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Rankings Review: Why Justin Verlander Should Not Be Viewed As A Top 20 Starting Pitcher

Wednesday, March 1, 2017 10:24
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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:

227.2 IP
16 Wins
3.04 ERA
1.00 WHIP
254 Strikeouts (10.04 K/9)
57 Walks (2.25 BB/9)
33.7% Groundball Rate
.255 BABIP

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.

The Split
Overall the numbers look great, but there’s a distinct split between halves:

Strand Rate
First 117.1 4.07 1.13 .275 72.7%
Second 110.1 1.96 0.86 .229 90.6%

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:

Fourseam 58.59 57.25
Cutter 0.00 1.23
Curveball 15.51 15.94
Slider 16.77 17.06
Changeup 9.08 8.49

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

*** Order Rotoprofessor’s 2017 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide for Just $7.00 By Clicking Here!!   Not only will you get all the help you need to dominate your fantasy draft, but you will also be entered to win a Noah Syndergaard autographed baseball, complete with “Thor” inscription! ***

Make sure to check out our other Early 2017 Rankings:

Standard League
OBP League
Catcher 01/09/17
First Base 01/16/17
Second Base 01/23/17
Third Base 02/06/17
Shortstop 02/13/17
Outfield #1-20 |02/20/17

#21-40 |02/22/17

Starting Pitcher 12/13/16
Relief Pitcher 01/02/17


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