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Entries in Justin Verlander (21)


Verlander Versus Shields

A reader sends a question about Justin Verlander of the Tigers and James Shields of the Rays:

With all the talk about Verlander getting Cy Young and possibly MVP, I'm wondering how much better he's been than James Shields of the Rays.  Shields has a 2.70 ERA in a harder division (Verlander doesn't have to face explosive Red Sox and Yankees offenses as much as Shields), with 11 bullpen saving complete games, and 15 wins despite the anemic Rays offense.  Verlander has a gaudy amount of wins and 2.36 ERA in the AL Central, but could it be reasoned that Shields would have a better season if him and Verlander traded places?

It's a great question, but let me look at it another way.  When you look at the two pitchers in terms of opposition batting, Verlander is clearly superior.


IP 236 226.33
OBP 0.243 0.267
Slug 0.333 0.372
wOBA 0.252 0.277
BABIP 0.230 0.247
Strikeout % 0.265 0.227


Shields doesn't really save the bullpen any better than Verlander, since Justin pitched more innings this season.  On top of that, with the Tigers closer perfect on the season, there's no reason to avoid going to him in the ninth.  Verlander avoids the underbelly of the bullpen, and that's all a starter needs to do.

On top of that, Justin's averages are lower across the board.  Both pitchers record few hits on ball in play (BABIP), and that helps both tremendously.  One could argue, however, that Verlander received a few more lucky bounces.

That could be a big factor.  Verlander may be facing weaker hitters in the AL Central, or those hitters could just have suffered bad luck facing Verlander.  Let's look a little deeper, as PITCHf/x allows us to see in some ways the quality of their pitches:


Swing % 0.468 0.475
Pct Missed 0.237 0.246
% In Zone 0.428 0.515
Chase % 0.313 0.323
Called Strike % 0.359 0.327
Line Drive % 0.134 0.183


Note that this table paints a slightly different picture.  Shields gets more batters to swing, and more to miss when they do swing.  He tends to hit the strike zone more often than Verlander, and gets more batters to chase pitchers outside the strike zone.  In other words, in categories that measure the quality of the pitcher, Shields seems to be better.

That doesn't hold up everywhere, however.  Verlander gets more called strikes, meaning he tends to fool batters more.  A lower number of balls in play as line drives also implies Verlander fools batters, as that could lead to poor contact.

Or it could be that batters just can't see the ball.  Verlander's fastball averages 94.9 MPH, one of the fastest in the league.  Shields is down at 90.8, so he needs to be finer than Verlander.  My verdict is that both are aces, but in 2011, Verlander's ability to strike out more batters and catch them looking leads to his better numbers.  He more than deserves the Cy Young award.



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.


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.

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