Point Blank : Verlander is getting "worked"

Dave Malinsky

Wednesday, July 19, 2017 1:46 PM UTC

Wednesday, Jul. 19, 2017 1:46 PM UTC

On how Justin Verlander is getting “worked”…We’ll be seeing Red(s) the rest of the way with the Cincinnati pitching staff…

Point Blank – July 19, 2017

There may be a lot of folks in the betting marketplace looking for a second half rebound from Justin Verlander, with this 16-9/3.04 of 2016 having fallen all the way to 5-7/4.66 following his first post-break start. If that becomes a tangible market behavior it just may open some opportunities, so as we continue the theme this week of looking deeper inside the numbers to note what was real, and what may have been misleading rolls of baseball’s dice, though the first half of the 2017 season, Verlander becomes a prime topic.

The key talking point today – opposing hitters have been extremely patient against his offerings this season, which has not only taxed his effectiveness but in also reducing how deeply he can last into games, which brings that woeful Detroit bullpen (#29 in ERA and #30 in FIP) into play. It is a combination that has led to the Tigers only being 8-11 across Verlander’s 19 starts, despite an average price of -111 for those games.

Let’s go into both the rhyme and reason behind the Verlander decline, which helps to generate a better understanding of his prospects to get back anywhere near his ace-like form of the past. First is the fact of just how much “past” there is, with 2,449 career regular-season innings having been logged, including a stretch of 200+ in nine of 10 campaigns; only the injury-riddled 133.1 of 2015 coming up short of the mark. Verlander is at 110 innings in 2017, and failure to reach 200 will come not from want of trying, but from want of effectiveness, which becomes our next step–

Innings Per Start

2016 6.7

2017 5.8

This is the first time in his career that he has not averaged at least a full 6.0, and pitch counts are a significant part of that. Every one of Verlander’s 2017 outings has brought a PPI (pitches per inning) of 15.6 or higher, just one year removed from him being at 15.5 or less 13 times. And on the high-end Verlander has topped 18.0 nine times already, after only reaching that plateau on seven occasions throughout his 34 starts last season.

What may particularly matter here is the direction – it has been a 19.9 over his last eight starts. Does this reflect teams around the Majors adopting similar strategies? The patience is not just about wearing Verlander down, but also basic effectiveness, and we can look at it two ways, the most obvious being a sharp increase in his walk counts, which have nearly doubled over last season –


2016 2.3

2017 4.4

And then there is O-Swing%, this decline showing that he isn’t getting the same rate of swings at pitches outside of the strike zone, an even more direct connection to patients from opposing hitters –


2016 35.5

2017 30.2

In the current trading on the Wednesday betting odds board,

I don’t see a window of opportunity with Kansas City, the Royals offense having a dismal home stand to open to post-break cycle (I can understand struggles vs. Cole Hamels and You Darvish, but not the others they have faced). But should the Royals enable Verlander to fare well, it leaves the door open for some future possibilities.

Now off to Cincinnati, where the door to fade the Reds may be open from now until 2018 spring training; it just becomes a matter of picking the optimal value spots …

On seeing Red(s) with the Cincinnati pitching staff

For all of the Walter Mittys out there that have daydreams in which they are finally rewarded for their undiscovered abilities to be a manager at the MLB level, let’s play a slightly different tune. Imagine someone has overheard your cheap-gin-induced meditations about the intricacies of baseball at a local watering hole; has properly appreciated your savvy; has offered you the job to handle a team for the rest of the regular season. Right out of a Hollywood script.

Good for you! But now the twist – you’ll have to spend the next 69 games in the dugout of the Cincinnati Reds. Still want the gig? It matters from a handicapping standpoint because it is a unique situation and one that will truly tax the skills of Brian Price, assuming there are all that many decisions he can make that allow him to genuinely use skill anyway. With Scott Feldman, the latest Reds starter to go on the DL, what had already been a mess loses their most reliable innings eater, and with 13 different pitchers penciled in to start already, we can only wonder how high that list will go. Even if all of the candidates had remained healthy this was not going to be a good staff, but the numbers are seriously dark, the Cincy starters last in the Majors in innings per start at 4.9, and a dismal last in FIP -

2017 FIP

MLB 4.49

Reds 6.04*

How bad is that FIP? Over the past five seasons only two starting rotations have finished within a full run of that, the 2016 Reds at 5.17 (Price will have truly earned his pension when the time comes), and the 2012 Rockies at 5.14, although when you park-adjust that season they are no longer that close.

And of course, by default, if your starters have pitched the least, it means your bullpen has also worked the most. It’s a good thing for the Cincinnati budget that calls to the bullpen are billed at a local rate… 


What does it mean going forward? A long slog of patching through games, many of them taking place with a gutted bullpen (no Bonilla or Wood this evening). That is something for the shrewd handicapper to be following closely, and in this instance, there is no better way to examine the situation than to go right to Price’s own words, in terms of expectations and intents -  

“These last 10 weeks are very important because I think we have to have a vision of what our starting rotation is going to look like in 2018, but we have to have that vision in 2017. I think it's going to be very difficult to come in and say, talk about, being really competitive if the vision isn't — if we don't know what 2018 is going to look like, at least from the outset. 

"I'd imagine that we'd have to continue to give young guys opportunities to pitch up here and learn up here. I think we're eventually going to have to look into finding something from outside as we move forward that can really be something to build around. A strong health history would probably be a good place to start.” 

There is more, Price being extremely blunt in terms of what the younger Cincinnati pitchers are facing –  

“There's no loss of confidence in what we think Garrett and Reed and Rookie Davis and Jackson Stephens can do. Now it's a matter that you do have to perform to the level that warrants to getting another opportunity. That's just how life is, not just baseball.  

“If you're a teller at a bank and you're $500 short every day, you're not going in the right direction. You're probably not going to be a teller very long. I think our young guys are learning that this is a performance-based business, it's not personal. We love our guys and we're optimistic about our guys in our system and we have faith in what they're going to be able to do, but they also have to do it.” 

The market knows that the Reds have issues, so there won’t be much that is going to fall into the bargain bin. Arizona got steamed from -125 to as high as -160 last night, and there is already plenty of D’Backs money showing in the early Wednesday trading, where my stuff showed value to Zack Greinke up to -150, or at +105 on the Run Line. But this is also such an unusual situation for an MLB team that there will be headaches for the oddsmakers ahead, which means that those who diligently sort through the opportunities can still grind to a positive expectation. 

If you want to know when PB is ready to go each day, as well as following along for some of the most important Sports Betting news as in unfolds, make @Vegaspointblank a part of your routine. 

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