2011 ALDS: Previewing Justin Verlander

(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

Here is the Yankees’ ALDS roster:

Infielders: Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Eduardo Nunez, Eric Chavez

Outfielders: Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, Andruw Jones, Chris Dickerson

Catchers: Russell Martin, Jesus Montero

DH: Jorge Posada

Starters: CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia

Relievers: Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Rafael Soriano, Cory Wade, Boone Logan, Luis Ayala, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes

There is no Plan B

More than any other season in recent memory, this version of the New York Yankees was built on the anticipation of future improvement and change. This process began in earnest nearly one year ago when the Giants defeated the Rangers in the World Series. Despite turning a howitzer-sized spotlight on Cliff Lee, they watched him go to Philadelphia instead, and then found that the market beyond him was quite unattractive. The team headed into Spring Training with one known quantity in CC Sabathia, two quantities thought to be known in Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett, and a slew of unknowns in Nova, Garcia, Colon and more. “Wait til the season starts, let the pitching trade market develop” was the refrain. “Something will pop up”.

Several things popped up, but for various reasons they were never a great fit for the Yankees. Ubaldo Jimenez’s price was sky high, and he wasn’t exactly a savior for the Indians once they acquired him. Other targets like John Danks and Gavin Floyd never materialized as expected. Hiroki Kuroda ruled himself out despite his team’s interest in trading him and the Yankees’ interest in acquiring him. It was simply a bad market. It still wasn’t over on July 31st, though. While it appeared unlikely, the Yankees still had the chance to obtain someone to bolster the pitching staff via the waivers system. Wandy Rodriguez was considered, but nothing came of it. As far as pitchers went, the team was rolling with what they started with.

The Yankees still had one ace up their sleeve, one final shot in the arm. It was the baby-faced kid from Venezuela, Jesus Montero: the big-time prospect, much anticipated, long-awaited and sick of being bored. In September he made his debut for the big league club and exceeded even the highest expectations we had placed on him. Montero was really the one and only big change to the team’s composition, though. As changes go, it was quite small.

This team has been stable and calm for awhile now. In a lot of ways, it feels like they’ve been playing September baseball for months. September baseball is by and large a languid affair. For a lot of teams the games are played by AAA players – prospects or organizational filler- as bigger and older names get some rest after a long season. Many of the games are played in half-empty stadiums now that kids are back in school and going to bed on time. Many of the games have little to no import in the grand scheme of the season. September baseball is a time for unwinding, for reflection on the season drawing to a close. It’s slow and peaceful, and it couldn’t be any different from the violence of October.

This violence was on full display Wednesday night when two teams had their seasons snuffed out right before their very eyes. This was particularly brutal for Red Sox fans, who went from expecting a victory and a Rays’ loss to realizing it was all over in the course of no more than five minutes. With two outs and Papelbon on the hill, one has to imagine many of the fans had already started thinking about Game 163, perhaps debating different potential starters. Maybe some of them were even looking past it to the ALDS rotation, considering which opponent they preferred to face. And then it was all gone.

It’s enough to make one nostalgic for September baseball, where everything is safe, where the games don’t matter and you watch for nothing more than the love of the game. In September other teams may look better than yours, but there’s always tomorrow. There’s always that next lineup, that next pitcher, that next game. There’s always time for trying new tactics, testing new players, tinkering with the lineup or the roster or hoping for a bounceback from under-performers. September ends tonight. There’s no savior on the horizon, no improvements to be made, no reinforcements coming. The Yankees are dancing with the ones that brung ’em.

With that in mind, and knowing that nothing risked will always mean nothing gained, there’s really nothing left to do but leave the safety of September. All that is left is to embrace the whirlwind with clear eyes and anticipatory hearts and hope for the best. There is no escape hatch, no way out, no Plan B now. There is only Plan A, and it’s the plan that germinates and sprouts deep down in the heart of every fan the moment they see those first photos of pitchers and catchers stretching on the green grass in February. It’s the same plan that motivates fans to stick with the team through the ups and the downs, through the dumb losses and the frustration. It’s the same plan that calls for the biggest payoff possible. It’s the same plan every year. It’s Plan A, and Plan A is to win eleven games and dance in the streets of lower Manhattan.

Laird, Krum take home Minor League Gold Gloves

Via Mike Ashmore, Brandon Laird and Austin Krum have won the minor league Gold Gloves at third base and left field, respectively. Apparently they only give out one Gold Glove per position for the entire minor leagues, it’s not like there’s one set of awards for each individual league. I didn’t even know these Gold Gloves existed, but congrats to both guys. Laird seems to be  getting a lot of love for his defense lately, which certainly wasn’t his strong suit when drafted.

Open Thread: Calm before the storm

No more fooling around, time to get serious. (J. Meric/Getty Images)

The regular season is over, and the madness officially starts tomorrow. Obsessing over every pitch, leaning to the side to help every line drive go fair or foul, not looking when Boone Logan enters the  games … we have all this and more to look forward to in the postseason. After all those meaningless games over the last week, the increased stress level might come as a huge shock at first. I  suggest taking tonight to just chill out and relax, prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for what we’re about to go through. Use this thread to talk about whatever you like in the meantime though, anything goes.

ALDS Notes: Posada, Valdes, A-Rod, Dickerson

The Yankees workout at Yankee Stadium was rained out this afternoon, or rather the workouts on the field were cut short. I’m sure they got their work  in under the stands indoors. They have not yet released their ALDS roster, but bits and pieces have trickled out this afternoon. Let’s recap…

  • Joe Girardi said that Jorge Posada, who has had a total of 38 plate appearances over the last 31 days, will be the DH against the Tigers right-handed starters. That’s all four of them. Posada has hit a respectable .269/.348/.466 against righties this year, but I really have a hard time seeing him catching up to the heat Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer will bring. (Mark Hale)
  • Despite rumors that he could earn a postseason job, Raul Valdes will not be on the  roster. There’s really no need for a second lefty because Detroit’s only significant lefty bat is Alex Avila, who has more than held his own against southpaws this season. Valdes will go to Tampa to stay sharp for a potential ALCS role. (David Waldstein)
  • Alex Rodriguez missed last night’s game because of some soreness in his surgically repaired knee, but Girardi said that his third baseman is healthy enough to play tomorrow and remain at third base throughout the postseason. (Chad Jennings)
  • Chris Dickerson will be on the playoff roster, presumably in that fifth outfielder/defensive specialist/pinch-runner role. (Jennings)
  • In case you missed it amidst the craziness last night, Girardi announced that Freddy Garcia will start Game Three behind CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova. Sabathia will start a potential Game Four on three days rest, Nova a potential Game Five on normal rest. A.J. Burnett will work out of the  bullpen.

And finally, MLB announced umpire assignments for the four LDS matchups. Gerry Davis will be the crew chief for the Yankees-Tigers  series, and will be joined by Tony Randazzo, Eric Cooper, Dan Iassogna, Ted Barrett, and Bill Welke.