For a good two years now, Justin Verlander has been the best pitcher in the world. He won both the AL Cy Young and MVP awards in 2011, becoming the first pitch to do so since Roger Clemens in 1986. The FanGraphs version of WAR says he was even better in 2012 (7.0) than 2011 (6.8) despite the lack of hardware. This season has gone differently for the 30-year-old, however. The Orioles tagged Verlander for five runs on seven hits and four walks in five innings on Tuesday night, giving him a 3.72 ERA and 1.35 WHIP in 15 starts this season. The last time he had an ERA and a WHIP that high was 2008, when he lead the league in losses and had (by far) the worst year of his career. A 112 ERA+ is still pretty good, but it's obvious he has not living up to his lofty standards in 2013. The most interesting part of Verlander's "down" season is that he really isn't pitching all that differently than he had the last few years, at least in terms of the underlying performance. Here's what he did in the previous two years, when he really took hold of that "Best Pitcher in the World" crown, compared to this year: The difference in walk rate is two walks for every 100 batters faced, which is basically two walks for every three starts or so. Not a huge difference. Otherwise his strikeout and ground ball rates are damn near identical (actually better in 2013, really), and the fly balls aren't leaving the yard any more frequently than they had in the past. The FIPs line right up with each other. There are two elephants in the room here that tie together. The first is Verlander's batting average against on balls in play, which has jumped nearly 90 points (!) in 2013. The general BABIP explanation says hitters have their own individual BABIPs while pitchers tend to sit near one common league average. That is not entirely true, however. Pitchers do have some control of their BABIP, albeit less than hitters. Fly balls are turned into outs more easily than ground balls, which is why fly ball pitchers tend to have lower BABIPs, for example.
Justin Verlander's change in approach may explain his 3.72 ERA
CBS Sports | Jun 19