Charting the Rest of Justin Verlander’s Career

Let’s be honest. Justin Verlander was awful last year. His ace title has been removed across baseball, and I don’t think there is anyone in Detroit who thinks he’s the best pitcher on the staff right now. He definitely wasn’t worth $20M last year, and we certainly don’t want Verlander’s contract to anchor a ship full of bad contracts sailing for Philly status (spoiler alert, we’re not there yet).

But can he get back to where we want him to be? I certainly want to believe so.

Using Baseball-Reference WAR crunched in Excel, in 2014 Justin Verlander ranked 41 out of 47 qualifying starters (>150 IP)  with a WAR of 1.1. His ERA+ of 88 was the lowest of his career, and his K/9 dropped by a full two points from 2013 to 6.9. As a result, his K/BB was 2.45, the worst it’s been in 5 seasons. He was the 7th worst starter in the AL last year. We would have been disappointed had he been the 7th beset. Hard to justify $20M for that.

I should point out, however, that using FanGraphs WAR rankings for 2014 AL qualifying starters, he finished 15 out of 39. The reason for this is that JV’s FIP ERA (a stat that FanGraphs relies heavily upon) was 3.74 (contrast that with 18 game winner Jered Weaver’s FIP 4.19). Despite FanGraphs’ favorable algorithm, I think we can all agree that there is reason to be concerned. (All other WAR references below come from Baseball-Reference.)

So what’s coming next?

Verlander turned 32 yesterday. He still has plenty of good years left, but what we can really expect? To get an idea, I decided to take a look at similar pitchers and how they performed from age 32 on. I had it in my mind that I was going to have to spend hours compiling the data, but Baseball-References’ similar pitchers and similarity score tools made finding the data a cinch. You could get lost in the formulas and applicability, but to simplify things, I focused on similar pitchers through age 31. Thus, instead of the pitchers whose career was most similar to JV, or any pitcher who had a single season age-wise most similar to JV, I looked at pitchers who, through age 31, were the most similar to JV. The top 10, starting with the most similar:

– Mike Mussina
– Tim Hudson
– John Smoltz
– Jack Morris
– Tom Glavine
– Andy Pettite
– Dwight Gooden
– Josh Beckett
– Ramon Martinez
– Dennis Leonard

Using the amazing tools at Baseball-Reference, I was easily able to pull up the career stats for these 10 pitchers from age 32 onAverage of 6 additional seasons (though very few had a productive final season), 16.6 WAR, 3.85 ERA, and 111 ERA+.  That translates to a WAR of 2.76 per year. Assuming a value of $6M per win (there’s a great discussion on value per win here, if you’re into that sort of thing), then $20M per year isn’t quite so atrocious. But it’s not a great deal by any means. Remember, he’s signed through 2019 with a vesting option in 2020.

So, okay. Maybe this can work. 16.6 WAR left isn’t so bad, and 4 of those 10 pitchers had WARs of 25+ from age 32 on. Eyeballing the median, it looks to be around 15, so 16.6 is probably a reasonable expectation. If JV pitches at least 5 more seasons (like Mussina, Hudson, Smoltz, Morris, Glavine and Pettite did), his expected WAR from today on jumps to 26. I’ll definitely take that.

So now I’m feeling pretty good.

But JV is a power pitcher, and the drop in velocity on his heater and his resulting inability to strike people out is terrifying. For the four seasons prior to 2014, his K/9 was consistently between 8.8 and 9. Last year’s precipitous drop to 6.9 a legitimate cause for concern. With this in mind I took a closer look at the power pitchers from the list above to see if they had similar decreases in K/9, and then what they accomplished from age 32 on.

Including Verlander – the top 4 career K/9 from the list above are…do you wanna guess? (this is a fun game)…

 

 

 

1) Beckett 8.47
2) Verlander 8.33
3) Smoltz 7.84
4) Gooden 7.70 (man did he decline quickly)

So there are three left to analyze.

Josh Beckett. Beckett’s K/9 dropped from 8.9 to 7.0 from age 28 to 32. It wasn’t as rapid as what we saw with JV, but Beckett did experience a similar decline . It rebounded nicely over his final three years, but that was after he got shipped to the NL (note I haven’t done any further study into whether there should be an NL/AL adjustment, but I’m guessing there are at least 1-1.5 opposing pitchers Kd per game). His walk rate stayed about the same after 32. From age 32-34 he went 13-25, with a 4.10 ERA. His WAR over those final 3 years was 2.3. Total.  Beckett retired last October and let’s pray that he’s not a good comp for JV.

John Smoltz. Smoltzie had an incredibly productive 10 years from age 32 to 42. Well, 32-40, as 41 and 42 were kind of lost. He posted a combined WAR of 27.8, a 3.27 ERA (NL), his K rate actually went up during that time, by about 5% and his walk rate went down by 28%. At ages 38, 39, and 40, Smoltz posted WARs of 4.9, 5.9, 4.6, which are 3 of the top 5 seasons of his career. John Smoltz as a baseline is very encouraging.

Doc Gooden. Doc pitched until he was 36. None of those last 4 years were any good. 4.87 ERA, WAR of 4, a 25% decline in K rate, and a 45% increase in his BB rate. Gooden’s K rate dropped from 8.6 at age 25, to 7.1 the next year. Excluding an injury filled season when he was 29 and only pitched 41 innings his K rate never rose above 6.9 after that. So while we have obvious performance reasons to exclude Doc, I don’t think he’s a great comparison from a similarity through age 31 standpoint.

Also note that the average velocity on Verlander’s fastball has fallen steadily from 95.6 in 2009, to 93.1 in 2014 and he had been able to adjust to the dip until last year. So perhaps last year really is an outlier in terms of K/9. For example, maybe his breaking ball wasn’t as sharp, or he became more predictable in certain counts. All questions for another day.

In conclusion, we have two ways of looking at the data above. If we’re just looking at comparable pitchers through age 32, then we have cause to think that JV can be above average for 6 years, or even great for 6-8 years provided he lasts at least 4 years. This isn’t entirely assuring, but the odds aren’t bad.

Narrowing down the list above to the top 3 K pitchers presents a dichotomy. He’s Josh Beckett and out of baseball in 3 years, or he’s John Smoltz and still has Cy Young worth years ahead of time. (At this point in time, I’m sure he’s not Doc Gooden).

Overall, I’ll say I feel a little better about things than when I started. But the analysis above has presented me with a few new thoughts which I’ll explore later this year. Off the top of my head:  1) Were there other dominant factors which can help explain the K/9? 2) Did other power pitchers ever experience such large drops in K/9 and were they able to rebound? 3) How has his pitch selection changed? and, 4) Is his fastball his best pitch? And I will be paying very close attention to his velocity and strikeouts this spring.

Blaine Hardy promoted

Yes, this is a separate post. That’s how interested I am in back of the bullpen moves right now.

Don’t know much about him, the throws left, strikes out a lot, walks a few too many. Stats here. He’s 27 years old, so not really a prospect anymore.

Texas alum Corey Knebel down.

The Joe Nathan thread

I figure we can keep the thread going in one place. Plus, I wanted to break up the images on the home page a bit.

So you know – as of 6-9 (didn’t pitch tonight), his FIP is 4.96, and his xFIP is 4.29. BABIP of .313 (though is FB velocity is down nearly 1 MPH to 91.4 which explains this in part).

Not what we need, but he’s had some bad luck as of late.

Oh shiiiiins.

The Jose Iglesias shinstorm has officially hit the fan. I don’t know if someone stepped in a pile of his shins or what, but ESPN is reporting that the injury which kept him sidelined late last year could keep him sidelined for most of 2014.

The injury has been rather mysterious with a bunch of cryptic reports coming out of Lakeland. I knew there had to be something wrong when he still couldn’t run this deep into Spring Training. Recognize that the report is still speculation, but I can’t see Iglesias playing anytime soon.

Stephen Drew is avail and plays SS. That’s all I want to say about that for now.

 

Welcome, Ian Kinsler

Ian Kinsler was an instant fan favorite from the minute he broke into the big leagues in 2006.  A hard swinging, fast, top of the lineup guy who plays old school baseball (including the socks) and is a female favorite (so says my permanent roommate).

He had a 20/20 year in 2007, and 30/30 year in 2009 and 2011. He’s been an above average player every year, and even though he had a down HR/SB year in 2013 (13/15), he actually posted the 2nd highest VORP of his career, 5.3, last year.

But frustration stemming from back to back WS losses and raised expectations across the Rangers organization did not suit Kinsler well. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the fans down here in Texas were happier to get rid of Kinsler than the Tigers were to move Fielder along.

Kinsler had always been regarded as a difficult personality in the clubhouse, and for whatever reason he didn’t get along with Rangers’ GM Jon Daniels. When Nolan Ryan was forced out last year, that led to even more apparent discontent from Kinsler, which manifested itself in popups (from HR seeking upper-cut swings), loafing down 1B on ground balls, and lapses in concentration on the base paths (11 CS against 15 SB was the 2nd worst % in the AL last year).  As one Texas commentor (-er?) wrote “I look forward to watching Kinsler get picked off of 1B  in a Detroit uniform next year.”

Well, ESPN asked Kinsler about the Rangers this week, and Kinsler didn’t leave anything in the clip. He stated his desire for the Rangers to go 0-162, and referred to Jon Daniels as a “sleazeball.” I don’t know Daniels, but that’s the first such characterization that I’ve heard. Daniels was professional in his response, preferring to leave it alone. I do want to note that Kinsler said his quotes were taken out of context. No word if he meant that he wanted the Rangers to win a few games.

Kinsler was a key cog for those AL Championship teams, and he still has the talent to be an All-Star player in Detroit. Let’s just hope that the change of scenery will result in an attitude change as well.

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In other news, Andy Dirks will be out until approximately June. This is troublesome because Dirks was slated to start in LF, and he’s really the guy who should be filling in for an injured starter. Looks like Rajai Davis will be the starter and that his backup will be filled internally. I don’t know much about Rajai Davis, other than he gets a lot of “stolen bases” whatever those are. But this news, coupled with Kinsler’s word bombs, didn’t make for a merry Spring Training Tuesday. Hopefully Jud can restore the shine with some Lakeland lowdown.

 

DTW News and Notes 4-14-13

A few notes to get you through the off-day.

Interesting Numbers:

1: number of errors thus far by the Tigers (Scherzer’s missed pickoff, which may have cost us a W)

1: number of hits by a right-handed hitter off of Anibal Sanchez this season.

5: number of saves by Jason Grilli this year. Here is his line this year: 6 games, 5 2/3 IP, 3 hits, 7 Ks, 0.00 ERA 1.06 WHIP. The Tigers pen is posting a chunky 5.59 ERA with 2 saves, 3 blown saves, and a 1.54 WHIP.

17: number of runs scored by AJax, tops in the Majors. Cabrera is 4th with 12.

19: Number of RBI by Fielder, tied for tops in the Majors. Cabrera is 4th wih 13.

.307: Tigers team BA. OPS is .796, behind the Yankees (.816) and A’s (.808 – imagine what it was on Friday). Lee Panas explains the low-ish OPS here.

1.361: 2nd-best OPS in the Majors, owned by Fielder. But he’s not even the top 1B in the AL…(Chris Davis – 1.362).

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– Rondon has allowed 1 hit, walked 2 and struck out 3 in 4 scoreless innings thus far this year.

– Valverde has really ingratiated himself with his Lakeland teammates.

Don’t Ask Dotel (about Miguel Cabrera)

Is there trouble brewing in the clubhouse? Or is there nothing else to talk about?

The fallout from the Yahoo article I posted on Wednesday has been at least measurable, if not significant. Of course, Dotel clumsily backtracked yesterday (think Delmon Young in LF) and apologized to Miggy,

So what do you guys think?

I think that there’s a little something to this. Cabrera isn’t the most mature player out there (White Sox series in ’09 and the DUI come to mind), so perhaps someone calling him out like this will help him to grow up a bit. I have no idea what went on in the locker room last October, but SF wasn’t sweep the Tigers good. There had to be some chaos going on in the clubhouse.

All in all, I think this is a good thing. If the Tigers hadn’t won the AL Pennant, this wouldn’t be national news. It’s kind of nice to be in the spotlight.

First ST game on MLB.tv tomorrow!

Kept the MVP in the D

Miguel Cabrera is your 2012 AL MVP.

What was billed to be a neck and neck battle between Old School and New School turned out to be Cabrera in a laugher, as he took 22 of 28 first place votes, and handily beat Trout with 362 points to 281 points.

I sat in on the Cabrera conf call (thank you billfer for forwarding me the info) – a few highlights:

1) Albom asked about “old stats” vs. “new stats” and what Cabrera’s thoughts on them were; specifically what Cabrera thought about Trout dominating the new stats. Albom seemed to want to bait Cabrera into proclaiming a preference for traditional metrics. Cabrera responded that he grew up following those stats, and that it was very special for him to lead in the 3 major categories, but that he understands the importance of the new stats and thinks that there is a place for both of them. Keep an eye out for Albom’s column in the morning.

2) A reporter from Reuters asked Cabrera if winning the Triple Crown won him the MVP and pointed out that 4 less hits, or 2 less HRs, and Cabrera doesn’t win the Triple Crown. Cabrera basically said no Triple Crown – no MVP.

3) A reporter asked in Spanish whether Cabrera was nervous leading up to today. Cabrera said no, he thought that he was deserving, but thought that Trout had a tremendous season and expected Trout to win. I thought this was a great, candid response. I’m guessing that the major papers have translators on the line, but it will be interesting to see if anyone runs with this in the morning.

4) Cabrera was humble, respectful of everyone, and extremely appreciative of his teammates and fans.

Congrats, Cabrera.

Game 2012.95: White Sox at Tigers

50-44, 2nd place, .5 games behind CWS.

Wow, what a game last night. Other than a very poorly located 2-0 fastball, Verlander pitched a gem. The most incredible pitch of the night came in the 8th when a 100 mph 0-1 fastball literally sawed Gordon Beckham’s bat in half, on a check swing no less. Last night’s game was just what we expected, and needed, from JV. Valverde had a 1, 2, 3 ninth, but he came perilously close to walking Adam Dunn, and then needed a tremendous diving catch by Berry to get the third out (check out the emotion after the catch; I love it).  Also, all four of the Tigers’ runs came with 2 out, and the Tigers were 6-13 with RISP.

Ricky P takes the ball at 4:05 Eastern with a chance to pitch the Tigers into first place. Most of us would rank Porcello’s season this year as disappointing, perhaps even very disappointing, but I think a closer look at the numbers reveals that he’s actually progressing, and maybe even rapidly so.

First of all, let’s look at his peripherals. His walks per 9 are slightly up, but so are his Ks per 9. His 2.20 K/BB ratio is the best of his career. Also, his HR/9 has come down every year since 2009. His current 4.66 ERA is better than 2010 and 2011, and while his 2009 ERA was 3.96, that was due to a ridiculously low BABIP, as his 4.77 2009 FIP (see below) demonstrates. In most measurable categories, he’s improving.

So now let’s look as his sabermetric numbers. Porcello leads (not in a good way) the majors with a .358 BABIP against (Scherzer is .346 against, 2nd worst in the majors). I think that some of this can be blamed on poor fielding (we’ve discussed how few balls the Tigers infield gets to but know that JVs .238 BABIP is the 2nd best in the majors; Weaver’s is .233; imagine what JV could do with a better fielding infield). But in any event, a lot of BABIP can be attributed to the whimsical nature of chance. 52% of the batted balls against him are ground balls, which is a fantastic number, even for a sinker baller. His FIP (which is ERA without fielding factors) is a respectable 3.81 (which is above his career FIP average), and his SIERA (an even fancier play on ERA) is a career best 4.13. So can the BABIP explain it all? Or is it something else?

Taking a look at his batted ball stats shows that his line drive rate is up to 23.7%, which is almost 30% higher than his career average coming into the season. Batters are squaring up on him like crazy. And to be honest, I can’t figure out why. His velocity is up this year over his career numbers, and his pitch selection is in line with his usual numbers. So unless he’s tipping his pitches, the BABIP is going to regress way down, and Porcello will have an above average, maybe even a fantastic, 2nd half. (And I’d like to take back my prediction that he’s gonna get shelled today; candidly, I had not looked at all the numbers until now. Sorry Ricky P. You’re my boy.)

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Opposing Porcello this afternoon is AL ERA leader Chris Sale. The lefty (RABURN ALERT) is 11-2 with a 2.11 ERA. Over his past 10 starts his ERA is 1.61 and his WHIP is .89. We’re going to need Porcello’s A game and some clutch hits from our righty BOOBs to wake up in 1st place tomorrow. The Tigers did “rough up” sale for 3 runs and 5 hits over 5 innings back on April 15th in his 2nd start of the year.

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– The Tigers are 15-7, and are averaging 5.6 runs per game, since Toby Harrah was brought up to make Lloyd McLendon feel uncomfortable.

We’ll do a trade rumor update manana.

Today’s Ridiculous 2 Hole Lineup:

1. Jackson, CF
2. Raburn, LF
3. Cabrera, 3B
4. Fielder, 1B
5. Young, DH
6. Peralta, SS
7. Boesch, RF
8. Laird, C
9. Worth, 2B

 

Brandon Inge Released

Rosenberg says he had to go for all the right reasons. Even Inge knew it was coming.

 

Delmon Young Arrested

Lots of news today. The rare double post before 9am central.

Delmon got drunk and pushed some guy down in Midtown last night. Is it possible that we’ve already hit our low point of the season?

I laughed when I read “powerhouse arm.”

Slimmed Down Miggy and Other News

Alex Avila is reporting that Miggy is “20-25” lbs lighter.  Can you tell (images)?

Tom Gage breaks down the 40 man here.  They are at 24 signed after yesterday.

Kate Upton is moonlighting as a spokesmodel for MLB2K12. See JV getting just a tip or two here.

Comerica is getting a face lift.  Look for lots of Prince Fielder slow jog shots on the new scoreboard.

And then there is Maggs.  He has made it known recently that he will only sign a major league deal for 2012, leading to speculation that his playing days may be over.  Freep reported a few days ago that if he doesn’t return to the bigs, he will take an ownership stake in the Caribes de Anzoátegui, a Venezuelan winter league team where he’s curiously been listed on the roster since 2004.