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Posts Tagged ‘Justin Verlander’

Earlier in the week, Justin Verlander became only the 14th unanimous Cy Young selection in the 56-year history of the award. However, according to some prognosticators, that might just be the appetizer for the Tigers’ right hander.

Unanimous Cy Young Award Winners

Pitcher Years
Justin Verlander 2011
Roy Halladay 2010
Jake Peavy 2007
Johan Santana 2004, 2006
Pedro Martinez 1999, 2000
Roger Clemens 1986, 1998
Greg Maddux 1994, 1995
Orel Hershiser 1988
Rick Sutcliffe 1984
Ron Guidry 1978
Steve Carlton 1972, 1977
Denny McLain 1968
Bob Gibson 1968
Sandy Koufax 1963, 1965, 1966

Source: mlb.com

When the A.L. MVP is announced next Monday, many believe Verlander will add to his list of already impressive accomplishments by becoming the seventh starter (and 10th pitcher) to win both the Cy Young and MVP in one season. In addition, if the Tigers’ ace is given his second trophy, he’ll join the Brooklyn Dodgers Don Newcombe as the only player to be named Rookie of the Year, Cy Young, and MVP during his career. Throw in a pair of no hitters, and the list of accomplishments achieved by Verlander has Hall of Fame written all over it.

Although his credentials as an MVP candidate are beyond question, there is an element around the game, and within the BBWAA, that seems to think pitchers should not be eligible for the award. At the very least, a commonly held position is that if a pitcher is going to win the MVP, he must clear an extra hurdle. So, does Verlander’s 2011 campaign meet that higher standard?

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The first game of the ALDS between the Yankees and Tigers was supposed to be a battle of aces, but Mother Nature took center stage instead. With only 1 1/2 innings completed, the skies opened up and washed away the much anticipated showdown between CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander, leaving the two Cy Young candidates on the sidelines and their teams scrambling to rebuild the rotation around them.

Friday’s rain storm derailed a potential classic showdown between C.C. Sabathia and Justin Verlander (Photo: Getty Images).

Following the initial disappointment, most of the focus has been on which team, if any, will benefit from the postponement. Because the suspension all but ensures the Yankees will have to enlist A.J. Burnett in one of the five games, the obvious advantage seems to lie with the Tigers. However, Detroit’s best hope was believed to be Justin Verlander, who will now only pitch in one game if Jim Leyland’s plan to bring him back on Monday holds true. What’s more, because the game was suspended, not canceled, the Tigers are locked into a right-handed lineup against Ivan Nova. As a result, Magglio Ordonez and Brandon Inge (wOBA of .262 and .203) will be facing a right hander, instead of Brennan Boesch and Wilson Betemit  (wOBA of .352 and .396).

There really isn’t much point to focusing on which team “won the rain out”. As both managers stressed after the game, nothing can be done about the weather. The Yankees, who experienced 23 rain delays during the regular season, learned that the hard way in 2011. So, instead of worrying about who has the advantage, both teams would be better served planning for the rest of the series, provided the weather permits it to be played.

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It's been "win day" when Verlander pitches for the Tigers (Photo: AP).

Justin Verlander continued his late season run of dominance by recording his 12th consecutive victory in Sunday’s 3-0 triumph over the Athletics. During that span, the Tigers’ right hander has compiled half of his league leading 24 victories, the highest total by an American League pitcher since Bob Welch won 27 games in 1990.

Even though more advanced metrics place Verlander in close proximity to other Cy Young contenders like CC Sabathia, Dan Haren and Jered Weaver, his inflated win total has all but assured he’ll go home with that award. What’s more, if the recent rumblings by voting members of the BBWAA are any indication, Verlander may need room on his mantle for more than just one piece of hardware.

Most Wins in a Single Season, Since 1990

Player Tm Year W L IP SO ERA ERA+
Bob Welch OAK 1990 27 6 238 127 2.95 126
Justin Verlander DET 2011 24 5 244 244 2.29 176
Randy Johnson ARI 2002 24 5 260 334 2.32 197
John Smoltz ATL 1996 24 8 253.2 276 2.94 149
Curt Schilling ARI 2002 23 7 259.1 316 3.23 142
Barry Zito OAK 2002 23 5 229.1 182 2.75 158
Pedro Martinez BOS 1999 23 4 213.1 313 2.07 243

Source: Baseball-reference.com

One often repeated fact used to advocate Verlander’s MVP candidacy is the Tigers’ 25-8 record in games that he pitches. According to the theory, the team’s comparative winning percentage (.758 with him versus .533 without) illustrates just how valuable Verlander has been to the Tigers’ division title, which makes him a leading choice for MVP. Of course, there are two obvious flaws in that logic. Obviously, without a contribution from the eight men behind him, Verlander would not have been able to compile such a high win total. Although Verlander has been the common denominator in the 33 games he has started, players like Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Alex Avila and Jose Valverde also deserve a share of the credit for those victories. Secondly, even with a .533 winning percentage, the Tigers would lead the Central Division by three or four games. If the end justifies the means, then it could be argued that the Tigers haven’t needed Verlander as much as some have suggested. (more…)

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When Felix Hernandez won the 2010 AL Cy Young with a 13-12 record, it was a watershed event in terms of how award voters weigh various statistics. In the past, Hernandez’ low win total would have all but eliminated him from consideration, but more recently, a growing percentage of the electorate has started to use more advanced measures of performance, or, at the very least, more traditional measures, such as ERA, that aren’t as team-dependent as wins.

Justin Verlander's fastball is one of the most potent weapons in the game.

Just because Hernandez won last year’s Cy Young, however, doesn’t mean the debate about the true value of wins is over. Many in and around the game still advance the theory that because pitchers factor the score into their pitch selection, more advanced measures of performance, often called peripherals, can become distorted.  In a lively Twitter debate, Buster Olney provided a quintessential example of this phenomenon by asking: with two outs and a man on third in the fourth inning, what kind of pitch would Justin Verlander throw in a 3-2 count if his team was winning by four runs?

According to Olney, Verlander would be more apt to throw a fastball in that situation because he would care less about “giving in” than avoiding a walk (i.e., risking a bigger inning by putting another man on base). The clear implication is that Verlander’s ERA would then be distorted because his primary goal wasn’t to prevent a run, but avoid surrendering the lead (i.e., getting the win).

Before testing this theory, it’s worth considering that if the Verlander “pitches to the score” than it’s likely others do as well (meaning relative ERA would still be a sound basis for comparison). What’s more, it would also stand to reason that batters “hit to the score” (and maybe defensive players field to the score?). For example, using Olney’s scenario, we might posit that a hitter sitting dead red on 3-2 would try to turn on the pitch instead of take his normal swing. Although taking this approach could theoretically increase the chances of making an out (because the hitter isn’t reacting, but pre-determining his approach), it would also enhance the likelihood of a home run, which would do more to cut into a big deficit. In other words, pitching to the score and hitting to the score could very well cancel out.

Justin Verlander’s Pitch Selection in Full Counts

Note: FB= fastball; SL= slider; CU = curve; CH = change. 3-2 samples are 191 for “all” and 30 for “with 4-run lead”.
Source: fangraphs.com and www.joelefkowitz.com

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