Justin Verlander: Before the First Hit

Astonishingly, Justin Verlander has taken a no-hitter through at least three innings 11 times in his last 43 starts. (David Butler II-US PRESSWIRE)

After a few long evenings scanning game logs and play by play archives at Baseball-Reference, I’m proud to introduce you to a new statistic: ‘Average Outs Before First Hit’ is exactly what it sounds like—the average number of outs a given pitcher records in a start before allowing a hit. You won’t find this anywhere else.

This is yet another way of measuring Justin Verlander’s level of dominance against that of his peers. Further, it should give us a statistical idea of the point in a game at which the ‘no-hitter watch’ should begin. Before we start with the data, a huge thanks to Cath Peters (@Baroque97 on Twitter) for translating my original spreadsheet,  of overwhelming size, into the handy and digestible graphs you’ll find below.

First, a look at the 2012 AOBFH top ten leaderboard, with the leaders out of the top 34 pitchers in baseball by FanGraphs’ Wins Above Replacement metric (my apologies, but retrieving this data for every qualified pitcher would require a small army. Numbers for all 34 are available upon request):

Pitcher AOBFH fWAR
Jered Weaver 6.82 1.8
C.J. Wilson 5.91 1.2
Justin Verlander 5.64 3
Jason Hammel 5.5 1.3
Matt Cain 5 1.7
Jake Peavy 4.8 2
James McDonald 4.7 2.1
Brandon Beachy 4.7 1.4
Anibal Sanchez 4.5 2
Gio Gonzalez 4 2.4

Only Jered Weaver and his former Los Angeles Angels teammate, C.J. Wilson, come in ahead of Verlander. Weaver, of course, has already tossed a no-hitter this year, on May 2nd against the Minnesota Twins. He has also carried no-hitters through 11 and 12 outs respectively in back-to-back starts against the Oakland Athletics and the Baltimore Orioles. Meanwhile, Wilson has no-hit the Toronto Blue Jays through three frames, and, in his two most recent starts, went 13 outs before surrendering a hit against the Athletics then 11 against the Seattle Mariners. Verlander took a no-no through 25 memorable outs against the Pittsburgh Pirates, 13 against the Tampa Bay Rays, and 11 against Oakland.

In 349 starts, the 34-pitcher sample has combined to average 3.37 outs before surrendering a hit (data is current before games on June 1st). Verlander has averaged 3.71 for his career, meaning it’s out of the ordinary for him to allow a base hit before recording four outs.

Here’s a visualization of Verlander’s career outs before first hit, broken up by month:

Horizontally, the graph is numbered zero through 27 to represent outs before first hit. The lines are color coded by month and rise vertically depending on how many times Verlander has recorded a certain number of outs before allowing a hit.

One thing this chart shows is August struggles. May, shown as green, is well-represented, but there’s no August yellow to be seen beyond the ‘ten outs’ mark. The skyscraping yellow line to the far left represents 13 career August starts in which Verlander has given up a hit before recording an out.

Here’s the same data, for Verlander’s entire career, with no month split:

You’ll notice everything calms down near the middle of the graph. A whopping 15 of Verlander’s potential no-hitters have been spoiled in the third inning, immediately after outs six, seven, or eight. Even more—18—have ended in the fourth inning, immediately following outs nine, ten, or 11. But out of the ten he’s carried out of the fourth frame, five have lasted at least into the eighth. Four more have been spoiled in the fifth, leaving only one no-no, represented by that lonely green line in the middle of the above graph, to end in the sixth or seventh innings. What this means is after four or five innings, depending on how conservative you are, it’s okay to start screaming “no-hitter alert” (in your own head, obviously). Note to opponents: get to Verlander early.

Here’s the same data for roughly the first half of Verlander’s career (97 starts through 2008):

And for the second half (113 starts from 2009 to 2012):

The contrast is huge. In the first part of his career, 78 starts, or 80.4%, saw Verlander fail to take a no-hitter through five outs. In the second, larger part, he has surrendered a hit within the first four outs 77 times, or only 68.1% of the time.

Numbers get even more impressive if you set the cutoff at the beginning of Verlander’s Most Valuable Player campaign. From the start of 2011 to date, Verlander is averaging 5.6 outs before his first hit allowed. Over that span, he’s taken a no-hitter through at least three innings an incredible 11 times in 43 starts, good for a shockingly high 25.6% rate. (Excuse me while I laugh maniacally then check six times to make sure my math is right. Yes, it is!) He made it through three frames of no-hit ball 18 times in 165 starts for his career through 2010, a respectable 10.9% that pales in comparison to what he’s accomplished these past two seasons. In the 11 aforementioned starts, Verlander has pitched 90.1 innings and surrendered a total of 33 hits, good for a hits per nine of 3.29. For context, the lowest H/9 in Major League Baseball is currently 4.82.

Now I’m ranting. Evidently, Justin Verlander has that effect on people.

Topics: C.J. Wilson, Detroit Tigers, Jered Weaver, Justin Verlander, Outs Before First Hit

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