PITCHf/x Scouting Report: Justin Verlander

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Over the last couple of games, the Yankees have hit an odd patch of offensive trouble, scoring only 3 runs between their last 2 games. Things won’t get much easier Friday evening, as the Tigers send out their starting pitcher Justin Verlander. I consider a handful of starting pitchers in the ace category, and Verlander is certainly close to the top of that list. Not only did the right handed pitcher lead the American Leaguer in ERA, IP, SO, ERA+, WHIP, and H/9, but he swept the Cy Young votes and took the MVP award as a pitcher for the first time since 1992. We usually use this scouting report to analyze the opposing pitcher for the upcoming game and understand their strengths and weakness, but a lot of what Verlander does should be taken as precedent for good pitching. As you’ll see, he does very little wrong, and if you want to understand what makes good break, selection, and location, this is your guy.

Pitch Repertoire

Verlander’s arsenal includes 5 pitches, 2 fastballs and 3 offspeed pitches. He uses his 95 mph four-seam fastball 47% of the time, a pitch that has good vertical movement, combined with exceptional horizontal movement. His 87 mph changeup is thrown 18% of the time, and has slightly more break into right handed hitters. The 80 mph curveball is used 18% of the time as well, and while it has average break, it’s thrown a lot harder than most curveballs. He also has an 86 mph slider that he throws 9% of the time, and a 95 mph two-seam fastball he throws 8% of the time.

Courtesy of TexasLeaguers.com

 Here we have the release point from a catcher’s perspective. For a season’s worth of data (over 4,000 pitches), the zone of release points is remarkably condensed, showing how well Verlander was able to repeat his delivery. At a 3/4 arm slot, the zone runs about 1.5 to 2.5 feet to the left of the pitcher’s mound, and 6 to 7 feet above it. In regards to release point locations, he only slightly throws the curveball higher than his other pitches, which is typical for pitcher’s trying to gain an overhand plane. You can see Verlander’s arm slot in the picture to the right.

Courtesy of TexasLeaguers.com

Courtesy of TexasLeaguers.com

Here we have two graphs showing the trajectory of each pitch from the release point on the right to homeplate on the left. In the top picture, or the bird’s eye view, the release point is nearly 5 feet from the mound, showing how far his stride is. Horizontally, the changeup, two-seam, and four-seam have effective break into right handed hitters. The curveball and slider have opposite break than the other three pitches, moving in on left handed hitters. In the bottom image, the vertical break is shown from a third base or first base side. As it should, the four-seam has the least downward break, but there isn’t a dramatic difference between the two-seam. The changeup and slider have similar break down, but as we already know, opposite movement horizontally. The curveball has the most potent drop.

Courtesy of TexasLeaguers.com

Here we have pitch movement based on a catcher’s perspective, with the origin being a no-spin pitch conforming to gravity. We saw in the graphs above that he has three pitches that break up and in. His four-seam fastball averages -7.30 horizontal break and 9.89 vertical break. The two-seam averages -10.51 horizontal break and 9.46 vertical break, meaning only slightly more sink than the four-seam, but a good 3 inches more movement into right handed hitters. The changeup averages -9.53 horizontal movement and 6.69 vertical movement, a closer horizontal break to the two-seam than the four-seam. The slider breaks away from the right handed hitter, sitting at 2.04 horizontal break and 2.46 vertical break. The curveball moves the same way, with 7.62 horizontal break and -6.82 vertical break.

Courtesy of TexasLeaguers.com

This graph plots the spin angle versus the velocity. Noteworthy is how consistent his spin angles for his non-slider pitches are, they diverge much less than most pitcher’s angles, which makes the break more dependable. The changeup has the highest average spin angle at 235, allowing him to attain nearly 10 inches of movement into righties. The two-seam sits slightly lower at 228 degrees, followed by the four-seam at 217 degrees, which also allows him to get similar horizontal break. The slider, as it commonly does, has a wide range of break between 200 degrees and 80 degrees, and you can see that range allows him to obtain different breaks in the horizontal versus vertical movement graph above. The curveball has the lowest spin angle, which creates the increased downward and sweeping movement.

Where He Throws It

Courtesy of TexasLeaguers.com

Here we have the location of different pitch types to right handed hitters. While you can see that he threw his fastball and two-seam around the strikezone, he also used it’s inward movement to jam righties in. His changeup is thrown mostly in as well, shortening the batter’s swing. His two breaking pitches, the slider and curveball, are thrown down and away, the weak point of most right handed hitters. Here he used the four-seam 48.2% of the time, slider 18.6%, curveball 17.8%, changeup 8.8%, and two-seam 6.5%.

Courtesy of TexasLeaguers.com

Against lefties, Verlander again attacked with his fastballs around the zone, but particularly up and in attempting to get flyballs. While he was also able to throw the curveball for strikes around the zone, he attacked mostly down and away, again the left handed hitter’s weak spot. The changeup is almost exclusively down and away as well. His selection facing left handed hitters was four-seam 46.8% of the time, changeup 25.8%, curveball 18.1%, two-seam 9.0%, and slider 0.3%.

When He Throws It

Justin Verlander’s Pitch Selection Against Righties in 2011
Count Four-seam (R) Changeup (R) Curveball (R) Slider (R) Two-seam (R)
3-0 94.1% 0% 0% 0% 5.9%
3-1 83.9% 3.2% 0% 9.7% 3.2%
2-0 70.6% 3.9% 2.0% 15.7% 7.8%
2-1 48.9% 7.8% 13.3% 22.2% 7.8%
1-0 50.9% 4.0% 11.6% 26.6% 6.9%
0-0 59.7% 8.0% 10.5% 13.0% 8.8%
1-1 42.1% 11.1% 24.7% 17.9% 4.2%
0-1 41.1% 9.1% 19.4% 22.5% 7.9%
3-2 80.0% 1.1% 2.1% 9.5% 7.4%
2-2 37.6% 12.4% 26.5% 18.8% 4.7%
1-2 28.7% 12.0% 33.0% 22.0% 4.3%
0-2 25.9% 15.4% 30.1% 25.9% 2.8%

Here we have Verlander’s pitch selection to right handed hitters by count. Starting a count off, he throws the four-seam 60% of the time, and mixing in his other four pitches evenly. As he falls behind in the count, he relies more on his four-seam and slider, although he’s almost completely dependent on the fastball with 3 balls. After strike one he nearly doubles his curveballs, and also increases the slider. With two-strikes, the batter is more likely to see an offspeed pitch, increasing the likelihood of a swing and miss. While his most successful pitch against righties is the changeup with a 17.9% whiff rate, he also has a 14.7% whiff rate on the slider, and 9.9% rate on the curveball.

Justin Verlander’s Pitch Selection Against Lefties in 2011
Count Four-seam (L) Changeup (L) Curveball (L) Slider (L) Two-seam (L)
3-0 58.8% 11.8% 0% 0% 29.4%
3-1 59.5% 19.0% 2.4% 0% 19.0%
2-0 66.2% 28.4% 0% 0% 5.4%
2-1 54.2% 30.8% 2.5% 0.8% 11.7%
1-0 49.2% 35.2% 4.7% 0.4% 10.6%
0-0 56.3% 29.3% 4.7% 0% 9.7%
1-1 42.5% 27.0% 21.0% 0.8% 8.7%
0-1 34.5% 27.2% 29.3% 0% 9.1%
3-2 68.9% 22.3% 0% 0% 8.8%
2-2 46.1% 16.2% 32.0% 0% 5.7%
1-2 30.2% 20.7% 43.0% 0.8% 5.4%
0-2 22.4% 17.0% 49.7% 0.7% 10.2%

Facing lefties, he again is most likely to throw a fastball, but mixes in his changeup nearly 30% of the time. As he falls behind in the count, he continues with his approach until 3 balls, when he will decrease the changeup in favor of the two-seam and four-seam fastball. After strike one, Verlander continues throwing his changeup, but substitutes a good number of four-seams for curveballs as he did against righties. After strike two, his curveball becomes his primary pitch, reaching nearly 50% selection on an 0-2 count. Surprisingly, his curveball had the least successful whiff rate against lefties at 7.9%, but he received better numbers with his 9.2% whiff rate on the four-seam, 10.7% on the two-seam, and 20.0% on the changeup.

Results

Other than ridiculous strikeout and walk numbers, Verlander’s four-seam fastball lends itself to more of a flyball approach. His batted ball results are 42.1% flyballs, 40.2% groundballs, and 17.7% linedrives. Split-wise, he doesn’t have much of a platoon split, although he does have better strikeout numbers facing righties. From a home/away standpoint, he has slightly better numbers in Comerica Park, but still maintains a 3.80 ERA and .240/.309/.371 tripleslash against hitters on the road.

Against The Yankees

Verlander has 10 starts against the Yankees in regular season play. Although he’s held the team to a 3.97 ERA, Yankee hitters have been successful off him with a .264/.349/.391 tripleslash. While he has struckout the team at a career rate, he’s posted walk numbers nearly double that at 4.3 BB/9. Arod (1), Granderson (1), Tex (1), and Swisher (3) all have homeruns off the right handed pitcher. Jeter doesn’t have the power numbers, but he’s nearly gotten on base in half of his 25 at bats.

Career Numbers Against Justin Verlander
Probable Yankee Lineup At Bats Triple Slash
Derek Jeter SS 25 .360/.467/.360
Curtis Granderson CF 6 .167/.286/.667
Alex Rodriguez 3B 18 .222/.364/.444
Robinson Cano 2B 21 .190/.261/.238
Mark Teixeira 1B 22 .136/.269/.273
Nick Swisher RF 46 .174/.269/.413
Raul Ibanez LF 20 .150/.250/.200
Eric Chavez LF
12 .167/.167/.167
Russell Martin C 5 .400/.400/.400

Prediction
It’s a tough pill to swallow after two offensively troubled games, but Verlander will probably dominate tonight. The last time the Yankees faced him was game three of the ALDS, and despite the loss, Verlander gave up 4 runs in 8 innings, so perhaps there is some hope. The Yankee lineup will likely have 7 lefties in it, so their best bet is to sit on fastballs up and in to drive them over the right field porch for some quick homeruns.

2 thoughts on “PITCHf/x Scouting Report: Justin Verlander

  1. C. Maurer

    Absolutely clinical. A brilliant piece blending irregular insight with analysis. How can this not be the standard template for scouting pitchers. Were my econometrics classes presented in this format and content, well…

    Go Tigers

  2. The consistency of that release point is amazing.

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