Verlander's workload still unmatched

August, 6, 2012
8/06/12
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Justin Verlander opposes Ivan Nova when the Tigers host the Yankees on "Monday Night Baseball." Each pitcher is having a surprising season but for different reasons.
The New York Yankees visit the Detroit Tigers on "Monday Night Baseball" (ESPN, 7 ET). Each team’s starting pitcher is having a surprising season -- for different reasons.

Last season Justin Verlander became the 10th pitcher in major league history to win the MVP and Cy Young awards in the same season. He’s not generating the same buzz this season but he’s pitching just as well.

He’s a classic workhorse -- he leads the majors in pitches thrown with 2,483, 62 more than the next-closest pitcher. That might not sound like much, but the difference between first and second is the same as the distance between second and seventh.

This just a season after he threw more than 4,300 pitches, including the postseason, the most by an AL pitcher since 1990.

Although his walk rate is slightly up and his strikeout rate is slightly down, the results have been almost identical. He has improved two important peripherals -- his swing-and-miss percentage and his home run rate.

He’s on pace for only 17 wins this season, which would be tied for the second fewest of his career, but only seven qualified starters have gotten less run support than Verlander (3.41 runs per start).

Opposing Verlander is Ivan Nova, who went 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in his first full major league season in 2011. He may be 10-5 this season -- thanks in part to the 10th-best run support in the American League, nearly two runs per game more than Verlander -- but the rest of the numbers tell a different story.

Why has his performance dropped? It’s due mostly to his home run rate and his opponents’ batting average on balls in play.

He’s allowing way more fly balls (34 percent, up from 27 percent) and more of them are leaving the park. On top of that, nearly 21 percent of balls in play against Nova have been line drives -- only 12 qualified pitchers have allowed a higher line-drive rate.

The Yankees' defense is partly to blame as well -- his BABIP on ground balls is .255 this season (up from .215 in 2011). Last season the Yankees had -9 defensive runs saved as a team -- this season they’re already at -18.

Nova is throwing his fastball and changeup less and his curveball and slider more often this season. He’s allowed the same exact batting average (.204) this season as last on the breaking pitches, but the fastball/changeup combo has been disastrous. Perhaps those pitches are not as sharp with the decreased usage.

STAT TO WATCH
Ichiro Suzuki has a hit in all 12 games since joining the Yankees, which is tied for the longest hit streak to start a Yankees career in franchise history (according to the Elias Sports Bureau). Don Slaught had a hit in his first 12 games with the team in 1988.

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