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October 11, 2013
ALDS Game Five Recap: Tigers 3, Athletics 0
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.
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.
And yes, the overwhelming majority of those 41 fastballs were to lefties, with exactly six of them being delivered to righties.
The final tale of the tape for Verlander’s fastball in the two Game Five clinchers, per Brooks Baseball:
Verlander threw just 14 off-speed pitches in the first four innings, generating five outs, including three groundouts, a flyout, and a strikeout. Only four of the 14 pitches were called balls, though he also induced four swings on off-speed pitches out of the zone, netting a strikeout, groundout, foul ball, and regular swinging strike.
The changeup was his second-favorite pitch of the night. He threw 19 of them, averaging exactly 85.4 MPH (exactly 10 MPH slower than the fastball). He got 14 strikes, 12 swings, and four misses on those swings. He threw 17 of the 19 changeups to lefties, and not a single one was on the inner third of the strike zone. In fact, only five made their way into the strike zone at all.
The changeup was also his best off-speed tool in 2012. He threw 24 of them in all, with six swings-and-misses. Three of those six went for strikeouts. In both outings, the A’s put just five changeups into play, with four resulting in outs. In both years, the only hits off of changeups came in the bottom of the eighth off the bat of a Josh. In 2012 it was Donaldson with a line drive single to left, and on Thursday it was Reddick with a line drive back up the middle to center field.
As pretty and devastating as Verlander’s curveball can be when it’s on, he doesn’t overuse it. He threw it 14 times on Thursday night, getting a groundout and two swinging strikeouts; the latter were inning-enders in the seventh and eighth. He threw 16 curves in 2012, earning just two outs with it: a groundout and a strikeout looking of Seth Smith.