Oct 11, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) pumps his fist as he returns to the dugout after the eighth inning of game five of the 2012 ALDS against the Oakland Athletics at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Justin Verlander has pitched more postseason games and innings in Comerica Park than any other ballpark (5 GS, 35.2 IP), but when he clicks his ruby slippers in October, he might not travel to Detroit. He might travel to Oakland.
Thursday will be Justin’s fourth career postseason start inside the venue currently known as O.co Coliseum where he’s already accumulated 21.1 postseason innings – well more than any other road ballpark. And there’s certainly no other park in which he’s achieved the same level of success as he has in Oakland.
*I’m combining the new and old iterations of Yankee Statium because he’s only made one one-inning, rain-shortened start in the new building.
What’s the reason for the success? The relation to the ballpark is probably quite small. We’re likely seeing a lot of small sample size luck and a good matchup against Oakland hitters the last couple of years, but he is a fly ball pitcher and O.co has a lot of fly ball territory (both in fair and foul territory).
But really it’s not even just the playoffs. In 10 regular season starts in Oakland (68 innings), Verlander has put up a 2.38 ERA with opponents hitting him for a .569 OPS. Putting everything together (regular season and postseason), Justin has thrown 89.1 innings in that ballpark with a 2.22 ERA, a 3.13 FIP, a 26% strikeout rate, and an 8% walk rate.
Does any of this mean anything for Thursday night’s pivotal Game 5? I’m not sure. Probably not. But we do know that (1) Justin hasn’t yet been negatively impacted in the playoffs by the raucous Oakland fans, (2) that he’s probably a difficult matchup for the types of hitters Oakland has had the last few years (many, but not all, of them being the same), and (3) that his tendency as a fly-ball pitcher is probably well suited for Oakland’s park.
Sometimes baseball happens though. We can spend all the time in the world breaking down the matchups, but baseball has a way of happening, and that means things often end up different than we expect.