).  The strikeout rate jumped (10.93 K/9), though that’s something we’ll discuss momentarily, and he continued to show great control (1.96 BB/9).  Those two things aren’t enough, and buying him off a few unsustainable months will be a mistake.

 

Strikeouts
Amazingly Verlander’s 10.04 K/9 is the second best mark of his career (10.09 K/9 in 2009) and is only the third time he’s struck out at least a batter per inning (even in the first half he owned a 9.20 K/9).  He did regain a little bit of velocity (93.5 mph, after posting a 92.8 mark in ’15), but is that enough to justify such a dramatic jump?

It wasn’t that he changed his approach:

Pitch
2015
2016
Fourseam58.5957.25
Cutter0.001.23
Curveball15.5115.94
Slider16.7717.06
Changeup9.088.49

Instead he saw his SwStr% rise to a career best 12.0%.  Whether he can sustain that type of mark remains to be seen, but it seems hard to bank on.

 

Conclusion
While Verlander does bring strikeouts (even with the expected regression back into the 8.50-9.00 range) and good control, but does that make him a Top 15 option?  Let’s not forget that he’s the same pitcher who posted strikeout rates of 6.95 and 7.63 in 2014 and 2015, and hadn’t had an ERA below 3.38 since 2012.  Throw in the potential home run issues, and the risks should outweigh the rewards.  A surprising strikeout renaissance and a second half full of luck shouldn’t sway that.  It’s not to say that he isn’t worth owning, but simply not at his current price tag (as others are paying for numbers that are highly unlikely to be replicated).

Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball

*** Order Rotoprofessor’s 2017 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide for Just $7.00 By Clicking Here!!   Not only will you get all the help you need to dominate your fantasy draft, but you will also be entered to win a Noah Syndergaard autographed baseball, complete with “Thor” inscription! ***

Make sure to check out our other Early 2017 Rankings:

Position
Standard League
OBP League
Catcher03/20/1702/28/17
First Base01/16/1703/07/17
Second Base03/22/1703/09/17
Third Base02/06/1703/12/17
Shortstop02/13/1703/15/17
Outfield#1-20 |03/16/17

#21-40 |03/16/17
03/19/17
Starting Pitcher#1-20 |02/27/17

#21-40 |03/02/17
--
Relief Pitcher01/02/17--

4 comments

  1. Tim says:

    Taken from Reddit/fantasybaseball:

    In 2013 he dropped off but then in the off season he had core muscle surgery. He was bad in 2014. Idk if that can be attributed to recovering from injury though but I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt.

    In 2015 he started on the DL with a tricep injury and was slow to come back to form as his pre all star break ERA was 5.34 (5 starts) but after the ASB he started 15 games and ended with a 2.80 ERA. That improvement is why he was on my draft list last year.

    He started off slow in 2016 through his first few starts but then tweaked his slider and that’s when he started putting up vintage numbers.

    Essentially I see a pitcher capable of putting up ace numbers who is over his injuries issues who is willing to adjust his game when needed (a la slider).

    Of course injury can change that but every pitcher carries that same risk. The tricep issue was the first time Verlander had been placed on the DL in his career btw.

    Age is always a risk, but veterans are usually sturdy. They’ll often get drafted behind the sexy high upside picks (this probably won’t apply to JV this season because of his resurgence last year), but usually provide equal value. Think Votto, Hamels, Miggy (last year), Braun, etc.

    In regards to velocity, Verlander was also hitting 96+ on his fastball deep into games last year. It was pretty cool to see.

  2. John says:

    Amazing what Kate Upton can do to rejuvenate a guy!

  3. Josh says:

    Even if you don’t buy into those strong few months as sustainable, which would be a difficult level to maintain, a fully healthy season from him should still produce top 10 numbers. Your projections took into account a respectable regression across the board, but at 215 IP & 215 K, other than around a 0.4 ERA hit, he’ll still produce a top 10 result.

    I do love the guide by the way. First time buyer and well worth the money. Great analysis and insight throughout.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *