Justin Verlander is one of the elite starting pitchers in the game, that’s a fact that we all know. He’s displayed it once again through the first half of 2019, with a 2.98 ERA and 0.81 WHIP over 126.2 IP. It would be considered blasphemous to recommend selling him at this point, but outside of the name when you start looking at the underlying numbers concerns leap off the page.
The first, and most obvious, concern comes from the luck metrics:
- BABIP – .181
- Strand Rate – 90.7%
While he’s generally been able to avoid hard contact against him throughout his career, this year he owns a 40.2% Hard%. What’s interesting is that he’s reduced the usage of his fourseam fastball, going from 61.23% in ’18 to 51.22% in ’19. Maybe part of the reason has been a drop in his velocity (95.52 mph to 94.88), and maybe that helps to explain the SLG against thus far:
- Fourseam – .582
- Changeup – .292 (though he doesn’t throw it often)
- Slider – .239
- Curveball – .188
Last season opposing hitters owned a SLG of .399 against his fourseam fastball. The relative ineffectiveness with the pitch, even at the reduced usage, is a significant red flag. Couple that with the lack of groundballs (34.9%) and home run issues (1.85 HR/9) and it makes sense to think that there are some implosions coming.
That’s not to say that Verlander is a must sell, because it’s possible that he figures it out and gets back on track. At the same time the results are masking the potential issues, making now the perfect time to cash out for a premium. You may never get a better opportunity.
Other pitchers to consider selling:
- Hyun-Jin Ryu – Los Angeles Dodgers – This one goes without saying, but does anyone really expect him to maintain a 1.73 ERA? An 87.2% strand rate screams of a falloff (as does a .266 BABIP despite a 37.8% Hard%) and even with a 50.7% groundball rate he may not maintain a 0.83 HR/9.
- Yonny Chirinos – Tampa Bay Rays – Following an opener or as starter hasn’t mattered, with Chirinos owning a 3.15 ERA over 100.0 IP. However he hasn’t shown significant strikeout stuff (7.29 K/9 courtesy of a 10.3% SwStr%), there is risk of further home run issues (43.2% groundball rate) and he’s benefited from some luck (.232 BABIP). Pitching in the AL East the risk far outweighs the reward.
- Chris Paddack – San Diego Padres – He’s already been considered a potential sell candidate, given the innings limit he’ll face. Throw in a .224 BABIP despite a 45.6% Hard% and if you are playing for 2019 you’d better cash in now.
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball