Fantasy Baseball: What to do with Justin Verlander

Justin Verlander won both the American League Cy Young and MVP award in 2011 but has struggled this season

Justin Verlander won both the American League Cy Young and MVP award in 2011 but has struggled this season

Just a few years ago, Justin Verlander was one of the best pitchers in baseball. The former Cy Young award and Most Valuable Player award winner, Verlander absolutely dominated hitters.

After the end of the 2012 season, Verlander had a career record of 124-65 and a 3.40 ERA. Verlander struggled throughout the 2013 season, and it seemed like he was due for a bounce back year in 2014; things have only gotten worse.

Verlander hasn’t been bad, he’s been awful. In 15 starts and 97.2 innings pitched in 2014, Verlander has a 6-7 record with a 4.98 ERA. Although, Verlander does lead both American League and National League pitchers in three categories – hits, runs, and earned runs given up (he’s also tied for fourth in walks allowed).

A look at advanced statistics paints an even worse picture. Verlander’s WHIP is an unsettling 1.56 and his strikeouts have drastically fallen. In 2011 – the year Verlander won both the American League Cy Young and MVP – his K% was 25.8% and his K/BB% was 19.9%. So far this year, those numbers have fallen to 15.8% and 6.4% respectively.

By looking at his numbers, it’s quite obvious that Verlander is no longer the pitcher he used to be, but why is that? The biggest reason seems to be in his pitch velocity.

[Closer update]

Since 2009, Verlander’s fastball has fallen in velocity each year. At its peak, it was clocked at 95.6 mph, but has since declined to 92.6 mph. While his other pitches (slider, curveball, and changeup) have also lost velocity, they have not been so dramatic.

Another interesting stat to note is that during his Cy Young and MVP season in 2011, Verlander threw his slider just 8.4% of the time. Now, in 2014, Verlander’s slider accounts for 14.3% of the pitches he has thrown.

Now that we’ve analyzed Verlander’s numbers, what can be done with him from a fantasy baseball perspective?  It seems that some owners have given up hope in Verlander as he’s been dropped in 2.1% of ESPN Fantasy Baseball leagues. Of course, that’s not a big percentage, but if he struggles in his next start against the Cleveland Indians, I wouldn’t be surprised to see his ownership numbers fall quickly.

Personally, I would stick with him for a little while longer. The main reason I would hold on to Verlander is simply that he is better than all the pitchers available. For instance, here are some of the top available pitchers with their ownership number in parentheses:

Zack Wheeler NYM (51.2%)

Justin Masterson CLE (40.3%)

Danny Salazar CLE (26.6%)

Alex Wood ATL (21.5%)

Chase Anderson ARI (13.0%)

These available pitchers aren’t bad, but Verlander has a much better chance of righting the ship and putting together a solid season than any of these other pitchers do. In addition, Verlander may not be pitching well, but he is also more likely to go out and have a strong outing than the available pitchers are.

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Trading Verlander is always an option, but it’s going to be near impossible to find a fantasy baseball owner interested in the struggling pitcher. If Verlander owners can find a trade, then they should pull the trigger.

Barring any setbacks, Verlander’s next five starts should fall on these dates and against these teams:

Sat. June 21 @CLE

Fri. June 27 @HOU

Wed. July 2 vs. OAK

Tue. July 8 vs. LAD

Sun. July 13 @KC

Having struggled so much over the first two and a half months of the season, it seems unlikely that the six time All-Star will be able to turn his season around. I’d project him to end the 2014 season at 10-13 with a 4.38 ERA.

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