Thursday, August 11, 2011
2011 feels like Verlander's season
By David Schoenfield
The great baseball writer and poet Roger Angell once described a Nolan Ryan fastball as a liquid streak of white. The great baseball slugger and braggadocio Reggie Jackson once said about facing Ryan, “He’s the only guy I go against that makes me go to bed before midnight.”
That has to be how opposing hitters have felt about Justin Verlander this season. Even if they do go to bed early the night before facing him, they must be thinking about liquid streaks of white or curveballs dropping from heaven or unhittable changeups or sliders that make you flail like a snowflake in a windstorm.
AROUND THE SWEETSPOT NETWORK
Blake Street Bulletin
There has been quite a bit of talk about what the Rockies will do at the catcher position this offseason. For whatever reason, the team seems like it might be ready to give up on Chris Iannetta. A few weeks ago, Troy Renck speculated that the Rockies might want to trade Iannetta this winter, leaving the starting catching job in the hands of Wilin Rosario. That would be a grave mistake. It's interesting that Jim Tracy refuses to bat Iannetta anywhere other than the eighth hole. He ranks second on the team in OBP and tied for third in wOBA.
Wednesday's five-run debacle in the bottom of the ninth brought back memories of some really, really bad Royals teams of the past. Although charged with just one error in the inning, the Royals committed enough gaffes and bobbles to make one wonder if the ghost of Chip Ambres was not lurking somewhere near. Let's start at the beginning. After Melky Cabrera mashed a three-run homer in the top of the ninth to give Kansas City a four run lead, Ned Yost opted to go with Aaron Crow instead of Joakim Soria to start the bottom of the inning. Soria, who had not pitched since throwing 11 pitches on Sunday, was already warm when the decision was made to switch to Crow. I can only assume that the primary driver behind this decision was that the bottom of the ninth was no longer a save situation.
Jordan Zimmermann starts today in what is not more than his 4th to last start of the year. We've heard that he is going to be capped in his innings somewhere in the 150 to 160 range and right now he sits at 138 1/3. If he starts four more times and averages six innings a start (a bit low for Jordan but I imagine they'll be looking for quicker hooks) that'll put him at ~162 innings. It'll also take him right up into September call-up time, which is a convenient time to replace him in the rotation with someone brought up in the expanded roster.
One of the things I love about a baseball season is how it develops story arcs and how certain years become identified with certain players -- if you’re a baseball nerd like I am you know what I mean: 1968 is Bob Gibson, 1980 is George Brett, 1988 is Jose Canseco (until the World Series, when it became Orel Hershiser), and 1998, of course, is Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.
Not every season has such a guy. Who won the MVP awards in 2007? Jimmy Rollins and Alex Rodriguez. That’s information that doesn’t exactly spring to mind, does it? The Cy Young winners? Jake Peavy and CC Sabathia. Good seasons, but not legendary.
I could be wrong here, but 2011 is shaping up as the year of Justin Verlander. This is a feel thing as much as a statistical thing. He pitched the no-hitter, took two other no-hitters into the eighth, is tall and dynamic on the mound, and has kind of been a one-man rotation for the Tigers. His fastball, it goes without saying, kind of gets the job done, and America loves the fastball as much as it loves Cool Whip.
Thursday night’s game against Cleveland wasn’t what I’d call a huge game for Detroit, but avoiding the series sweep certainly was at least a big game. The last thing the Tigers need is to let the Indians hang around. You let a team hang until late September, and next thing you know, you’re losing a one-game tiebreaker.
It wasn’t Verlander’s best game of the season. He nearly squandered a 4-0 lead, giving up a home run to Carlos Santana in the second inning and then a two-run double to Asdrubal Cabrera in the third after he had issued two walks. It was Verlander’s first three-walk start since May 13. But he settled down, overpowered the Indians after that and allowed just two more baserunners after Cabrera’s double, until he was lifted after seven innings and 108 pitches (tied for his third-lowest pitch count of the season). Jose Valverde closed it out once again -- he has lost three games but is 33-for-33 in save opportunities -- and Detroit’s lead is back up to three games. Amazingly, it snapped a 13-game losing streak for the Tigers in Cleveland.
Verlander improved to 17-5 for those of who you still like win-loss records, giving him 100 career victories. ESPN colleague Jayson Stark tweeted that it’s Verlander’s fifth 17-win season by age 28, and the only other pitchers to do so in the past 30 years were Dwight Gooden and Roger Clemens. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is 196 to 41, and opponents are hitting .185 against him.
Yes, it certainly feels like Justin Verlander’s season.
There’s only one hitch to all that: He’s not even a lock for the Cy Young Award right now. The Angels’ Jered Weaver is 14-5 with a 1.78 ERA. Weaver has pitched two games in which he went nine innings without a run and didn’t get the victory. In 24 starts, he’s allowed just 36 runs. Verlander has allowed 57 runs in 26 starts. Weaver has yet to allow more than four runs in a game, where Verlander has done it twice; Verlander has five games with four or more runs allowed to Weaver’s two. Since the American League went to the DH rule in 1973, only three starters have finished with an ERA less than 2.00: Ron Guidry in 1978, Roger Clemens in 1990 and Pedro Martinez in 2000.
So, yes, Jered Weaver has dominated as well.
We have time to sort out the Cy Young race. Both pitchers have plenty of big starts remaining as their teams battle for the playoffs. Maybe it will sort itself out by the end of the season.
But maybe it won’t. So I guess my question is: Do hitters go to bed before midnight when Weaver is pitching the next day?
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Brett Gardner's as light on his feet at home as he is on the bases -- and sometimes has to be.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.