It’s darn near blasphemy to pull out any criticisms of Justin Verlander in Detroit these days, but I think he’s ten game winning streak is causing us to look past a potentially disturbing trend that’s been developing.
Verlander has been good in his past several outings, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t know that he’s been the guy we think he’s been. His season numbers are legitimate: 229 IP, 2.44 ERA, 9.1 K/9, 2.99 FIP. Those are the type of numbers that will win your team a lot of games, and put you in the running for a Cy Young Award.
In his last seven starts, however, Justin’s numbers haven’t been quite that good: 3.19 ERA, 10.1 K/9, 3.95 FIP. On the surface things look pretty much like normal. The 3.19 ERA is higher than we’ve been accustomed to, but it’s still an ace-worthy number. The problem arrives when we get to the 3.95 FIP; it’s been nearly a run higher than we’ve seen all season. It’s a scary high number for a guy who we’ll be counting on to win two games in a playoff series.
There are two things at work here. The first is a slight elevation in his walk rate. His season average is 2.0 BB/9, but over his last seven outings he’s been up at 2.8 BB/9. This, though, has mostly been counter-acted by a corresponding uptick in his strikeout rate (from 9.1 K/9 to 10.1 K/9).
The second issue is the biggie. The real problem he’s been having of late is with his home runs allowed. Over this seven game stretch, he has allowed 1.5 home runs per nine innings (his season average is 0.9, and that’s including the recent uptick). Justin doesn’t allow a ton of base runners (his WHIP has still been a very good 1.00), so he’s mostly given up solo blasts, but I don’t know that we can always count on that. Shelly Duncan (!) took Justin for two two-run homers yesterday, and it very well could have cost him the win. It’s best to keep the ball in the yard.
I’m not going to go into full freak-out mode over the 3.95 FIP number just yet. I think part of what we’re seeing is just an aberration, a number of the homers have come late in games when the Tigers have had a solid lead (Justin has admitted to throwing to contact in many of these situations). Justin has also been able to maintain his low 15% line drive rate through this “rough patch”. This helps limit the number of hits against him which could help keep his BABIP low and possibly help him out-perform his FIP numbers somewhat.
It’s something to keep an eye on as the Tigers push toward the playoffs. Will Verlander correct the issue before the postseason begins? He’ll need to because Boston and New York can both hit the ball out of the yard, and it’ll be a short series if the Tigers don’t get a win out of Verlander.