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Entries in Detroit Tigers (64)


Verlander's Effective Fastball

Major league batters can hit a fastball.  Study opposition batting on pitch type, and most pitchers give up the most offense on the fastball.  For example the MLB wOBA on the fastball in 2011 is .339.  On the change up that drops to .286, the curveball .252.  The same holds for Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers, except that his fastball is also tough to hit.  His fastball delivers a .260 wOBA, his change comes in at .256 and his curve results a .153 wOBA.

Verlander throws a high speed fastball.  In 2011, the pitch averages 95.1 miles per hour, putting him in the 93rd percentile.  That gives batters problems.  There is a speed limit above which the fastball gives hitters trouble.  The following graph shows swing data by the speed of Verlander's fastball:

Justin Verlander, Fastball, 2011.

Notice what happens as Verlander's velocity increases.  The swing rate goes up, and the contact rate goes down.  More swings and misses, which is an excellent result for the pitcher.  Strike zone judgment decreases as well.  The higher velocity gives batters less time to recognize the pitch as a ball or a strike, and they chase more pitches out of the strike zone.  Even if batters make contact on what should be balls, the probability of a good result goes down.

Verlander can consistently hit between 95 and 97 MPH with his fastball.  At that speed, he holds the advantage, giving him a fastball wOBA in the 94th percentile in the majors, and helping him finish and flirt with no-hitters.


Inside-Out Avila

Alex Avila of the Detroit Tigers does a great job producing hits on the edges of the plate in 2011.  His ability to work the edges helped put him on the All-Star team.

Alex Avila, in-play batting average on the inside and outside parts of the plate, 2011.Among left-handed batters with 150 PA ending on a pitch in these areas, he owns the highest Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) in the American League:


HitterTeamPlate App.BABIP
Alex Avila DET 188 0.402
Victor Martinez DET 150 0.378
Alex Gordon KC 243 0.377
Jacoby Ellsbury BOS 237 0.363
Erick Aybar LAA 150 0.363
Adrian Gonzalez BOS 285 0.356
Asdrubal Cabrera CLE 165 0.347
Casey Kotchman TB 175 0.336
Jack Cust SEA 161 0.333
Matt Joyce TB 194 0.331
Mitch Moreland TEX 199 0.331
Adam Lind TOR 184 0.328
Bobby Abreu LAA 244 0.327
Josh Hamilton TEX 150 0.327
Cliff Pennington OAK 151 0.320
Johnny Damon TB 249 0.318
Denard Span MIN 152 0.318
Brennan Boesch DET 222 0.315
Chris Getz KC 194 0.315
Eric Hosmer KC 170 0.312
Brett Gardner NYY 191 0.303
Carl Crawford BOS 184 0.301
Adam Kennedy SEA 163 0.294
Jack Hannahan CLE 158 0.290
Nick Markakis BAL 245 0.288
Sam Fuld TB 171 0.286
Corey Patterson TOR 220 0.281
Luke Scott BAL 159 0.280
A. J. Pierzynski CWS 198 0.278
Michael Brantley CLE 219 0.277
Curtis Granderson NYY 251 0.276
Melky Cabrera KC 198 0.274
Shin-Soo Choo CLE 214 0.273
Ben Zobrist TB 175 0.270
David DeJesus OAK 179 0.267
Adam Dunn CWS 209 0.264
Robinson Cano NYY 238 0.263
Ichiro Suzuki SEA 272 0.260
Juan Pierre CWS 244 0.258
David Ortiz BOS 215 0.257
J. D. Drew BOS 177 0.255
David Murphy TEX 172 0.252
Hideki Matsui OAK 184 0.250
Justin Smoak SEA 165 0.241
Justin Morneau MIN 162 0.212
Carlos Santana CLE 153 0.211
Daric Barton OAK 190 0.207
Nick Swisher NYY 153 0.195
Mark Teixeira NYY 178 0.194


Note that the BABIP for all American League left-handed hitters is .290 on the edges.  Note that when the ball is in the middle of the plate Avila's BABIP drops to .283, with a league average for lefties of .311.

Very high BABIPs and very low BABIPs tend to be unsustainable, since in the long run, batted balls in play tend to get fielded at about the same rate.  Given that Avila is collecting a lot of hits in zones that are not conducive  to that results, I would not be surprised if his production fell off in the second half.



Verlander's Septum

Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers flirted with a no-hitter again on Tuesday night.  With one under his belt this season, he seems capable of shutting down an offense every time out as he holds hitters to a .185 opposition batting average.  This is what his pitch frequency chart looked like from 2008-2010:

Justin Verlande, pitch frequency, 2008-2010.There's nothing special there.  Compare that to 2011.

Justin Verlander, pitch frequency, 2011.Look right in the middle, and you'll see the separation.  A thin line separates the density of Verlander's pitches, left and right.   These should be called Septum Charts.  They seem to appear when pitchers are having particularly good seasons, and is a sign of greatness.  This is the kind of heat map Mariano Rivera produces over multiple seasons.

What changed?  Verlander throws his four pitches more consistently this season.

Justin Verlander, spin by velocity, 2008-2010.The big red blog is his fastball, with the change up underneath and toward the right-handed batter in green.  Note that there is cross over between those two pitches.  The slider is the fuzzy green area in the middle of the grid, with the curve ball below the X axis in blue. 

Justin Verlander, spin by velocity, 2011.The curve ball and slider are much better defined, and the nice circular spots shows Justin throws them with consistent spin.  The fastball and changeup, however, are what really stand out for me.  Justin throws the two pitches with a nine MPH difference in velocity, but his change up is so good there is no separation with the spin of the fastball.  Look again at the three previous seasons.  About half his changes exhibit a different spin than his fastballs.  In 2011, there is almost no difference.  The arm action is the same, the spin is very much the same, but the change comes in at 86 MPH instead of 95, and batters make poor contact.

Justin misses the middle of the plate, shows great control with four pitches, and made his change up look even more like his fastball.  It's no suprise he took his pitching to the next level.