The Yankees will make history tonight even before they swing a bat, when Justin Verlander takes the mound in the bottom of the first inning.
According to the Elias Sports Bureua, this is the first time in major-league history a team has faced the last three Cy Young Award winners (Max Scherzer, David Price, Verlander) in three straight games.
There is one caveat: tonight’s starter may have the name “Verlander” on the back of his jersey, but he is a shell of the pitcher that won the award in 2011. With a 4.66 ERA and 1.42 WHIP, he is on pace to have his worst season since 2008 when he led the league in losses and finished with a 4.84 ERA.
Verlander’s fastball velocity has declined every season since 2011 and opponents have increasingly been hitting his heater harder and harder each year. This season he’s basically turned every hitter into Ryan Braun when throwing his fastball.
Right-handers are also crushing him this year, batting .322/.367/.492, which would easily be the worst marks of his career. The only pitcher that has allowed a higher OPS vs righties this season is Hector Noesi, and the only pitcher giving up a higher batting average is Phil Hughes.
Verlander has pitched better recently, with a 3.32 ERA in three starts since the break. Although he’s allowing fewer baserunners and preventing more runs, his strikeout-to-walk ratio is still mediocre (14 K, 6 BB) during this stretch, indicating that his turnaround is far from complete.
Another factor working against Verlander tonight is his history at the new Yankee Stadium, where he is winless in six starts with a 4.78 ERA (including the postseason). The only pitcher to make more starts at the ballpark without a win is our good ol’ friend Mark Buehrle, who is 0-6 in eight starts there.
Two rights don’t make a left
So this should be a prime opportunity for the Yankees to rough up a former All-Star pitcher now in decline and get an easy win, right? Not so fast, my friend.
Verlander’s reverse platoon splits might actually work in his favor tonight against a Yankees lineup which features few threatening right-handed bats. Only three teams have a lower OPS than the Yankees when batting from the right side (.650) and no team has hit fewer homers (23).
How bad is the Yankees right-handed power? Their leading right-handed home run hitter was released by the team a month ago. Yup, it is Alfonso Soriano with six homers.
Derek Jeter may be the best bet on the team to knock around Verlander, given his history of success against him. Jeter has hit .364 (16-for-44) in his career vs Verlander, the fifth-highest mark by any player that Verlander has faced at least 40 times.
Jeter has hit same-sided pitching well this year (.284 BA), and is on a little hot streak against them too, going 12-for-31 (.387) vs righties over his last ten games. He also shouldn’t have much trouble with Verlander’s pedestrian fastball, which averages just 92 mph this year.
Mark Teixeira, on the other hand, might want to get a stomach virus before tonight’s game. He has been awful in his career against Verlander, with just three hits in 38 at-bats. That .079 batting average is the lowest by Teixeira against any pitcher he’s faced at least 25 times.
The switch-hitter has also been struggling recently against righties, going 2-for-27 (.074) with six strikeouts since the All-Star break.
Although Verlander is clearly not pitching like a Cy Young winner this season and his struggles in the Bronx are real, it appears that a Yankees victory is far from a sure bet… unless he gets really distracted by Kate Upton tonight.