Monday, May 02, 2011

Justin Verlander - Off to a Bad Start, Right? Wrong

Before the season started, there was a general consensus that Justin Verlander was a stud pitcher. In the last two seasons, he had gone 37-18. He's won at least 18 games three of the last four seasons. In 2009, Verlander had 269 strikeouts. Last year, the strikeouts weren't as prevalent but he still struck out 219, good for 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings. But then this April, Verlander has lost three of his first five decisions. Every time he was shown in a highlight, a homer was being hit off of him. He's had a bad start, right? Nope. Not really.

If you look at Verlander's stats, only the homers have been a problem. He's given up six of them in six starts and his homer per nine innings rate is the highest of his career at 1.3. His homer per fly ball rate is more than double last year's figure and sits at 11.5 percent. And yes, some of those homers have been harmful to his record in their timing and frequency. But that's only one statistic.

Many of his other statistics show him to be even better than the last few years (in this season's early sample size). His WHIP is the lowest of his career at 1.024. His strikeout to walk ratio is a healthy 3.31 as he is striking out 9.2 batters per nine innings. His hits per nine innings are the lowest of his career at 6.4. His ERA is only slightly elevated to 3.64 but his FIP is 3.72 and his xFIP stands at 3.31. So you can't make a case that Verlander is having a bad start to his year.

Yes, his WAR (0.7 at Fangraphs, 0.8 for B-R) does not put him anywhere near the pitching leaders at the moment. He's not even on the first page at Fangraphs' leader board. But WAR hates homers. It absolutely detests them, so that is understandable. But the Fan would say here that Verlander is as good as ever and still one of the elite pitchers in the American League.

If you look at Verlander's pitch type values, he's still throwing good stuff. His fastball, slider and curve are all showing positive values. Only his change up is lagging behind in value to his previous years. And he's throwing a bit more change ups this season, perhaps something he and his catcher should think about.

Don't worry about Justin Verlander. He's still one of the studs on the mound in baseball. He's still averaging seven innings per start. He takes the ball every fifth day without fail and comes out throwing gas and other nasty pitches each time out. The only stat that is over his career averages is the homer rate and you have to believe over the long haul that those numbers will go back to his career norms. Yes, his BABIP is seriously low at .228, but as that rises to a norm, the homer rate will come down and Mr. Verlander will be just fine. The jury is still out about his team though.

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