June 14, 2007

Forecasting Doom

One of the things I wrote about yesterday was that Justin Verlander's first pitch strike % has been really low - below or at 50% in his most recent outings. I thought this was interesting, so I went through some more numbers this morning: Over his last five starts, Verlander's FPS% has been 48.9%, a very bad number. (Remember, this includes his no-hitter.) For the sake of comparision, I calculated the numbers of two other young phenoms - Philly's Cole Hamels has a 56.6% over his last five starts, and SF's Matt Cain owns a 52.4%. So it seems Verlander has been having some control issues lately.

But I went farther back into his
game log, and found some more interesting results. In Verlander's five starts before his five previous ones, he did much, much better - 60.3%. So what is the cause for this? The number one factor I would look at is fatigue. I don't know for a fact that 1st pitch strike % is directly related to fatigue, but it seems to make sense. Remember, Verlander threw over 200 IP last season - almost twice his previous season high - and pitched deep into October as the Tigers reached the World Series. As the season went into September and October, Verlander's numbers started to decline last year. This year? With the exception of his last two starts, Verlander's ERA has climbed consistantly throughout the season. He gave up just 2 HR in his first seven starts; he's given up five in his last six outings. His walk rate was pretty high for the first couple starts, and then dropped in the middle of the year, but it's climbing back up again; meanwhile, except for his 12 K outing two days ago, his strikeout rate has stayed pretty much the same.

So, my point is: The Tigers had better be careful with how they use Verlander. Here's what Baseball Prospectus 2007 said about Verlander:
...Postseason included, Verlander threw nearly 60 percent more innings in 2006 than in his pro degbut in 2005 and looked tired toward the end of the year, particularly in the playoffs. There are arguments for doing something creative with him this year, such as using him out of the bullpen for a month at the start of the season. At the very least, the Tigers need to err on the side of caution, because his arm is much too valuable to put in any long-term jeopardy.
So, why do I bring this up? The Tigers are not erring on the side of caution. Verlander has thrown 97+ pitches in all but one start, and he's been over 110 three times. And there's no reason to think this is going to stop. The Tigers have lost a lot of players from their bullpen and rotation, including Joel Zumaya, Kenny Rogers, Nate Robertson, and Zach Miner. Because of this, Jim Leyland is going to try to get a lot of innings out of his healthy starters, which could be very dangerous for Verlander this year and in the future.

Anyone remember
Felix Hernandez's one-hitter against the Red Sox, back in April? After that game, everybody in the media jumped all over him, anointing him the next Johan Santana. Well, during his next start, he got injured and hasn't been nearly the same since coming back. Well, now the media's giving Justin Verlander more than enough love, and I'm seeing some parallels to the King Felix situation. I'm not saying he's going to get hurt on Sunday, but I will predict that he either goes on the DL or sees a dramatic rise in his ERA before the season is over.

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