How Was The Game? (May 30, 2014)
Tigers 6, Mariners 3
Justin Verlander (12 GS, 79 IP, 3.99 ERA, 3.48 FIP, 1.8 fWAR) was the story entering this game and he was able to do enough to calm the crashing waves. Verlander was much more efficient and kept the hard contact to a minimum as he went 7.2 innings, allowed five hits, a walk, three runs, and struck out seven. He had better velocity than he had in recent starts and looked much less lost out there on the mound. We knew he’d get better than he had been for the last couple of weeks and he did so in a hurry. It wasn’t classic Verlander, but it was more than enough. The offense played Tigers baseball on Friday and did the rest. Cabrera hit a majestic home run to left in the 3rd and Davis his one in the 7th, but it was the one in the middle that really counted. With a man on second and two outs in the 5th, the Mariners decided to walk Cabrera to face Martinez, and a ten pitch at bat later, Martinez made them pay with a no doubt blast to right. Walking Cabrera might have seemed reasonable with a base open, but on average, that move will cost the Marines .23 runs, and boy did it ever. They gave away the platoon advantage and a free base for the right to pitch to a great hitter without the possibility of a double play and it bit them. The Tigers would take it, however, and marched on to their 31st win of the season. They will look to take the series with Drew Smyly (7 GS, 44.1 IP, 3.86 ERA, 4.81 FIP, 0.2 fWAR) on the bump Saturday.
The Moment: VMart stays alive by fouling pitches off and goes yard to put the Tigers ahead.
Coming To Terms With Justin Verlander
An optimist and a pessimist walk into a sports bar. Justin Verlander is pitching. The pessimist looks at the radar gun, checks the stat line, and looks at the contact. He says to his friend, “What happened to Verlander? He’s terrible now.” The optimist looks back at him and says, “What do you mean, he’s top 20 in fWAR and has a 3.45 FIP, that’s pretty good!” Both are true, depending on your perspective.
The Verlander we knew from 2009 to 2012 is gone. He doesn’t have 101 in the chamber for the 8th inning strikeout. He doesn’t have all four pitches on most nights. He lives 90-93 and touches 95-96 when he reaches back. The bite on the breaking ball shows up occasionally rather than regularly. He gets tired now, apparently. The strikeouts are down, the walks are up, the hard contact lives. Justin Verlander, best pitcher on the planet, is gone. The pessimist is right.
But so is the optimist. Let me write the last paragraph again in a different way:
Verlander sits 90-93 and reaches back for 95-96 when he needs it. He throws a curveball, slider, and changeup, all of which flash plus plus, but are more typically above average major league pitches. He’s not a huge strikeout guy, but is certainly capable of going on a run. He’s had some trouble stranding runners and is having more issues with lefties, but on balance he’s sporting a league average ERA and slightly better FIP after a couple of rocky starts. The optimist is right.
Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Justin Verlander in his current form is a still a very good pitcher. He’s had a bad string of three starts, but no one thinks the last two weeks represent Verlander going forward. They aren’t meaningless, but you should never project a player to perform at their best forever or their worst forever. We’re probably going to see a lot more 7 inning, 3 R starts than 7 inning 2 R starts. That’s okay. Verlander is 31. The reign of terror wasn’t going to last. We knew that. We talked ourselves into two extra years, but we knew he’d come back to Earth.
I don’t think we can fix Verlander. He’ll be better going forward than he is right now, but it’s wrong to expect him to be a Cy Young starter anymore. He’ll still have four or five starts in a row that will be excellent like last year’s postseason, but things are catching up with him. He has a little less in the tank than he used to. The stuff isn’t quite as good. He’ll tweak things and get out of the present funk, but there will be more funks in the future because that’s what happen when you age.
We’re done with Justin Verlander the 7-9 win player and now living with Justin Verlander 4-5 win player. That’s still plenty good. Just because he isn’t the Verlander of old doesn’t mean he won’t be good. And he’ll learn to adjust. He still has above average stuff. The problem is that he’s trying to pitch like he still has elite stuff. He need to change his approach. The walks will come down. The strikeouts will come back a bit. It’ll get better as he matures.
Last year, for all our strife, Verlander was a 5.0 WAR starter. This year he’s actually on pace for close to that. ZiPS thinks he’ll do it and Steamer things 3.5 to 4.0 is more realistic. Even if he walks the lower bound, he’s still an above average major league starter. Still plenty good enough to help the team win.
There’s a lot of concern about the size of his contract given his declining skills, but he doesn’t have to be that good for the deal to come out fine. He’s got 6 years and $160 million left if you include this season. On the free agent market, a win will cost you about $6 million (and it’s trending toward $7M). So Verlander needs no more than 27 WAR from now until the end of 2019. That’s a 4.5 WAR pace per season to make the deal a fair value factoring in no inflation. That’s not out of the question. If you call it $7M/WAR, it’s a 3.8 WAR pace. That seems like the right expectation. Verlander can earn the contract, or get somewhere close.
He’s done being the man, but that doesn’t mean he’s worthless. You can’t overreact to three starts, but you also have to accept the overall trend. Maybe he’s still recovering from the injury, but I think these are just normal signs of aging and a pitcher going through a transition from power pitcher to regular human being.
He’s going to be good, he’s just not going to be the guy you lined up to see. He’ll have those nights. He might even have a lot of them. But the guy who owned the league is gone. The guy who’s pretty good and will occasionally make you remember those summer nights chasing no-hitters is still here.
There’s a lot left in Verlander, but our expectations need to adjust. The fact that he’s been this good and this durable for this long is some sort of medical miracle. Just look around at all of the promising young starters losing UCLs. We made it through Verlander’s peak without losing him for a single start. Imagine that. He hasn’t missed a start in nine major league seasons. He’ll finish this year somewhere near 49-50 career fWAR. He’s probably going to the Hall of Fame. We were treated to the greatest show in sports. There will be a lot of great nights, but they won’t all be great anymore.
The pessimist and the optimist are both right. Verlander’s done and Verlander’s fine. There’s no magic fix this time, but there doesn’t need to be. Nothing that good lasts forever.
How Was The Game? (May 29, 2014)
Tigers 5, A’s 4
Rick Porcello (10 GS, 63 ⅔ IP, 3.82 ERA, 3.91 FIP, 1.0 fWAR) didn’t have a typical Porcello day. Sure he only allowed 2 runs in 5.2 innings, which fits the mold, but he walked six and hit one, which is very much not his style. The stuff was pretty good, but seemingly every pitch that needed to be a strike end up out of the zone. Luckily, some good fortune kept the runs at bay and the bays delivered. They scored one in the first, two in the fifth, and two in the seventh to support the effort from a variety of sources and they needed each, as Nathan allowed a pair in the 9th to make it too interesting. The win, when you think about it, actually earned them a split, even if it felt like they lose twelve times on Wednesday. They’ll take a clean slate to Seattle behind Justin Verlander (11 GS. 71 ⅓ IP, 4.04 ERA, 3.45 FIP, 1.6 fWAR) on Friday.
The Moment: Martinez adds some insurance with a two run double.
How Was The Game? (May 28, 2014)
Maybe the year’s best.
A’s 3, Tigers 1
Anibal Sanchez (8 GS, 43.1 IP, 2.49 ERA, 2.20 FIP, 1.5 fWAR) didn’t officially do it all on his own, but he needed very little help. A Torii Hunter blast and some defense from Rajai Davis was pretty much all he required to slay the A’s on Wednesday night, but the last two outs changed everything. Sanchez was classic Sanchez working all four pitches and dialing up above 95 mph more than a dozen times in 8.1 innings. He allowed three hits and a walk while striking out 9 en route to what was almost a beautifully played 1-0 win in Oakland. If you missed this one, it is definitely one to go back and take in as it was one of the best games of the year thanks to Sanchez and his counterpart, Scott Kazmir who was also very strong. Great pitching, solid defense, and a snappy pace. Then of course, the only reliever came in and ruined everything. After a misplay from Castellanos put runners on the corners, Nathan allowed a no doubt blast to Donaldson to turn this from a 1-0 win to a 3-1 lost. It’ll be Rick Porcello (9 GS, 58 IP, 3.88 ERA, 3.55 FIP, 1.1 fWAR) on Thursday going for the split.
The Moment: Sanchez carves them up all night and nearly goes the distance.
New English D Stat Calculators!
If you’re new to New English D this year, you might not be aware of this feature, so I thought I’d put out a quick reminder. If you haven’t been to our stat primer page, it offers tons of background on the advanced stats we use here and why they are better than the more traditional numbers. But built into four of those pages are calculators that you can play around with on your own. Fill out the boxes and you can get values for FIP, xFIP, wOBA, and WAR. I can build others if you’d like as well.
Enjoy and please report any problems. Be aware that they can take a few seconds to respond if many people are using them.
How Was The Game? (May 27, 2014)
Late, but great.
Tigers 6, A’s 5
Max Scherzer (11 GS, 72 IP, 3.00 ERA, 3.12 FIP, 1.7 fWAR) did that thing where he started poorly and then locked in. He allowed five runs, but got much better in the later innings and kept the team in the game long enough to register the tying run. The Tigers got going early in this one with Hunter, Cabrera, and both Martinezes combining for two in the first with Cabrera adding a homer, Avila knocking one in on a double, and Hunter tying it with a blast in the 7th. The tie game would not last as Davis pinch ran for Martinez who walked and advanced on a passed ball and steal before scoring on a fielder’s choice from Jackson. Joba did his job and Nathan did his with an assist from a tumbling Kinsler, sending the Tigers to a win, which was more than a sight for sore eyes. All of a sudden, the Tigers can secure a series split with Anibal Sanchez (7 GS, 35 IP, 2.83 ERA, 2.42 FIP, 1.1 fWAR) going Wednesday.
The Moment: Davis swipes third on a throw back to the pitcher.
Torii Hunter’s Bat Goes Cold
Torii Hunter’s defensive struggles are well known at this point in the season. If you trust DRS, UZR, RZR, or basic BABIP, he’s been one of, if not, the worst outfielders in the game. I’ll have a piece today over at TigsTown about that particular issue, but it’s also running alongside a rather troubling stretch at the plate. Hunter doesn’t bring defensive value anymore, but his bat has vanished over the last three weeks. Observe:
|March 31 to May 6||107||0.333||0.355||0.529||0.384||143|
|May 7 to May 26||68||0.172||0.221||0.297||0.233||39|
You’re not going to lose your mind over 70 PA and I obviously picked the period of time from his peak to his nadir, but it’s troubling because he can’t get away with this for any length of time. Even when you include Hunter’s hot start, FanGraphs has him at -0.2 WAR and Baseball-Reference has him at -0.7 WAR. Baseball Prospectus calls it -0.1 WARP. It’s bad.
This is a bad season. The power is there, but he has a .303 OBP in more than 170 PA and is bringing no value in the field. The Tigers need him to turn it around because they don’t have an obvious replacement and you can’t hide him at DH on this team. A guy with Hunter’s star power isn’t going to ride the pines on this team, it’s just not how they do business. It’s going to be Hunter, sink or swim.
One of the biggest concerns is that Hunter, who swings at pitches outside of the zone more than the vast majority of players in the league has stopped making contact with them. This year he swings about 37% of the time at pitches outside of the zone with league average being 29%. That’s who Torii is, but when you break it down by contact outside the zone, it’s getting ugly. Up through May 6th, he was making contact 64.9% of the time when he left the zone. Since he’s making contact 52.5% of the time when he leaves the zone. League average is 63.9%. He swings a lot, but he used to make contact a good amount when he chased. That isn’t happening right now.
The margin for error for a guy like Hunter who is swing happy and doesn’t walk is small. If you slump at all, you slump hard. And while his BABIP is down, obviously, this isn’t hard luck slumping. Hard contact is harder to come by and he’s reverting back to his pre-2012 pull happy style.
They’re going to have to ride this out, but Torii needs to make an adjustment. The pitching staff has provided him (and Jackson and Davis) some cover over the last few weeks by being amazing and then being terrible, but you can’t hit at the top of the order or in the middle of it if you’re performing like this.
How Was The Game? (May 26, 2014)
A’s 10, Tigers 0
I mean I know that the streak will end and the Tigers will bounce back, but it hasn’t been a lot of fun to watch the last couple of days, and if you know me, that’s saying something. Drew Smyly (7 GS, 44.1 IP, 3.86 ERA, 4.81 FIP, 0.2 fWAR) gave up four bombs and a couple extra runs in 5 innings and fought through foul ball after foul ball. Six runs seemed doable, considering some of the recent deficits, but the offense had just about nothing throughout the afternoon and then Phil Coke’s inning got away. Nick Castellanos provided some enjoyment, walking twice and registering his fourth and fifth walks in the last three games which were more walks than he had in his career prior. Corey Knebel also had two solid innings. At some point, the pain will end. Perhaps Max Scherzer (10 GS, 66 IP, 2.59 ERA, 2.91 FIP, 1.7 fWAR) will make it happen tomorrow night.
The Moment: Nick walks twice!
How Was The Game? (May 25, 2014)
Rangers 12, Tigers 4
It’s been a bad week with the Tigers going 1-6, losing in dramatic and blowout fashion, with today’s game being an example of the latter. Justin Verlander (11 GS, 71.1 IP, 4.04 ERA, 3.46 FIP, 1.6 fWAR) had one of the worst outings of his career during one of his worst stretches, allowing nine runs in 5.1 innings while striking out one and walking three. The contact was good and the bounces didn’t go his way. It’s probably time to worry about him a little bit, even if worrying about him means he’s throwing like a back end starter rather than a front end one. The bats couldn’t get enough going despite a couple runs early and a couple of runs late, allowing the game to coast to an underwhelming end which included a hamstring issue that led to Cabrera coming out of the game and an ankle issue that took Joba. A long flight to Oakland will set up Drew Smyly (6 GS, 39.1 IP, 2.97 ERA, 3.71 FIP, 0.6 fWAR) on Monday.
The Moment: Nick walks twice!
How Was The Game? (May 24, 2014)
Rangers 12, Tigers 2
Rick Porcello (9 GS, 58 IP, 3.88 ERA, 3.56 FIP, 1.1 fWAR) started out well today and a nasty, weird, unfortunate 4th inning broke things open and then he struggled to get back on track over the next two innings, turning in his worst start of the season. Two homers, couple rough walks…I don’t really want to talk about it. The bats didn’t do much aside from a single run early, a single run late, and a couple other threats. Thankfully, we got more Danny Worth on the mound. It was the only redeeming moment and boy was it redeeming even with the run allowed. It’s been a tough week. If you missed this game, watch the 9th inning and call it a day. Justin Verlander (10 GS, 66 IP, 3.55 ERA, 3.19 FIP, 1.7 fWAR) will try to grab the split on Sunday.
The Moment: More Worth!