Justin Verlander vs. Barry Zito


What a lopsided matchup, am I right? Barry Zito may be no better than average, but Verlander is among the worst out there. As was already mentioned here on MCB, watching pitchers hit is a terrible, terrible thing and we’re going to see Verlander pitch to Zito (and vice versa) at least twice and quite possibly three times tonight.

May 18, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) sits in dugout during the first inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

I hope devoutly that the outcome of this game does not hinge on what happens in those matchups, but you never know… If it does turn out to matter – it’s probably going to be a bad sign for the Detroit Tigers. Verlander – being a career American Leaguer – never came to the plate in the minor leagues and as a major leaguer has made an average of two road starts per year in interleague play. Zito started in the American League, but has now spent a number of season in the NL – compiling 375 career plate appearances to Verlander’s 33. It should come as no surprise that – given that it’s something that he actually prepares for (a little) – Zito’s career OPS is .243 while Verlander’s is… .000. Ugh.

Verlander has 33 plate appearances with 9 sacrifices – leaving him with 24 actual “at bats” in which he has struck out 14 times [he has never walked]. Barry Zito has 30 [!] career hits and even 9 career RBI! What’s more, he has even walked in about 5% of his plate appearances. Against right-handed starters, the lefty-batting Zito has put up even more intimidating .273 OPS (compared to a .197 OPS against left-handed starters). I should note that at least Zito isn’t one of those pitchers who is a genuine hitter, neither he nor Verlander has a single career extra-base hit.

Some of you will say: of course Verlander can’t hit, all we need him to be able to do is sacrifice guys over. To a limited extent there is some truth there. 20 of Verlander’s 33 plate appearances have come with men on, and he has successfully sacrificed them over on 9 of those occasions. You could call that a 45% success rate, if you feel so inclined. Zito has come up to the plate 174 times with men on and sacrificed them over 47 times – a significantly lower 27% success rate. But… he also has 11 hits and 4 walks in such situations – so you’d have to say he “succeeded” 62 times for a 36% rate. Still… perhaps Verlander IS the better sacrifice bunter – he probably doesn’t practice anything else. The big risk here is that those other guys at the bottom of the Tigers order are actually getting hot and Verlander might come up to the plate with the bases loaded (or at least a guy on third). It takes some special skills to sac bunt a guy in from third. In his four plate appearances with guys on third base, Verlander has struck out 3 times and hit into a double play. Zito has been quite a bit better: in 47 career plate appearances with a guy on third, Zito has 6 hits and 9 RBI.

Oct 19, 2012; St. Louis, MO, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Barry Zito (75) bunts against the St. Louis Cardinals in the fourth inning of game five of the 2012 NLCS at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports