The Detroit Tigers will have their ace on the mound tonight against the Cleveland Indians. That’s Justin Verlander, owner of a Ferrari 458 Italia and winner of each of the Most Valuable Player, Cy Young, and rookie of the year awards for the American League.
Max Scherzer has been dominant of late, and making Justin Verlander look a little bit human in the process. (Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports)
For so long, fans have lauded Verlander as by far the best pitcher in the Tigers’ rotation. Club management obviously also recognizes him as such, having recently awarded the star, destined for the Hall of Fame, a deal that could pay him a record $202 million over eight years.
Verlander holds himself to a high standard, and fans expect him to reach it. Further, being on the same roster as Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, and Anibal Sanchez means Verlander must shine every night in order for fans to be pleased with his performance. That’s why starting the 2013 season with a 4-4 record and a 3.17 ERA is seen as disappointing.
Scherzer, meanwhile, has maintained a perfect 6-0 record this year after shutting down the Indians over eight innings last night. His ERA of 3.61 won’t shock anyone, but the right-hander with heterochromatic eyes has struck out 15 more batters and thrown almost a full inning per start more than Verlander has in the same number of games.
With Verlander leveling out slightly and Scherzer excelling, it might take a perfect game by the former to restore order—that is, after all, the most significant personal achievement he doesn’t yet have on his resume. If this goes on much longer, fans that have been paying attention may even trust Scherzer more on the mound in a must-win game.
But if fans have been paying attention for long enough, they know to be careful of a little thing called sample size. It’s fair to say Scherzer has been the best Tiger pitcher this year (even though Sanchez and Fister, who deserve more recognition themselves, have also had stellar seasons). But let’s push our sample a bit further and see how long this trend has lasted.
I compiled stats for the Tigers’ five starting pitchers going back to July 28th of last year, when Sanchez made his first start with the club, with postseason numbers included:
Verlander, I think, is still the chief of the Detroit staff looking at these numbers, though it’s a close call. He has thrown more innings in his starts than Scherzer, and has kept runners from coming around to score. That said, Scherzer has been better at keeping runners off the bases in the first place, and has done so in dominant fashion by striking out 11.32 batters per nine.
On the whole, these stats aren’t indicative of Verlander being overrated, as sports talk radio might suggest. Instead, they point to a much more encouraging fact for Tiger fans: the rest of the rotation is underrated. With Porcello excluded, all of their numbers are so comparable across the board it’s incredible. To have four pitchers with an ERA of 3.11 or lower, each having thrown at least 150 innings over the sample, is stunning.
Verlander is still Detroit’s number one. I’ll be okay, though, if Scherzer—or any other Tiger pitcher—keeps calling that into question, humanizing one of the best pitchers in history.