Showing posts with label AL Central. Show all posts
Showing posts with label AL Central. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Justin Verlander: Are his best days behind him?

To this point in the season, most observers are assuming the Detroit Tigers will win the AL Central Division for the fourth consecutive year.

There are a lot of reasons to believe that assumption is correct. After all, the Tigers have the second-best record in the American League (28-19) entering Tuesday's action, and they possess a five-game lead in the division.

No other AL Central team is above .500. The White Sox (26-27) enter Tuesday in second place, but they are closer to last place than first. Chicago, Kansas City (24-26), Minnesota (23-25) and Cleveland (24-28) are separated in the standings by just 1.5 games.

Is there any reason at all to believe the Tigers can be had this year? Well, you have to look pretty hard, but here's one thing Detroit should be concerned about: Veteran ace Justin Verlander is no longer pitching like a Cy Young award candidate.

The 31-year-old is 5-4 with 4.04 ERA in 11 starts this year. Those numbers are ordinary to say the least, and his peripherals are also not impressive. Verlander's 1.514 WHIP is well above his career mark of 1.203, and above the career-worst 1.403 he posted during his struggling 2008 season.

Moreover, Verlander's K rate has fallen off a cliff. He has fanned just 50 batters in 71.1 IP this year. That's not good for a pitcher who has averaged roughly one strikeout per inning in every season since 2009.

Verlander's month of May has been terrible. He's 2-3 with a 6.03 ERA in his last five starts, and he has surrendered five earned runs or more in each of his last three outings. That's not like Justin Verlander.

Maybe this is a just a slump, but Verlander was coming off a "down" 2013 by his standards, in which he went 13-12 with a 3.46 ERA. In fact, if you look at the last five years you can see that Verlander is on a decline since his 2011 peak:

201018-9, 3.37 ERA 219 Ks in 224.1 IP1.163 WHIP
201124-5, 2.40 ERA251Ks in 251 IP 0.920 WHIP
201217-8, 2.64 ERA239 Ks in 238.1 IP1.057 WHIP
201313-12, 3.46 ERA217 Ks in 218.1 IP1.315 WHIP
20145-4, 4.04 ERA50 Ks in 71.1 IP1.514 WHIP

From these numbers, we can't say Verlander is bad now.  However,  he's starting to profile more as a No. 3 starter than the ace he has been in the past. There's really not much question Max Scherzer has overtaken him as the Tigers' best pitcher.

Starting pitching is the edge Detroit enjoys over the rest of the division, but that advantage becomes a little less if Verlander's day to pitch becomes more of a coin toss than a likely Detroit victory. That's where things stand now. It remains to be seen whether Verlander can regain his ace form. The Tigers need him to if they want to make it back to the World Series and win it.

But, even if Verlander is no longer an ace, it remains a open question whether the other teams in the AL Central, all of which have significant warts, will play well enough to take advantage anyway.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Twins trying to tackle pitching problems

The Twins were arguably a worse team than the White Sox last season despite finishing a few games ahead in the standings. Minnesota scored 16 more runs than the Sox, but with the help of maybe the worst rotation in baseball, the Twins yielded 65 more runs.

With a lack of pitching prospects in the pipeline, Minnesota has committed most of its resources this offseason to make its rotation less-bad. They gave journeyman Ricky Nolasco a four-year, $49 million contract, invested three years and $24 million in former Yankee Phil Hughes, and brought Mike Pelfrey back for two years and $11 million.

The Twins might not be done yet as they've been linked to free agent Matt Garza. Even if they don't hand out another big contract, they'll likely look at the free agent leftovers come January or February to see if they can add additional depth.

How far have the Twins come so far? Here's last year's top five starters by games started and their ERAs, and the projected top five for 2014, with their ages and career ERAs:

Kevin Correia (32) 4.18 (31 GS) Correia (33) (4.49 career)
Pelfrey (29) 5.19 (29 GS) Nolasco (31) 3.70 (4.37 career)
Scott Diamond (26) 5.43 (24 GS) Hughes (28) 5.19 (4.54 career)
Sam Deduno (29) 3.38 (18 GS) Pelfrey (30) (4.48 career)
Pedro Hernandez (24) 6.83 (14 GS) Deduno (30) (4.06 career)

Andrew Albers, Kyle Gibson and Vance Worley each made 10 starts for Minnesota last year with collectively awful results.

Even with $84 million invested, the Twins look like they have to cross their fingers here.

It's conceivable that Nolasco figured something out last year. It's also possible that he and Hughes, who is coming off a rough season by his standards, will both be helped by Target Field, which dampens the bats of left-handed hitters. Both have had a harder time against lefties in their careers. Hughes in particular may have been hurt by the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium.

It's also possible that Pelfrey, another year removed from the elbow surgery he had in 2012, will get closer to his career ERA than the mark he posted last year. And the offseason is still young, so maybe they'll find a better option for the fifth spot than Deduno and the others.

That's a lot of stuff that has to break right for the Twins. That's a lot of wish-casting on pitchers who have never been considered above-average, much less elite, and are entering the age at which players exit the prime of their careers.

Give Minnesota credit for attempting to be more competitive. They went out and invested in guys who fit their philosophy of throwing strikes, who might be a good fit in their park, and acquired them the most expedient way possible by dipping into the free agent pool.

I'm still skeptical that this set of gambles will work out in a way that is a net positive for the Twins. Not when they could have done some more bargain shopping. Jake Westbrook and Bronson Arroyo are two guys who also could have been helped by Target Field. Because they are older, and in Westbrook's case coming off an injury, they would have commanded much less money than Nolasco.

Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Garza -- all still free agents -- might not command much more than $50 million, despite having much more impressive resumes, which makes me wonder why the Twins felt the need to strike so early on Nolasco.

With Nolasco, Pelfry, Hughes and Correia locked into four rotation spots, the Twins have less room to take a flier on other rehab, change-of-scenery, journeyman-filler or last-hurrah projects like Johan Santana, Roy Oswalt, Clayton Richard or Chris Capuano.

A veteran on a shorter deal might also be easier to flip for younger talent at the trade deadline if that's the position the Twins find themselves come July. The current pitching additions won't prevent that.

They will make Minnesota marginally better, and with MLB teams flush with money, none of these contracts will hamstring the team going forward, even if all of them are colossal failures.

Still, I can't help but think the Twins could set themselves up for more long-term value by taking a more creative approach to fixing their pitching.