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Scouting Pitchers: Justin Verlander

James Benkard

James Benkard writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Statistics as of 5/27/08

Let's look at who the Tigers hoped would lead them to the World Series this year. The Tigers made their push to win this off-season in part because they had a homegrown ace in Verlander, who tied for sixth in the AL last year with 18 wins and was 10th with 183 strikeouts. The Tigers lost their first seven and are currently tied for last in the Central at 21-30. Verlander scuffled in his first seven starts (6.43 ERA) but has allowed four runs in his last three starts with improved velocity, the Detroit Free Press reports.

I scout these pitchers personally, recording their velocity, pitch selection and motions by watching their games. Please feel free to post your comments below on these columns. I use the standard 20-80 scouting scale to rate pitchers. These velocities are suggestive and not determinant of a pitch's rating. For example, a 75 MPH curveball might rank as a 60 because of its movement and/or deception.

80 Outstanding (96+ MPH fastball, 88+ MPH slider, 82 MPH curveball)
70 Well above average (94-95 FB, 86-87 MPH SL, 80-81 MPH CB)
60 Above average (92-93 MPH FB, 84-85 MPH SL, 78-79 MPH CB)
50 Average (89-91 MPH FB, 82-84 MPH SL, 75-77 MPH CB)
40 Below average (86-88 MPH FB, 79-81 MPH SL, 73-75 MPH CB)
30 Well below average (83-85 MPH FB, 76-78 MPH SL, 71-72 MPH CB)
20 Poor (80-82 MPH FB, 71-75 MPH SL, 69-70 MPH CB)

The Tigers chose the right-handed Verlander (6-5, 200, born 2/20/1983) with the second overall pick of the 2004 draft after a storied career at Old Dominion University in which he fanned 427 in 335 innings. He signed that October after his father helped secure him a major league contract. In 2005, Verlander zipped through 13 Class A starts (9-2, 1.67) and dominated in seven games at Double-A, allowing one run in 33 innings. He made his major league debut on July 4th in Cleveland but missed August and September with a tired shoulder.

Verlander tied for fourth in the AL with 17 wins and tied for seventh with a 3.63 ERA in 2006 as he won the AL Rookie of the Year award. He was the AL Pitcher of the Month in May (4-1, 1.73). Verlander's shoulder bothered him again down the stretch as he posted a 5.82 ERA both in the season's last two months and in four postseason starts. He lost the decisive Game 5 of the World Series to the Cardinals. To prepare for 2007, Verlander modified his off-season routine to include more shoulder exercises and adopted a traditional curveball over his knuckle-curve, which gave him blisters. An excellent first half (10-3, 3.14) resulted that included a 112-pitch, four-walk, 12-strikeout no-hitter at home against the Brewers on June 12th. He was the first Tiger to throw a no-hitter in Detroit since 1952. Verlander also pitched an inning in the All-Star game and avoided second-half arm trouble.

Justin Verlander: (G/F 0.94)

		Rating:  %Thrown:
Fastball	70		55
Curveball	70		25
Slider		N/A
Changeup	65		20
Control	50
Delivery	60
Composure	55

Verlander has thrown his fastball at 95-99 MPH for much of his career. He has gone through periods when his fastball has dipped into the low 90s, including most of this year. In his May 25 start, he suddenly jumped from 92-93 to his customary 94-99. Verlander has linked this inconsistency to a mechanical flaw, he told the Free Press: "I know what I need to work on. My front side is flying (open). When that happens, everything kind of flattens out on me. I've had a tendency to do that my whole career." Verlander said he corrects this by working his lower body more into his delivery.

Verlander also features a spike curveball from 79-86 MPH and an 83-87 MPH changeup. He tends to overuse these pitches, so Jim Leyland has told him to use his fastball more. Verlander's curve has a nasty downward break, and he records about half of his strikeouts with it. During his no-hitter, he recorded 10 outs with his curve, 10 with his fastball and seven with his changeup, which also serves as a power pitch. When he has everything working, Verlander is as tough as they come.

Verlander's success depends on his control as much as his fastball velocity. He led the majors in wild pitches (17) and hit batsmen (19) in 2007, although no one he hit came around to score, Bill James' Gold Mine 2008 pointed out. While Verlander has issued just 161 walks in 467 career innings, he gets hurt when he leaves the ball up, especially on his changeup. Verlander generates excellent arm speed and does not tip his pitches. Despite his mechanical glitches this year, his delivery is fundamentally sound and has remained more or less the same since he came up in 2005. Verlander works very quickly and has needed reminders to relax more in game situations. He is an emotional pitcher who at times has bristled at criticism for his poor start, as he showed recently in his interview with the Detroit News' Dana Wakiji. Verlander has maintained that he has felt healthy and pitched pretty well, and sooner or later the results would show it. This has turned out to be true.

Verlander is an excellent buy-low candidate for a fantasy owner right now. His 2-7 record and 5.16 ERA mask the fact that he has allowed a lower OPS (.732) than he did in his Rookie of the Year season in 2006 (.741). Verlander needs to reduce his pitches per inning (17.5), but that will likely happen. The window of opportunity to get him is closing fast, as he will start piling up strikeouts soon.


Radar Love - Heat in the last week:

95-98: Joel Zumaya in appearances in extended spring training as he works his way back from shoulder problems.
94-96: Jose Arredondo against Detroit on May 26th. Arredondo also featured a slider and splitter in the high 80s in picking up his first major league win.
90: Kyle Lohse in Los Angeles on May 24th.
89-92: Joe Saunders in recording his league-leading (with Daisuke Matsuzaka) eighth win in Chicago on May 23rd.
88-92: Aaron Cook helping sink the Mets on May 25th.
87: Shaun Marcum against the Royals on May 26th.
84-86: Justin Duchscherer in limiting the Red Sox to one hit in eight innings on May 24th.

Next week: NL Central: Carlos Zambrano


Article first appeared 5/29/08