As a Justin Verlander owner in 2013 and part of 2014, I know what some of you must be thinking. “What exactly is the conundrum here? That he’s garbage or hot garbage?” Hmmm… I feel like you’ve painted me into a corner there. Garbage, I guess? It’s true that Verlander has been a shell of the player that he was during his peak seasons in recent years, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that his days as a useful fantasy contributor are over. The goal of this post is to determine whether or not he has anything left in the tank as objectively as possible. That means forgetting about the irreparable ratio damage that he inflicted upon our teams over the past few seasons. And ignoring the Scrooge McDuck-like money rooms that undoubtedly exist at each of his houses. Not to mention his ability to motorboat Kate Upton whenever he feels like it. I’ve got my bear pic all queued up and ready to go! Oh, right. Gotta stay unbiased. With that in mind, let’s take a look at Verlander’s numbers throughout his MLB career:
If Verlander does have some gas left in the tank, this has the potential to be a hall of fame resumé. What stands out the most for me is his durability. 32+ games started and 200+ innings pitched for eight straight seasons (2007-14) is quite an impressive feat.
Unfortunately, all of that wear and tear has caught up to Verlander in recent years. Let’s take a look at a few advanced stats to see how he’s evolved over the years:
This confirms what we pretty much already knew. Verlander’s heavy workload started to catch up to him after the 2012 season, as his K-rate has declined each year along with his velocity, though his average fastball velocity has increased by .5 mph from 2014 to this season after dropping for five straight seasons prior to 2015. His HR/9 has steadily increased from 0.72 in 2012 to 1.43 this season, and his strand rate has fallen from a career high of 80.3% in 2011 to under 70% in each of the last two years.
All of this seems to point to more misery for Verlander in the near future, right? Not necessarily. Verlander didn’t make his first start of the season until June 13th due to injury, and his first few starts were predictably atrocious. The 2nd half has been a different story though. Let’s compare Verlander’s 2nd half numbers to last season’s AL Cy Young winner and all-around fantasy stud Corey Kluber:
Since the All-Star break, Verlander’s 7.25 K/BB ratio is the 5th highest among qualified starting pitchers, and his 1.1 BB/9 is the 6th lowest. He shares the same swinging strike rate (12.1%) as Jake Arrieta and Gerrit Cole over that span as well. These numbers would look even better if you cherry pick your way around his poor start on July 19th against the Orioles (7 ER in 3 2/3 IP) and just look at his last four starts (2.17 ERA, .97 WHIP, 3 walks and 25 strikeouts in 29 IP) or his last six (7/10 @Min – 1 ER in 7 2/3 IP).
While there’s no doubt that Verlander is no longer the dominant pitcher that he was at his peak, he might not be finished just yet. The long ball has been a problem for him, and he’s unable to overpower hitters the way that he used to do, but he’s been throwing strikes and missing bats in recent weeks. He’s even seen a slight uptick in velocity from last season. If he’s able to keep the homers under control and strand runners at a rate closer to the MLB average (73.2%), he could be a fantasy asset once again.