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October 11, 2013

Playoff Prospectus

ALDS Game Five Recap: Tigers 3, Athletics 0

by Paul Sporer


It wasn’t the season that the Tigers mapped out for Justin Verlander. The undisputed king of the pitching world in 2011 was no worse than runner-up in 2012, when Clayton Kershaw made it clear that he deserved to be in any conversation about the best in baseball. But by the end of the 2013 season, Verlander had undisputedly ceded the throne to Kershaw and seemingly even lost the torch as the bona fide no. 1 on his own team in light of the emergence of Max Scherzer.

His season didn’t start that way, though, and Verlander made sure his lasting impression in the regular season was one that reminded everyone just how good he can be. The righty bookended his season with a 1.83 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 39 1/3 innings in April and a 2.27 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 39 2/3 innings in September. But the 4.26 ERA and 128 strikeouts in 139 1/3 innings during the other four months tested the faith of many.

If Verlander’s Game Two didn’t restore that faith, then his Game Five outing definitely did. A day away from the anniversary of his 2012 ALDS Game Five clincher—also in Oakland—Verlander constructed an almost perfect replica of last year’s shutout, with the only notable difference being that he departed after eight innings instead of completing the effort again.

FASTBALL
Verlander threw 73 heaters on Thursday night, with 49 going for strikes and 38 of those drawing a swing. Of those 38, a whopping 18 missed entirely. That tops the total number of swings-and-misses he had on all pitches combined in the 2012 gem (17). Verlander was just a little shy of his 2012 velocity level—he averaged 95.4 MPH this year after sitting at 96.0 in the outing a year ago, although if the O.co gun was at the -0.2 MPH differential it usually has (per our own Dan Brooks), you can put Verlander at around 95.6. Either way, the difference is negligible.

The bevy of left-handers in the Oakland lineup—seven in all when you count switch-hitters—combined with the generosity of umpire Tom Hallion on the high fastball just above or to the right (from the pitcher’s perspective) of the zone coaxed Verlander into peppering that portion of the zone early and often.

If you think of the strike zone as a 1-9 keypad with dead center being the 5 key, the upper right part of the zone would be the 3-key. Verlander dropped eight of his fastballs there (11 percent), another five directly above (6.8 percent), nine to the immediate right (12 percent), and four more to the upper right (5.5 percent), not to mention another five in the 6 key of the zone and 10 immediately to the right of it.

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