Justin Verlander, Trevor Bauer Square Off in Cleveland

Jun 21, 2014

What is wrong with Detroit right-hander Justin Verlander?  The 31-year-old is 6-7 with a 4.98 ERA and 1.55 WHIP this season, including posting a 5.44 ERA and 1.44 WHIP on the road, a 5.23 ERA and 1.55 WHIP at night and a 9.16 ERA and 2.03 WHIP over his last three starts.  Verlander has been plagued by declining velocity and poor pitch location, and there are no signs that six-time All-Star and 2011 Cy Young Award winner will regain his former command and control.  In fact, this is the fifth consecutive season that Verlander’s velocity has dropped, and his swinging strike rate (9%) is also near a career-low.  Verlander’s metrics are also a concern as he owns a 4.76 xFIP and a 4.67 SIERA.

Consider that Verlander has yielded 38 earned runs on 61 hits and 20 walks in his past seven starts, a period covering 43 2/3-innings (2-5; 7.83 ERA).  “I think it’s a combination,” said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus.  “I think a lot of it has to do with he’s not locating the ball the way he normally does.  But my feeling is it’ll creep back up.”  Ausmus joined Verlander in the video room earlier this week and claims that the pair found some adjustments to make.  “We definitely saw something different between a couple of years ago and yesterday,” Ausmus said.  Ausmus further stated that the difference was “easily correctable.”

The problem for Verlander is the fact that he is facing a Cleveland lineup that ranks third in the American League with a .759 OPS against right-handed pitching.  Let’s also note that Verlander allowed five earned runs on 11 hits in his last trip to Progressive Field, and has yielded a combined 11 earned runs on 25 hits in his last 19 innings of work at Cleveland. Meanwhile, Cleveland starter Trevor Bauer possesses an electric arm that includes a fastball capable of reaching 95 mph. The 23-year-old prospect has been very good at Progressive Field this season where he is 2-1 with a 2.92 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. Overall, Bauer is 2-3 with a 4.21 ERA and 1.40 WHIP in 2014, but those peripheral numbers are grossly misleading in light of Bauer’s positive metrics, including a 3.70 xFIP and a 3.65 SIERA.

In 2013, Bauer’s walk rate was 19.8%. Through six starts this season, Bauer’s walk rate is down to 9.1%.  We have noticed that Bauer has included a cutter to his arsenal, which he throws 11% of the time with a corresponding 79% strike rate.  We should also note that Bauer has allowed three runs or less in five of his last seven outings.  Bauer’s inclusion of a cutter has helped to keep batters honest as hitters have swung 50% of the time (38% before cutter), and 36% of the time at pitches out of the zone (22% before cutter).  Bauer is also supported by a very good Cleveland bullpen that owns a 3.32 ERA and 1.28 WHIP this season, including a 3.33 ERA and 1.34 WHIP at night and a 3.43 ERA and 1.20 WHIP at home.

From a technical standpoint, Cleveland is a profitable 50-22 (+18.9 units) as home favorites and 47-28 (+14.4 units) at home in the first half of the season.  Cleveland also has the highest home winning percentage in the Major Leagues, going 23-13 at Progressive Field this season.  Let’s also note that Cleveland is 8-2 in its last ten home games versus right-handed starters and 7-1 in its last eight games versus a starting pitcher with a WHIP higher than 1.30, whereas the Tigers are 0-6 in Verlander’s last six starts as a road underdog and 0-5 in Verlander’s last five starts following a loss.

Pro Edge Sports Pick: Cleveland Indians (-115)