by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
When we posted our Top 20 starting pitchers earlier this week (click here to view) it surprised many to find Justin Verlander omitted. He ultimately lands at #24 on our rankings, but after what appeared to be a renaissance in 2016 the consensus is that Verlander is arguably a Top 10 option heading into 2017. Why do we see things differently? First, let’s look at the numbers:
254 Strikeouts (10.04 K/9)
57 Walks (2.25 BB/9)
33.7% Groundball Rate
There are some obvious risks, just looking at these numbers on the surface. It’s easy to point towards luck (his BABIP, as well as a 79.9% strand rate). It’s easy to be concerned about home runs, something that plagued him last season as well (1.19 HR/9). As you dig in, the concerns grow even greater.
Overall the numbers look great, but there’s a distinct split between halves:
You can definitely argue that his ERA should’ve been a bit better in the first half, but the second half marks are unreasonable expectations (and ultimately made his entire season look more palatable then it should). The strikeout rate jumped (10.93 K/9), though that’s something we’ll discuss momentarily, and he continued to show great control (1.96 BB/9). Those two things aren’t enough, and buying him off a few unsustainable months will be a mistake.
Amazingly Verlander’s 10.04 K/9 is the second best mark of his career (10.09 K/9 in 2009) and is only the third time he’s struck out at least a batter per inning (even in the first half he owned a 9.20 K/9). He did regain a little bit of velocity (93.5 mph, after posting a 92.8 mark in ’15), but is that enough to justify such a dramatic jump?
It wasn’t that he changed his approach:
Instead he saw his SwStr% rise to a career best 12.0%. Whether he can sustain that type of mark remains to be seen, but it seems hard to bank on.
While Verlander does bring strikeouts (even with the expected regression back into the 8.50-9.00 range) and good control, but does that make him a Top 15 option? Let’s not forget that he’s the same pitcher who posted strikeout rates of 6.95 and 7.63 in 2014 and 2015, and hadn’t had an ERA below 3.38 since 2012. Throw in the potential home run issues, and the risks should outweigh the rewards. A surprising strikeout renaissance and a second half full of luck shouldn’t sway that. It’s not to say that he isn’t worth owning, but simply not at his current price tag (as others are paying for numbers that are highly unlikely to be replicated).
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball
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Make sure to check out our other Early 2017 Rankings: