Justin Verlander keeps dominating in spite of worrying trend

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Justin Verlander’s been spectacular in 2022, but the advanced stats suggest there is at least one thing for him to worry about.

Good luck telling Justin Verlander’s opponents that despite his post-Tommy John success he’s not the same pitcher he once was.

Yes, Verlander has been spectacular this season in his return from a 624-day gap between Major-League starts, dazzling for anyone, much less a 39-year-old with 3,000 innings behind him.

After Tuesday’s obliteration of the Minnesota Twins in which Verlander threw 8 shutout innings, giving up a single hit and two walks, he’s rocking a 4-1 record, 1.55 ERA and a minuscule 0.64 WHIP.

He’s also been the best of an Astros rotation that’s been very good so far in 2022. How good?  On top of the numbers above, Verlander has averaged 89 pitches per start, fired 70.5 percent strikes on 533 pitches and averaged an efficient 4.37 pitches per out while getting 20 outs per start.

Justin Verlander’s hot start: What’s not to like for Astros?

This is a different Verlander than we’ve seen through the years, and some of the advanced numbers tell us what’s different.

Verlander’s fastball, which he throws 50 percent of the time, touched 96 Tuesday and on the season has averaged 94.5, which sits in the 69th percentile for MLB in 2022. In other words, it’s still above average, at least in speed.

The change has been in the spin (2395), which is down 7 percent from 2019 (2577) and 8.5 percent from 2018 (2644).

Given the reduction in spin, predictably Verlander’s not striking out batters at the same rate.  In 2018 Verlander registered 12.2 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched and he was close to the same in 2019 at 12.1.  Post-Tommy John with the lower spin rate that number has dropped to 8.0 strikeouts per 9 innings.

The other numbers that stick out is Verlander’s BABIP, which is unsustainably low at .192, and xERA which is more than a full run above his current ERA.

Even in his 2011 Cy Young and MVP season his BABIP was .236 and for his career it sits at .280, showing that .192 is not sustainable long term.

The xERA, which includes many factors, including strikeouts, sits at 2.85, which would be very good, just not in the stratosphere in which he currently resides.

Justin Verlander’s dominant start is not sustainable

Tracking Verlander through this season will be fascinating. Can an arm with this mileage on it continue to baffle hitters with similar speed and less spin? Will the arm hold up? Will he get stronger or weaker as the starts, innings and pitches pile up?

The Astros are already trying to get in front of the usage question by managing pitch counts and going to a six man rotation, at least in part, to give Verlander an extra day.

He’ll still be really good, but less strikeouts over the course of a season means more chances for errors and for batted balls to become hits and hits to become runs.

Verlander is a first ballot, no doubt, Hall of Famer, but what we’re seeing right now isn’t sustainable and even the most ardent Astros fans will agree.

Regression will be paying a visit. It’s not a question of if, but when.

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