2011 ALDS: Previewing Justin Verlander

Yankees announce ALDS roster
Looking Back. Looking Forward.
(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Barring something completely unexpected, Justin Verlander will win the AL Cy Young Award this season. He might even win it unanimously, but part of me hopes the two New York voters vote for CC Sabathia just to troll like the two Detroit writers who voted for Magglio Ordonez as the AL MVP in 2007 despite Alex Rodriguez‘s otherworldliness. The Yankees are going to have their hands full in Game One tonight, so let’s take a look at just how full…


You’re not going to run away with the Cy Young without being dominant, and Verlander obviously is. His flashy 24-5 record distracts from a brilliant underlying performance, one that includes almost a strikeout per inning (8.96 K/9) and just over two walks per nine innings (2.04 BB/9). Verlander is a fly ball pitcher (40.2% ground balls this year, 40.0% career), so that helped keep his batting average on balls in play down a bit (.236 vs. .285 career). He has a bit of a platoon split, but nothing crazy. All told, the 28-year-old from Virginia pitched to a 2.40 ERA with a 2.99 FIP, contributing 7.0 wins to his team according to FanGraphs (8.6 according to Baseball-Reference).

Pitch Selection

(via Texas Leaguers and FanGraphs)

You can make a pretty strong argument that Verlander has the best stuff in the world. He uses four pitches regularly, and according to linear weights, all four are at least 1.36 runs better than average for every 100 thrown (that’s the wR/100 column). Based on those values, Verlander had the sixth best fastball, the sixth best curveball, the 12th best changeup, and the 20th best slider in baseball this season (min. 150 IP). That’s pretty insane.

The breakdown is pretty basic, more sliders to righties and more changeups to lefties. Because his velocity is so elite, hitters almost have no choice but to start their bats early, which will lead to some ugly swings on the slow stuff. Verlander has a quick and deceptive delivery, and he really sells the changeup with his arm action.

Pitching Pattern

(via FanGraphs)

Verlander is a very simple man. He uses that high-octane fastball to get ahead in the count, then he goes to town with all those swing-and-miss offspeed offerings. Because his stuff is so good, Verlander can throw fastballs in fastball counts (0-0, 2-0, 3-1) and still dominate.

How To Attack Him

There’s no easy answer here. The simplest thing to do would be to wait him out and attack either him with a high pitch count or the bullpen, but that’s much easier said that done. He’s a strike-thrower, and being passive will mean a lot of quick strike ones and strike twos. You’d almost be better off gearing up for the fastball early in the count rather than try to hit the stuff that breaks later in the at-bat.

Verlander averaged 7.38 innings and 115.9 pitches per start this year, so he’s a workhorse of the first order. He famously holds his velocity deep into games; it’s not uncommon to see 98+ with his pitch count over the century mark. The Yankees could work the count and elevate his pitch count early, and he still might be out there in the seventh.

Yankees announce ALDS roster
Looking Back. Looking Forward.
  • The Fallen Phoenix

    Just gotta hope that the difference between New York’s lineup and Detroit’s lineup is enough to overcome the difference between Sabathia’s stuff and Verlander’s stuff tonight.

    Personally, I think it will be: when Sabathia’s on, he’s just as tough to hit as Verlander, and there’s no reason to think Sabathia won’t be on. While Detroit might have the single-best hitter in the ALDS (Miguel Cabrera), New York’s lineup, as a whole, is much better than Detroit’s.

    Obviously this game can go either way, but I like the Yankees’ chances.

  • Tiny Tim

    CC may be a big man but he’s not drinking beer during and after games like what happened in Boston. And that’s why we need to keep him and just give him whatever the hell he wants this offseason.

    Verlander can be beaten as we have done twice this season. Our offense of patient home run hitters is a good matchup against him in Yankee Stadium. Both games he pitches against us would be in New York.

    • Slugger27

      agreed. yanks should/will be favored in any game in yankee stadium w CC on the mound. ill take CC vs their lineup over verlander vs ours any day of the week.

  • MattG

    Looking at those pitching breakdowns, I was struck by how similar they look to the charts of a top prospect in AA or AAA.

    Then I remembered how many games Verlander pitched against Minnesota, CWS, Cleveland and Kansas City, and it makes some sense.

    I don’t mean to denigrate his talent too much, but all this attention on Verlander has allowed CC to become overlooked. In Yankee stadium, with his defense and his lineup, I’ll take CC.

    • MannyGeee

      yeah. The ALC has made Doug Fister look like Boomer this season, you have to assume that had some effect on Verlanders #s too…

      That said, Verlander is just fcking good. no way around that

  • Dave B

    Verlander is a beast and CC is a beast, but Verlander had a remarkably effective season. I hope he is wild enough to allow the Yankees to run up his pitch count and get him out of there sooner rather than later. I think the Yanks should be able to scratch out some runs but it just comes down to CC and the bullpen being up to the task.

    One glimmer of hope — despite a ridiculously small sample size, Verlander got roughed up in the 2006 playoffs. He is a different guy so you can probably throw it out. I’m just saying….

  • Sarah

    I’m a bit anxious, but when I looked at his game log on Baseball Reference, I see 3 of his losses were against the Yanks and the Red Sox. That encourages me.

    • http://bleedingyankeeblue.com Jesse

      Yep. And in both of his starts against the Yankees he averaged 120 pitches in 6 innings. I’d sign for that in a heartbeat.

      • Sarah

        Yeah. Also, I recall this team just recently beating the tar out of King Felix. It can be done.

        And it sometimes seems like against really good pitching, our guys don’t try to do too much.

  • virginia yankee

    As Yankee fans we can be happy to be here but this is a replay of all the Yankees “starting pitching does not match up yo the opposition” postseasons – Koufax to the 2002-2007 Angels, Marlins, Red Sox Tigers). CC is not the pre all star game CC or close to the CC of the loss to the Phillies — Nova is a hope – he is not dominant #2 – a fine rookie who NEEDED 5 runs a game support. After these two losses against the better Detroit pitchers there is a 14-5 loss looming.

    THIS SEASON HAS BEEN ABOUT CASHMAN NOT FIXING the STARTING Pitching — maybe that is because NEXT Year – IPK comes back or one of the current “AA/AAA untouchables” makes the rotation. CC will age, his HR rate will climb, Nova can get better (4 runs a game good enough), and they REPAIR Hughes and Chamberlain. Mo does not AGE.

    Cheer like heck but — good pitching beats good hitting — who thinks at this moment AROD is better than Chavez or Nunyez – but AROD will play (Grirardi doesn’t have the sense Torre showed with Fielder over Tino)

    Cashman had 6 months – He Sat on His FAT Luck getting a season out of Bart Freddie — but they were unlikely to be good enough for the entire run through the WS – we knew that in April

    • http://bleedingyankeeblue.com Jesse

      IPK isn’t coming back.

      • MannyGeee

        i think IPK will dawn the pinstripes yet again.. set the press conference for Jan 20th…2017

    • BK2ATL

      Is that you, Mrs. Cashman???

      Yet we finished handily in 1st place in the AL East with exactly everything you’re saying we don’t have. The toughest division in MLB again.

      I recall another freakout session a couple years back, when we only had 3 decent starters. Well, an ace, an aging guy who just knew how to pitch, and a wildcard. I present you the year 2009. I think we won the World Series.

      2011 – an ace (CC), a wildcard (Nova – who’s actually better than AJ was in 2009), and an aging guy who just knows how to pitch (Garcia).

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joe Pawlikowski
      • JMK

        The time machine!

      • Slugger27

        lmao, what a gem

    • nsalem
    • nsalem

      Posters who start posts with words like “as Yankee fans” are often not Yankee fans. Nice try Virginia.

      • http://RAB Nuke LaDoosh

        This. And by the way Virginia, there is no Santa Claus.

    • Jd_3010

      Cool story bro!

  • BK2ATL

    We’ve been here before. The baseball experts have already deemed Verlander as God. Forget the narrative being spewed by the same folks who crowned Boston in January and February.

    His stats and his stuff are certainly impressive. However, I would caution all to look deeper at his stats and against whom he stacked up the impressive stats. It wasn’t against good teams.

    Both times we faced him, he was out of the game before the 7th, with pitch counts over 110 in both and 3 runs allowed in each game. Long time ago back in May, I concur. But he just gave up 5 runs to Baltimore.

    My point is that he’s not unbeatable. We’ve already beaten him. Twice. If we put up 3 runs, we’ll be right there with Detroit and I will take our offense and bullpen over Detroit’s 5 games out of 5.

    I predict the Yanks win tonight. Maybe even by 3+ runs.

  • dalelama

    My only concerns for this Series is we have players who underperform in the post season, i.e. Swisher, Tex, Gardner, and to a lesser degree Arod and our starting pitching blows. Hopefully since Arod’s regular season sucked he will pull a reversal and kick ass in the post season.

    • MannyGeee

      really? small sample sizes FTW!!! and oh by the way our rotation has a great post season record.

      So does our team suck in the playoffs and our rotation is awesome in the playoffs, or is our team awsesome in the reg season and our rotation sucks??

      • dalelama

        This Yankee team is built to perform well during the regular season where our offensive guns can overpower weak teams and cover for shitty starting pitching. It is built to underperform in the post season because we have one reliable starting pitcher and hitters with a history wetting their pants in the post season. Hopefully Tex, Swish, and Gardner don’t swallow the bit this post season.

    • http://RAB Nuke LaDoosh

      Invariably, offensive players underperform their regular season production when Post season comes around since they aren’t facing the 4th or 5th starters or the underbelly of their opponent’s bullpen.

      • LiterallyFigurative


        Just about everyone hits worse in the postseason than in the regular year. The pitchers are the best pitchers on the best teams.

        So if Swish, Tex, Gardner hit worse, what’s not to say Avila, Inge and V-Mart won’t hit worse also?

        • LiterallyFigurative

          Bernie Williams used to smash pitching in the DS and CS, but was terrible in the WS. Was the stage too bright for him?

  • Finstor

    This post season is a crap shoot for the Yankees. Its hard to beleive that with Nova and Garcia as the #2 and 3 starters that the Yankees can win it all. I look at this season as a victory alreay, as the Yankees had the best AL record and managed to hold on to the entire farm system. We arent watching Jesus hit Seattle or Colorado. I look at the Tigers series as a 50/50 chance, and same if they play the Rangers in the ALCS. I think the Yankees would have the upperhand in the WS against anyone other than Philly, who I think the Yankees would have to pull off a minor miracle to beat, especially when you consider AJ will most likely start in the WS. Certainly I’ll be disappointed if the Yankees dont win it all but after the season they had and the prospects for the future, I will be able to live with it.

    • CS Yankee

      Good thoughts and reasoning.

      We need #28, this year and restate ou

  • Nogomo

    I already knew this much about Verlander (broadly speaking): when ahead in the count he throws the fastball so close to 100% of the time that any hitter who knows what’s going on should expect it. When behind he throws 50% fastballs and 50% offspeed stuff (his slider is a very rare appearance, changeup appears more than the curve). You gotta figure hitters know this. So why is he so effective?

    Mariano only has one pitch and he’s dumbfoundingly effective. Why? He can locate it where he wants it and it’s got movement. My guess is the same answer applies to Verlander. But he’s not unbeatable. CC needs to give up 3 runs or less and we can win. Go Yankees!

  • LiterallyFigurative

    This will be a great series, with two teams bearing many similarities.

    Unlike half of the NY media who have made Verlander out to be Sandy “Big Train” Ryan, the key to game 1 is not beating VERLANDER, but the Tigers. Regardless of who actually gets the W-L record, the goal is to win the game. Doesn’t matter if the Yanks win 8-1 over Verlander, or 4-3 in the 13th inning off of Bob Filindablank.

    PS: Please don’t ask about the names. Baseball fans/afficionados should be able to figure out what I’m saying.

  • Darren

    I’m still somewhat surprise Pettitte never made a white knight comeback in August like his former idol, Roger “of all the dramatic things” Clemens.

    I wish he did for Yankees sake but I’m happy to have untarnished memories and glad he is happy retired. (I assume he is or that he would have come back.) It’s nice to see a great Yankee leave on his own terms instead of being kicked out the door like a piece of garbage ala Bernie.