Monday, June 27, 2005

Justin Verlander

It's not often in the recent past that the Tigers have had one of the best pitching prospects in the entire league (thanks Randy Smith), but they've definitely got one now. Justin Verlander is good. Real good. For those that may not know, he was the Tigers first round pick last year out of Old Dominion. There was a long holdout for a contract and Detroit eventually broke off all talks. When Verlander's dad heard about this, he stepped in and a deal was shortly agreed upon.

This year, Verlander made his professional debut with the Tigers high class A club Lakeland in the Florida State League. To say he got off to a hot start is an understatement. He made 13 starts at Lakeland, going 9-2 with a 1.67 ERA in 86 innings pitched en route to being selected to the Florida State League All Star game. After that he was promoted to the Tigers class AA affiliate in Erie. He has made 2 starts thus far in Erie, going 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in 14 innings.

But let's take a look at his secondary pitching numbers at each stop...

In Lakeland he had 104 Ks and only 19 BBs with 70 hits allowed. That translates to a rate of 10.88 strikeouts per 9 innings, 5.47 Ks for every BB allowed, and 1.03 WHIP (walks+hits per inning pitched).

Thus far in Erie, he has 18 Ks and only 3 BBs with 5 hits allowed. That translates to a rate of 11.57 strikeouts per 9 innings, 6 Ks for every BB allowed, and 0.57 WHIP.

Allow me to put those numbers in some sort of perspective. First of all K/9IP. Anything above 7.00 is pretty good. Anything above 9.00 is very good. Once you start approaching 11 or more you're talking about legitimately great numbers (or roughly 245 Ks per 200 innings pitched). Next, look at his K/BB ratio. This is generally considered a measure of how good a pitcher's stuff is. It's easy to get strikeouts if you never throw any good pitches over the middle of the plate, but that will also give up a ton of walks. Conversely, it's easy to never walk anybody if you lob BP pitches down the middle of the plate but you also won't strike anybody out. To have a great K/BB ratio implies that you can throw pitches over the plate that batters just can't hit. Anything above 3/1 is a good ratio. Once you start getting around 5/1 or higher it is extremely impressive. Finally, we can talk about WHIP. Basically having a low WHIP means you don't allow a lot of baserunners which is the best way to prevent runs which is the best way to help your team win ball games. 1.20 is pretty good for a pitcher. 1.10 is really good. 1.00 or lower is a great number.

Look at Verlander's numbers again.

K/9IP: 10.88 and 11.57
K/BB: 5.47 and 6.00
WHIP: 1.03 and 0.57

That is downright nasty pitching. Now don't get me wrong. I'm not going to argue that Verlander should be pitching in Detroit right now and he's already better than Jeremy Bonderman or whoever else you want to name. You can't really say that. What you can say is that he is dominating lesser hitters like a great prospect should. His AA numbers also have to be taken with a large grain of salt as they only span two games.

But I will say one thing. Justin Verlander is rapidly proving to be one of the best young pitching prospects in all of baseball. If he can continue to dominate AA, I guarantee he'll be up in Detroit by next year and perhaps even this year for a cup of coffee in September.

In a week or two I'll find time to tell you all about his current Erie teammate Joel Zumaya. He's only 20 and is the 2nd youngest pitcher in the Eastern League but is 2nd in all of minor league baseball in strikeouts. He has always struggled with walks, but he is making big strides recently in that area and could also turn himself into an elite pitching prospect.


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