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Entries in Justin Verlander (21)


Cy Verlander MVP, Too

Justin Verlander added the 2011 AL Most Valuable Player Award to his rapidly expanding trophy case on Monday, becoming the first pitcher to win both MVP and Cy Young since Dennis Eckersley in 1992 and the first starter since Roger Clemens in 1986. Verlander posted a 250/57 K/BB ratio in 251 innings, taking the pitcher triple crown by also getting 24 wins and compiling a 2.40 ERA.

Verlander's MVP selection is sure to stir controversy. Going by Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement (which judges pitchers based on actual runs allowed), Verlander's 8.6 WAR puts him neck-and-neck with Jose Bautista (8.5) and ahead of other bandied-about candidates like Jacoby Ellsbury (7.2), Miguel Cabrera (7.1) and Curtis Granderson (5.2). But Fangraphs' WAR, which evaluates a pitcher by his fielding-independent stats, has Verlander with 7 WAR (he got a big boost from a .236 batting average on balls in play, over 50 points below his career average). That's below the likes of Ellsbury (9.4), Bautista (8.3), Cabrera (7.3) and even with Granderson. By results, Verlander was arguably the best. By process, perhaps not (though "luck" arguments can be made for hitters, too).

In any event, Verlander was truly awesome in 2011. Here are 13 tidbits on his MVP-Cy Young season -- one for each first-place MVP vote that he received.

- Verlander led all starters with an average fastball velocity of 95.1 mph. But he had a wide range in velocity, maxing out at 101 mph and going as low as 91-92 mph. Verlander pulled back a little bit early in the count (he averaged 94 mph on the first pitch) and dialed it up when he smelled a strikeout, sitting at 96.3 mph with two strikes.

- That fastball turned collectively turned hitters into Brandon Wood circa 2011. Opponents batted just .215/.290/.358 against Verlander's heat, compared to the .274/.345/.430 average versus starting pitchers.

- Verlander was all about the high heat: about 41 percent of his fastballs were thrown above the belt. David Price and Clayton Kershaw were the only starters to challenge hitters with more high fastballs.

- Lest you think he's fastball-obsessed, Verlander threw his heater a career-low 54 percent of the time. That's down from 59 percent in 2010, and a career-high 67 percent in 2009.

- There's a reason Verlander went to the fastball less often -- he's got three other filthy pitches in his mid-to-high 80s changeup, high-70s-low-80s curveball (each thrown 18-19 percent of the time) and his mid-80s slider (about 8 percent). Check out his opponent slugging percentages with those offerings:

Changeup: .345 SLG%, .385 average for SP

Curveball: .200 SLG%, .339 average for SP

Slider: .276 SLG%, .357 average for SP

- Largely because of the changeup and curve, Verlander had a big reverse platoon split in 2011. He dominated right-handed hitters (.617 on-base-plus slugging percentage), but he torched lefties to the tune of a .504 OPS. That was by far the best for a righty starter against lefty hitters (Matt Cain was second at .523, and Josh Beckett ranked third at a distant .562).

- Verlander threw just one out of every three changeups in the strike zone. You might think that's indicative of below-average control and command, but it was by design. Verlander spotted the change just off the outside corner:

Verlander's changeup location, 2011

Despite his low zone percentage with the pitch, about 80 percent of Verlander's changeups were classified as "competitive" pitches, meaning they were within 18 inches of the middle of the plate.

- With those changeups so close to the plate, hitters chased lots of them -- 42 percent, compared to the 36 percent average for starters.

- Overall, no starter threw more "competitive" pitches in 2011. After all, why nibble when you've got the best stuff on the planet?

- Verlander just about never hung a curveball high in the zone in 2011. Just three percent of his benders were thrown high, compared to 53 percent that were located at hitters' knees. That's a good way to allow just eight extra-base hits on the pitch all season long.

- The curveball was Verlander's main strikeout pitch, ringing up 95 hitters. Those Ks were split just about evenly between the swinging (48) and called (47) variety. That's in contrast to most starters, who get 3.5 swinging Ks with the curve for every called third strike. Verlander couldn't have been better in terms of location on the curveballs that fanned hitters. Talk about right on the black:

Location of Verlander's Ks with the curveball, 2011

- Speaking of painting the black, Verlander threw 47 curveballs right on the corners. Only curveball specialist Wandy Rodriguez did it more often.

- Verlander started fiddling with a slider in 2009 and it has gradually become a bigger part of his repertoire. He tossed it less than three percent of the time in '09, about seven percent in 2010 and 8-9 percent in 2011. The pitch is more of a hybrid cutter/slider, with short break and near-90 mph velocity. Now, hitters have to worry about two nasty breaking pitches in addition to baseball's best fastball and a killer changeup. Verlander's stuff really goes across the velocity and movement spectrum:

Release velocity and movement on Verlander's fastball (red), changeup (yellow), slider (green) and curveball (blue)

Good luck differentiating between fastball/changeup and slider/curve.

Verlander's MVP-winning 2011 season echoes that of Clemens in Boston 25 years ago. The Rocket tossed 254 innings, also won 24 games, led the league with a 2.48 ERA and just missed out on the triple crown by finishing second to Mark Langston in strikeouts. Clemens' WAR totals (7.9 Baseball-Reference, 8 Fangraphs) were right around those of a deserving position player (teammate Wade Boggs, who finished a distant seventh in balloting), though the pitcher got the honor.

Fans might not agree about whether Verlander was the best candidate, or if a pitcher should ever win MVP without being head and shoulders above contending position players. But I think we can all agree on this: Verlander is at his peak, and he'll be in the Cy Young/MVP discussion for the foreseeable future.



Comparing strike zones for Sabathia and Verlander

During last night's ALDS Game Three between the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers, Yankee manager Joe Girardi mentioned during his in-game interview that he thought CC Sabathia wasn't getting some borderline calls from home plate umpire Gerry Davis.  He also brought it up in the post-game interview saying of CC, “I actually thought he made a lot of good pitches tonight and I thought the zone was a small zone.”

So was CC getting squeezed? Was Justin Verlander getting a better strike zone to work with?  Or both?

Let’s take a look at some of the numbers and heat maps.

(Click image to enlarge)

The most noticeable difference here is the strikes Gerry Davis was calling for Verlander off the outside edge to lefty hitters.  Verlander also benefitted from a few strikes that were a bit high.  However, it's tough to say whether CC would have gotten any similar calls in that area since he didn't throw anything there that was taken by any Detroit hitters. The up and away strike to RHB also seems to have tipped in Verlander's favor, while CC was getting the low and away area.

So what do the numbers say?

Game 3 - Gerry Davis Strike Zone
Strike Zone Called BallsOut of Strike Zone Called Strikes
Called Strike% In Strike ZoneCalled Strike% Out of Strike Zone

So what does this tell us? Essentially, CC and Verlander missed out on about the same number of called strikes in the strike zone. However, Verlander greatly benefited from an expanded zone, getting more than three times as many called strikes on pitches outside of the PitchFX defined strike zone. Most of those pitches are likely the outside strikes to lefties you see in the above heat maps.

As for the percentages, CC was getting fewer strikes called overall in the strike zone. A 62.5% strike zone called strike rate is pretty low. During the regular season, Gerry Davis correctly called 76.8% of strikes in the strike zone, and 78.9% for left-handed pitchers. For whatever reason, he simply was not giving CC much of a zone to work with yesterday.

Granted, we are talking about a total of just 16 taken pitches in the strike zone for CC and 17 for Verlander. If CC was throwing to some borderline spots that Gerry Davis does not normally call while Verlander was not, it could explain the disproportionate results.

However, for strikes called out of the strike zone, it is pretty clear that Verlander was the big beneficiary in last night's game. Three of his strikes called on pitches out of the zone were deciding strike three pitches.


Verlander's Reverse Platoon Split

The New York Yankees' lineup will likely sport six lefty bats --  Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano and switch-hitters Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher and Jorge Posada  -- against Tigers ace Justin Verlander tonight. You might that that gives New York an advantage against the Detroit righty, but Verlander has shown a reverse platoon split this season and has actually been better against lefties than righties dating back to 2008:

Verlander's platoon splits


Vs. LHB: .174/.233/.271

Vs. RHB: .215/.253/.364

Since 2008

Vs. LHB: .224/.292/.340

Vs. RHB: .233/.289/.359

Verlander shelves his slider against left-handers, throwing his fastball (55 percent), changeup (26 percent) and curveball (18 percent). His heater is much more of a swing-and-miss pitch against lefties (21 percent) than righties (14 percent). Part of what makes Verlander's fastball so tough for lefties is that it's basically two pitches. He'll buzz them high and inside, or pepper the outside part of the plate:

Verlander's fastball location vs. lefties, 2011His hard, upper 80s changeup tumbles low and away and often ends out of the strike zone:

Verlander's changeup location vs. lefties, 2011Verlander's change catches the plate less than one-third of the time, but hitters whiff at the pitch nearly 40 percent of the time they swing.

With his curve, Verlander does an exceptional job of painting the black low and away:

Verlander's curveball location vs. lefties, 2011

Verlander has the highest overall miss rate among right-handed AL starters against lefty hitters, getting them to come up empty 27 percent of the time they swing. And he'll ring them up on any of his pitches, registering 57 Ks with the curve, 54 with the fastball and 32 with the changeup. Don't expect this Tiger to tremble against New York's loaded lefty lineup.