There was a time when the Detroit Tigers not having starting pitcher Justin Verlander would have a crippling ripple-down effect to their rotation.
From 2009 to 2012 Verlander was one of the most dominating starters in the game.
In 2013 you could see the signs trending in the wrong direction. During the four-year period of dominance, Verlander’s fastball averaged over 95 miles per hour (94.3 in 2012 being the low) according to fangraphs.com. In 2013 it dropped to 93.3 and this season went all the way down to 92.4.
With the drop in fastball velocity, the ERA has also gone in the wrong direction. In order starting in 2009, Verlander’s ERA numbers look like this: 3.45, 3.37, 2.40, 2.64, 3.46 and finally ending up at 4.76. In nine of his 25 starts for the 2014 season Verlander has allowed four earned runs or more.
Verlander is set to miss the first start of his career on Sunday due to injury and could also end up on the disabled list for the first time.
He will be replaced in the rotation by rookie left-hander Robbie Ray, a highly thought of prospect in their organization. According to scouting reports Ray throws a fastball that can touch in the mid 90s, but needs to work on his off speed stuff. His change up is currently the best compliment to his fastball.
Ray’s been up and down in his four starts with the big league club this season posting a 5.31 ERA, but there’s been two good starts and two bad. He’s 21 and an acceptable replacement as a number-five starter on a staff, which is what Verlander has become.
Max Scherzer: 2.98 ERA, .233 BAA, 1.44 WHIP and 10.44 K/9
Anibal Sanchez: 3.53 ERA, .230 BAA, 1.10 WHIP and 7.34 K/9
David Price: 3.15 ERA, .233 BAA, 1.03 WHIP and 9.96 K/9
Rick Porcello: 3.28 ERA, .256 BAA, 1.16 WHIP and 5.53 K/9
Justin Verlander: 4.76 ERA, .273 BAA, 1.42 WHIP and 6.69 ERA
Teams in baseball and sports in general have an attachment or overreliance on what’s happened in the past.
Look at how the Yankees have been hitting Derek Jeter in the two slot the majority of the season despite not being deserving or the Giants throwing out Tim Lincecum every five days. These decisions aren’t based on how a player is performing currently – it’s what they’ve done.
Detroit can’t throw away regular season games now that they’re fighting with the Royals in the AL Central for first place. Winning the division and avoiding the wild card game is of the up most importance.
That being said, once the playoffs come around manager Brad Ausmus will have a tough decision to make. Playoffs are not the time for nostalgia. Giants manager Bruce Bochy made the necessary call and put Lincecum in the bullpen during their 2012 playoff run.
Will Ausmus have the guts to move Verlander to the bullpen in the postseason and give key starts to Anibal Sanchez or Rick Porcello?
If the answer to that is no, sadly, the Tigers are better off if Verlander isn’t physically able to pitch once the level of importance raises.