As the Astros attempt to increase their lead over the Athletics for the AL West, the team will need more of the Justin Verlander that we saw on Tuesday night.
If you were to analyze Justin Verlander’s tenure in Houston, it is nothing short of a success for the player and the team. Not only did he help propel the Astros to a World Series title last year, he will also be a key factor if the team repeats this fall.
That said, the Astros need more starts like the one Verlander produced last night against the Twins. Here is his final pitch line from the game: 7 innings, 3 hits, 1 earned run, 2 walks, and 8 strikeouts. Verlander generated 16 swinging strikes and 24 called strikes. His slider, in particular, looked quite good. The vertical movement in the pitch appeared similar to his early season work. In all, he generated 7 swinging strikes and 6 called strikes on the pitch. FYI, he only threw his slider 23 times.
It is no secret that Verlander had a terrific start to his 2018 season. During his first 15 starts, he posted a 1.61 ERA and a 2.54 FIP along with a 31.7% strikeout rate. In his last 15 starts though, including Tuesday against the Twins, Verlander has a 4.00 ERA and a 3.60 FIP along with a 35.6% strikeout rate.
Looks like a tale of two halves, right?
Part of Verlander’s issue lies in his batting average on plays in play, otherwise known as BABIP. Through his first 15 starts, Verlander had a .212 BABIP, which is quite low. During his last 15 starts, his BABIP is .345, which is quite high. Be mindful that BABIP for pitchers in a single season doesn’t possess much, if any, predictive power. But it is clear that his BABIP in his first 15 starts wasn’t going to last forever, and the same thought applies to his last 15 starts.
So, who is the true Verlander in terms of BABIP? Over the course of his career, Verlander has a career .285 BABIP. The league average BABIP for a pitcher is roughly around .300. When you look at Verlander’s season as a whole with a .274 BABIP, then the regression to the mean has already taken place. Regardless, his BABIP has swung from one side of the pendulum to another between the first half and second half. I am not sure how low or high his BABIP will be for the rest of the season, but I would expect a continued regression to the mean.
The Astros obviously need Verlander to help lead the team in the postseason. His performance all season long has been like an ace. Tuesday’s performance against the Twins with a .188 BABIP was a good way to start the month of September.