Destiny arrives in the form of Justin Verlander standing in the way of the Yankees’ World Series hopes. Four times prior, Verlander and his team has stood in their way. Will this be a fifth?
Justin Verlander was either the best or second best pitcher in the American League this season. He led the AL in wins, games started, innings, WHIP, hits per nine and K-BB ratio. His 2.58 ERA was just 0.08 behind teammate Gerrit Cole, though his 3.27 FIP was fourth in the AL. He was second in strikeout and walk rate. Verlander hit 300 strikeouts for the first time in his 15-year career.
His only major flaw was the long ball. He allowed a career-high 36 home runs and only Matthew Boyd allowed more in the AL. Granted, Verlander’s HR/9 beats many of those around him on the leaderboard since he tossed 223 innings, but he still had a penchant for homers.
His Postseason Thus Far
Verlander had two contrasting results in his ALDS appearances. He “Verlander’d” the Rays in Game 1 of the ALDS, holding them to one hit and three walks over seven scoreless innings as the Astros gained a 1-0 lead in the series.
Then, for the first time in his career, Verlander made a true short-rest start, and it was a disaster. Throwing 84 pitches in 3 2/3 innings, he allowed seven hits, three walks and two home runs as the Rays tagged him for four runs. Though his velocity was there, he had no command and his pitches lacked depth and sharpness.
Verlander comes into tonight on regular rest, though one has to wonder if that short rest outing take a toll on the 36-year-old right-hander.
In his third year with the Astros, Verlander is throwing his fastball less than ever. He throws it just 50 percent of the time while relying more on his slider and curveball (with an occasional changeup mixed in). Don’t worry, his stuff is still unreal.
By Fangraphs pitch values, his fastball took a significant drop in effectiveness (30.2 in wFB to 11.3), though his slider picked up the slack (3.9 in wSL to 33.4). He’s lost about 0.5 mph on his fastball (now 94.6 mph) and changeup, though his slider is now 1 mph faster (87.5 mph).
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His fastball remains highly useful, particularly in setting up his strong secondary pitches. He locates it well and it has both above-average velocity and top-of-the-line spin (98th percentile). His expected wOBA and batting average against are both 95th percentile or higher.
The slider, meanwhile, is death to righties but can also get out lefties.
Overall, Verlander has a slight reverse platoon split with neither batter’s box getting good licks against him.
Verlander has thrown 139 1/3 regular season innings and an additional 38 2/3 postseason innings against the Yankees. Whether newcomers to the roster or stalwarts, they’re familiar with Verlander.
In two starts this season, he allowed three runs each time over six and seven innings, respectively. Each time, he allowed a home run, once to Aaron Judge and another time to DJ LeMahieu.
Brett Gardner has seen him the most of anyone (57 PA) and hits OK against the right-hander (.260/.327/.360) while Didi Gregorius has a homer and double in 22 productive PAs. Judge has struggled prior to the homer, while Gleyber Torres, Edwin Encarnacion, Aaron Hicks and Gary Sanchez have weak numbers.
If Verlander is back to his form prior to short rest, the Yankees could be in for a long night, particularly with Giancarlo Stanton out of the lineup. Still, this lineup is capable of beating the best pitchers and already knows it can hit Houston’s bullpen. It may just be a matter of hitting a couple of balls into the Crawford Boxes.