Thanks to the Detroit Tigers’ recent acquisition of David Price, many pundits and fans alike are earmarking the team for the World Series. However, it won’t be Price, reigning Cy Young winner Max Scherzer or superstar Miguel Cabrera who will be the key to Detroit reaching baseball’s biggest stage. Granted, those players will play their part, but Verlander will be the most important.
David Price gives Detroit five premium starters—himself, Scherzer, Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello. In the playoffs, teams generally use only four starters and use their fifth starter in relief. This situation falls firmly under the “good problem to have” banner. Regardless, the idea has been floated that Verlander should be the fifth starter and moved to the bullpen.
This would be foolish. Admittedly, Verlander’s numbers are down this year, as they were last season, but he brings it in the playoffs. Last season the former MVP went 13-12 with a 3.46 ERA across 218+ innings and 34 starts. Decent numbers for most pitchers, but for the seemingly super-human Verlander, that was a down year. Despite the pedestrian showings, the Tigers’ ace turned it on for the playoffs. In three postseason starts, he threw 23 innings, allowing one run on ten hits while posting an absurd 31/3 strikeout-to-walk ratio. If you like translating ERAs, you would know that Verlander’s would equate to 0.39 in last year’s playoffs. It’s not just the flashy stats that made Verlander a strong performer for the Tigers last year, he also went deep into games, often protecting a shaky bullpen that ended up being the team’s undoing.
The Tigers’ longest tenured player will not only be important because of his past success in the playoffs, but also because of the teams Detroit will be playing. Verlander dominates the A’s in the playoffs. He eats them for breakfast. He wipes the floor with them. He uses their jerseys as dish rags. Ok, one of those examples isn’t true, but the fact is that Justin Verlander is Oakland’s playoff kryptonite. In the last two years, the Detroit pitcher has made four postseason starts against the Athletics. Here are his results against them.
(* indicates deciding game)
2012 ALDS Game 1- Tigers win 3-1. Verlander: 7 innings pitched, 3 hits, 1 earned run, 4 walks, 11 strikeouts.
*2012 ALDS Game 5- Tigers win 6-0. Verlander: 9 innings pitched, 4 hits, 0 runs, 1 walk, 11 strikeouts.
2013 ALDS Game 2- Oakland wins 1-0. Verlander: 7 innings pitched, 4 hits, 0 runs, 1 walk, 11 strikeouts.
*2013 ALDS Game 5- Tigers win 3-0. Verlander: 8 innings pitched, 2 hits, 0 runs, 1 walk, 10 strikeouts.
Oakland has scored one run off of Verlander in 31 innings. Over that same span, Oakland batters have struck out 43 times compared to a paltry seven walks.
If you’re Brad Ausmus, you want this guy at the top of the rotation for October—if not for Game One, then at the very least Game Two so he can pitch the deciding game should the series get there.
And it’s not just Oakland that Verlander excels against; he owns a 9-2 all-time record against playoff contender Baltimore while also posting dominant numbers against New York and Boston in the last two postseasons. He went at least eight innings in each game, held both teams to a run each and walked a cumulative one batter across both starts.
Despite Justin Verlander’s struggles (by his own high standards) in the last two years, he still brings it in the playoffs. He did it last year, and there’s no reason to think he won’t do it again this year. That, and his overall dominance of Detroit’s biggest rival for the AL crown, Oakland, make him a lock to be the Tigers’ most important player in reaching the World Series.
All stats courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.