The Justin Verlander factor

RAB Live Chat
Quick hits form Heyman on Pettitte, Posada, Joba

By the end of this weekend, the Yankees will have a far better sense of their potential ALDS opponent. For three games, the Tigers and Twins face off in Minnesota, and while these two opponents still have four games left in Detroit, if the Tigers grab this series, the Twins will face long postseason odds indeed.

If the Yanks draw the Tigers in the first round of the playoffs, it will mark the second time in four seasons that these two teams face of in the Division Series. In 2006, a post-season marred by Joe Torre’s decision to hit A-Rod eighth in the order, the Tigers downed the Yanks three games to one. That season marked Justin Verlander’s first full year in the Bigs, and in his one ALDS start, he was decent. He gave up three runs in 5.1 innings but allowed 11 baserunners. The Yankees couldn’t capitalize on his shaky outing.

Since then, Verlander has matured into one of the AL’s top pitchers, and this year is his big breakout season. He is 16-8 with a 3.34 ERA. He leads the AL with 239 and his 10.2 K/9 IP rate is tops among Junior Circuit pitchers. Opponents are hitting just .240/.295/.373 off of him.

Today, The Times’ Ben Shpigel profiles the hard-throwing right-hander. Verlander, writes Shpigel, throws hard. He throws hard in the first inning and can still hit 99 and 100 on the gun in the 7th and 8th. With his off-speed arsenal, Verlander has emerged as a true artist on the mound, and the Yankees are well aware of his presence. Writes Shpigel:

The Yankees, presuming they finish with the best record in the A.L., can opt for a division series schedule featuring an extra day off, allowing them to use only three fully rested starters. Sabathia would be in line to pitch in Games 1 and 4, but, then again, so would Verlander. In two starts against the Yankees this season — both opposite Sabathia — Verlander has held them to two runs in 14 innings. In his July 18 start at Yankee Stadium, Verlander did not allow any of the Yankees’ seven left-handed hitters to pull a fly ball until the sixth inning.

“He knows that our season revolves around how well he pitches,” reliever Bobby Seay said. “He’s taken that to heart every time out.”

While the Twins have Scott Baker fronting their rotation, Justin Verlander is why I’m rooting for Minnesota this weekend. The dominance of Verlander and the threat of him will make Detroit very tough to beat in a five-game set, and his performances this year against the Yanks have shown, the league’s top offense is pretty powerless against a pitcher of his caliber.

There is one way to counter the Verlander effect: In the past, I’ve advocated for shaking up the rotation. Save CC Sabathia for Game 2 when the match up more heavily favors the Yankees. He could still pitch a potential game 5, and if the Yanks manage to win a Verlander start without CC on the mound, all the better. If they lose, they will have wasted their ace.

But CC ain’t exactly chopped liver. After all, CC Sabathia, our ace, has out-pitched Verlander since the All Star Break. Verlander is 6-4 with a 3.29 ERA and 90 Ks in 12 starts spanning 87.2 innings while Sabathia is 9-1 with a 2.75 ERA and 83 Ks in 12 starts spanning 85 innings. If the final score is 3.29-2.75, the Yankees win.

The Yankees lost to the Tigers in 2006 when they had to put their season into the hands of Jaret Wright. This year, the Yanks’ rotation, while featuring some question marks, is better than the pitchers backing up Verlander. All the speed in the world on a Justin Verlander fastball can’t change that fact.

RAB Live Chat
Quick hits form Heyman on Pettitte, Posada, Joba
  • the artist formerly known as (sic)

    Detroit’s offense isn’t as good as it has been in years. I’m cool with starting CC and hoping to get a few off Verlander. I like our chances v. Verlander better than theirs v. Det.

    • Slugger27

      not starting sabathia in game 1 is a HORRIBLE idea

      we’re gonna be a 100-win team, playing on our own field… its ridiculous to even suggest we play for a split

      maker verlanders ass go into the bronx and beat our ace… if he does, hats off to the guy

      • Benjamin Kabak

        Just out of curiosity: If the Yanks could use Sabathia twice anyway, why is it a horrible idea? It’s not playing for the split. It’s maximizing chances to win.

        Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying the Yanks should entertain this idea. But it’s not a horrible idea. It’s just an off-kilter one.

        • Slugger27

          Save CC Sabathia for Game 2 when the match up more heavily favors the Yankees. He could still pitch a potential game 5, and if the Yanks manage to win a Verlander start without CC on the mound, all the better. If they lose, they will have wasted their ace.

          to me, that DOES imply you’re playing for a split… and its not maximizing chances to win, its maximizing chances to in GAME 2 ONLY… also, by saying we could use sabathia twice anyway, you’re assuming there will be a game 5, which is a pretty big assumption… if we lose game 1, there may not be a game 5

          i would think we would wanna make verlander have the toughest possible matchup he can, which is vs sabathia in yankee stadium… why do the guy any favors?

          • Slugger27

            html fail… but u get the idea

          • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

            Right… I haven’t really thought this through, but my initial reaction is that in saving your best pitcher for the second game, you’re increasing your chances of winning the second game while decreasing your chances of winning the first game, while pitching your best pitcher in the first game gives you the better chance of winning BOTH the first two games. If you’re trying to steal a game against a far superior team, I get that strategy, but that’s a far cry from what the Yankees would be facing in a potential first round matchup with the Tigers. Like… If Steve Nebraska is toeing the rubber for the Tigers in the first game, the Yankees would be smart to let Edwar Ramirez start that game and just save all their resources for the other games. But there’s a pretty decent chance the Yankees win a Verlander/Tigers vs. CC/Yankees matchup, especially when that matchup is in Yankee Stadium. So yeah, I’m pretty sure I’m thinking that starting CC in the second game is very wrong.

            • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)


              • doc

                In Sun Tzu’s Art of War there is a strategic advantage to putting your best against the opponent’s 2nd best in order to build advantage in battle.

                I could go either way and not be concerned.

                • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

                  How does Sun Tzu counter the arguements we’ve been making here? Also, he was probably referring to a much weaker force facing a much stronger force, certainly not the case.

                • Joseph Pawlikowski

                  Bingo. That strategy is mainly for an opponent who on the whole is stronger for you. Verlander or not, the Tigers are not stronger than the Yankees. In fact, they might do better to lineup Edwin in Game 1 against CC, and then try to steal Game 2 with Verlander against Burnett.

                • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

                  no, its not for a weaker opponent, but that’s not relevant.

                  what’s relevant is i dont know anybody that’s read sun tzu, but biggie smalls is WAAAAY more popular than whoever that guy is.

  • Free Mike Vick

    Funny how no ones seems to mention the fact Verlander hasn’t been great in his post season career either. All we fans seem to hear sometimes is…”CC has stunk in the playoffs”.

    I’m not saying Verlander stinks…he is a great pitcher…but he has just as many questions in the postseason as CC does….well maybe not as much…but he still has questions to answer.

    • Zack

      Although those 4 starts were 3 years ago when he was a rookie; but I see you point

  • Willy

    I bet there’s a sabermetric way to figure out the win probability of pitching CC during the 1st game or the 2nd game. Why doesn’t someone try that and then make the argument with stats to back it up?

    • andrew

      Because I’m lazy.

      • Steve H

        Nice!!! Robinson Cano reads RAB!!!

        Of course he posts under the name “andrew”

        • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

          I thought it was Melky Cabrera.

    • Joseph Pawlikowski

      Because it’s a question of strategy.

      • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

        Well is so bunting people over with nobody out, but there’s a sabermetric used to figure out the probability of how many runs you’ll score in that situation.

        • Joseph Pawlikowski


          I would think that a probability analysis would have the Yankees taking Games 1 and 2 more often with CC v Verlander and Burnett v Jackson, than with CC v Edwin and Burnett v Verlander. It would seem that the latter scenario would produce more splits because of the disparity between the pitchers.

          Just a guess. I’d love for someone to run the numbers and back me up.

        • Joseph Pawlikowski

          Then again, bunting is a tactic. If your strategy is to play small ball and get one run while you can, yeah, bunting would be the proper tactic there. I think when we criticize it, we’re criticizing the strategy, using the numbers as proof that bunting doesn’t lead to more runs.

          If the Tigers started Edwin against CC, it would be a tactic in the strategy of making sure to take one game on the road. So while we can prove or disprove the tactic via statistical analysis, it’s still a valid strategy. Considering the strength of the Tigers vs. the strength of the Yankees, I would think it a good strategy, even.

      • toad

        What about the argument that AJ is very inconsistent – both ways. If you get a good game out of him he can match up with Verlander OK, and if you get a bad game it doesn’t matter who he faces.

        That overstates the situation, of course, but it suggests that starting with AJ might be the smart move.

        • Joseph Pawlikowski

          All right. So we say that if Good A.J. shows up, it’s a toss-up between both Edwin and Verlander. If Bad A.J. shows up it’s a loss either way. Assuming the chances of him being good is equal against both Edwin and Verlander, then you could make a case to line up CC against Jackson.

          • Joseph Pawlikowski

            But then there’s 6 innings, 2 or 3 runs A.J. He shows up from time to time. So that throws all this off.

            • toad

              Could happen. But Verlander is not yet Koufax or Gibson at their primes, so getting a few runs off him is not impossible. Anyway, it’s a question of odds, not certainties.

              Besides, CC just might give up a couple also. So what’s the difference?

  • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

    Ah, Verlander doesn’t scare me too much. The Yankees as a team are > than Verlander and his team.

    I’d start CC vs. Verlander. I don’t like the idea of just assuming a guranteed win when CC’s pitching and a guranteeed loss when Verlander’s pitching. We should play to win every game, we’re good enough.

    • Slugger27

      i agree

      NYY at home = 52-23
      DET on road = 30-42

      i dont care if verlanders throwing, if we’re at home with CC, we’re a solid favorite in the game

      • Zack

        Verlander has a 4.00 era on the road, and his team 9-8 is in those starts.
        CC has a 3.40 era at home, and they are 9-5 in those starts.

        I think thats better than just overall record- thats takes into account Mitre, Wang, Willis, etc.

  • Slugger27

    what i could get on board with ben, is maybe saving sabathia for a game 5 if we have a 2-1 lead. if we’re up 2-1 in the series, u gotta figure verlander will be throwing, the game will be in detroit…. i could maybe get on board saving CC for game 5 at home and throwing joba/aceves in game 4

    im not saying i definitely support this idea, im saying i think its worth entertaining… but then again this means we dont have CC for game 1 in the ALCS

    • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

      Edwin Jackson isn’t an easy draw. I dislike conceding a game to Verlander, because what if we lose game two? Now you’ve given up game 1 and lost game 2 and Burnett’s on the mound in a must win situation. No, better to try and win every game.

    • Benjamin Kabak

      Nah. If you can beat them in game 4, go for the jugular. Same reason why the Yanks should use CC in game 1.

      • Slugger27

        ya, ur probably right… just thought id throw it out there

        if jack mckeon taught us one thing, it was go for the jugular

      • A.D.

        Exactly, especially in 5 game series you don’t want to mess around, you just want them over & won.

  • Kiko Jones

    I don’t recall how the Yankees did against Verlander the first time this season but I was at the July 18 game mentioned above and the Tigers lost that one. It was the anniversary of Cone’s perfect game and he threw out the first pitch.

    Btw, my friends that are Tiger fans don’t want me to go to the playoffs: the Yankees have never lost a game when I’ve been at the Stadium (new house included). Ever.

    • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

      Go every day.

    • chriskeo

      We should all pitch in and buy you tickets to every postseason game, $50 tickets, 200 people, i would do that split, (assuming it guarantees a win, of course)

      • A.D.

        Kiko has to pay for any ticket they lose.

        • Kiko Jones

          Agreed, A.D.

  • steve s

    I was at the July 18th game as well and Verlander was as dominating that day as Pedro in his prime. The psychological effect of losing Game 1 of the Division Series to the Tigers would be very devastating so CC is the only way to go and let’s hope that he matches zeros until Verlander tires. I think starting Gardner that day would be a good idea as well in hope that he can get on and try to steal a run.

  • Tony

    Yes, awesome message to send. We’re afraid of Verlander and think we only have one starter. I know we just finished 5+ up on the entire league, but let’s line it up like the plucky underdogs hoping to make a game of it.


  • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

    this debate


    my head

    but i’m going to contribute anyway, multiple choice style:

    should you:

    a) take the time to find some stats out
    b) walk right over, Yankee’s pound ’em
    c) tell CC you want his love

    well the answer is d [D] all of the above.

    • Pasqua

      There has never been a thread more appropriate of your moniker.

      • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

        ietcvm :)

  • Lanny

    You don’t sign Sabathia to a record setting contract to save him for Game 2.

    You dont win 100 games and shake up your rotation because your scared of a starter.

    You dont lack confidence. You shouldnt be afraid of anyone.

    • Kiko Jones


    • Pasqua

      Simple, concise and 100% on the money.

  • Bill O

    Pitching Sabathia in game 2 certainly sends the wrong message to the team and to Sabathia. Come playoff time you bring your best out there to face off against their best. Plus by moving Sabathia back to game 2 and 5 you’re assuming the series makes it to 5. If we have to match Burnett against Verlander twice that could be two losses there which makes all 3 of the other games must win.