What To Do With Justin Verlander
In 2013 Justin Verlander had his worst year since becoming an elite SP about five years ago. Verlander’s BB/9 ballooned from 2.27 to 3.09, his fastball averaged an entire MPH slower than in 2012 and his ERA jumped up to 3.46, which was pretty well in line with his FIP/xFIP.
During the year many talking heads postulated that Verlander was hurt and the years of throwing massive amounts of pitches and innings had finally taken a toll on his arm. To the naked eye you can see that Verlander has in fact been a true workhorse and the potential from overuse could be very real. At 30, Verlander has thrown 1772 regular season innings, has consistently gone well over 200 innings per year, will have pitched in the postseason three times and averages 109 pitches/game well over the MLB average of 95.
So what’s going on with Verlander and what should dynasty league owners be thinking as we move into 2014?
Well the good news is that Verlander doesn’t seem to have any lingering arm issues. His velocity decline fits right into normal aging patterns and Matt Klassen at Fangraphs profiled his decline from a historical perspective nicely.
But the bad news is that Verlander has now over 30 years of age and will be 31 before the 2014 season starts. For power pitchers this is really the point where the rubber meets the road, when all of the sudden their fastball just isn’t as overpowering as they need it to be and they must take on a pitching sensibility over just a throwing one.
And Verlander seems to be recognizing this. Verlander’s usage of a slider has risen year over year until it reached a career high usage of 13.9% in 2013 and while this usage has come at the cost of his curveball it shows that Verlander is trying to keep batters on their toes by moving to a four pitch mix. Verlander is well aware that his fastball is no longer what it once was, however, I should note that at 93.3 MPH his fastball is nothing to sneeze at and all of his pitches in 2013 were above average, except for his curveball which was just barely below (-.3 wCB).
So based on historical perspective and his changing repertoire it would seem that Verlander has at least three more solid years in front of him. After three years his ability as a pitcher will depend on how well he continues to adapt to his diminishing skill set as well as how his health holds up over that time. While he’ll no longer be a top 5 pitcher moving forward he still has a real good chance to compile a sub 3.5 ERA, 200+ Ks and, on a solid Tigers team, could easily win close to 20 games with a bit of good fortune.
At this point I actually think Verlander is a really interesting buy low option in Dynasty leagues, many owners are going to look at his age and his declining stats and be scared away but savvy owners will know that history suggests at least a few more very good seasons are ahead for the big righty.