Ace Analysis: What to do with Verlander

Ace Analysis TLance Site LogoSince the trade deadline for most leagues has already passed, this series will now focus on pitchers whose ownership percentages do not correspond with their ability level. Most of the pitchers featured here will be potential free agent pick ups, but occasionally I may feature a pitcher who is owned in too many leagues.

All stats and ownership data are current as of 8/30/2014

Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

Justin Verlander is almost universally owned, but the former Cy Young award winner has really struggled this season. Owners in dynasty formats need to hold on in hopes that the 31-year-old righty regains his ace form next season, but re-draft owners should start thinking about whether or not Verlander is likely to help them over the season’s final month.

If we were to take the name out of play and simply look at the numbers for Verlander against any average Joe you might find on your league’s free agent list, there would not be much difference. His ERA and WHIP have been harmful this season (4.68 and 1.45 respectively) and the Ks have dropped off the face of the earth (6.95 K/9). When looking at the underlying numbers, it is difficult to make a case for Verlander as anything more than a streamer right now.

Over the past two season’s Verlander’s fastball velocity has decreased marginally, from 95 to 93.2 MPH. Back when Verlander was at his dominating peak, that fastball was one of the premier pitches in all of baseball. Today, it more closely resembles batting practice. Verlander simply is not getting hitters out with it anymore, and as a result he has been throwing his off speed stuff with more regularity. While the slider, changeup and curve are all fine pitches, they don’t have the same effect without the fearsome heater to complement them.

Verlander’s K rate has fallen off the charts this season. He is only striking out 17.6% of batters he faces and his swinging strike rate has fallen to 8.9%. He is no longer the elite strikeout pitcher that fantasy owners expect him to be. He is coming off two good strikeout games in a row with 14 Ks over his last 12.2 innings, but owners expecting more than a K/9 of 7.5 the rest of the way are likely to be disappointed.

Walks have also been more of an issue for Verlander over the past two seasons. During his two Cy Young caliber seasons (yes I know he only won one of them) Verlander’s BB rate hovered around 6%. The past two seasons, it has been 8%. When you factor in the reduced K rate as well, Verlander’s K/BB rate was over 4 when he was at his best. This season, his K/BB rate is just 2.20. With a K/BB rate that low and a BABIP over .300, there is simply no way that Verlander can be anything but a WHIP whale without significant improvement.

Verlander has always done and continues to do a pretty good job avoiding HRs, but overall his batted ball profile is nothing special. He is actually right at his career averages this year in basically every batted ball profile category. He is a 20% line drive, 40% ground ball, 40% fly ball guy. Verlander’s BABIP has spiked the last two seasons (.316 and .319) due primarily to the deterioration of his fastball. His below average strand rate implies a little bad luck, but Verlander has earned most of his poor ERA this season.

Keeper league owners have to hope that their ace is injured and that he will recover in time, but right now it looks like all those innings may have taken their toll. Dynasty owners need to hold on and hope, but there is simply no rational reason I can find for Verlander to be owned in so many redraft leagues. He still has value in points leagues due to his ability to eat innings and win ball games, but in category based leagues, I am looking in another direction. If you own Verlander in a re-draft roto league and are still in contention, my best advice is to let him go. At this point there is little risk in dropping him, but I think there are many widely available pitchers who are a better bet to help your ratios down the stretch.

When dealing with struggling pitchers, fantasy owners need time to assess and take future steps. Redraft owners are simply out of time when it comes to Verlander.

Yusmeiro Petit, San Francisco Giants
Owned in 13% of Fantrax leagues, 12% of Y! leagues and 6 of ESPN leagues

Yusmeiro Petit is a journeyman 29-year-old who has bounced around from back-end starter to long reliever throughout his career. While his early career numbers look pretty miserable, Petit has actually been very good over the past two campaigns with the Giants. He nearly pitched a perfect game last season and recently set a major league record by retiring 46 consecutive batters over a span of 8 appearances. Now that Lincecum has been demoted to the bullpen, Petit appears entrenched as the Giants’ 5th starter and he makes an intriguing pick up option for fantasy owners.

Petit only throws in the high 80s, but he has been able to strike out over 10 batters per nine innings this season. Driven by a nasty curveball that he throws about 25% of the time, his 12.2% swinging strike rate seems to support a high K/9. As expected, his K rate has been significantly lower as a starter this year, but he has still struck out 8.92 per nine in the seven games he has started, which will play pretty much anywhere.

Along with the strong K rate, Petit has done a great job limiting baserunners with impeccable control. Petit has only walked 1.77 batters per 9, with the last free pass coming on July 22nd. He gets ahead of batters early with a first pitch strike percentage of 69.6% and then he frequently gets hitters to chase outside the zone after he gets a two strike count.

Petit is a fly ball pitcher and he had some serious HR problems early in his career. With the Giants, however, he has done extremely well keeping the long ball in check. He has enjoyed a Matt Cain like HR/FB rate of just 6.7% over the last two seasons. While HR regression is always a concern moving forward, Petit’s fly ball tendencies are good for the WHIP. When you consider that he has a K/BB rate of 5.65 and a batted ball profile capable of producing a low BABIP, this is a pitcher who can really help in the WHIP category. Petit’s WHIP the last two seasons has been 1.19 and 1.00 respectively.

In looking at the splits, Petit’s 5.54 ERA as a starter might be a turn off for most. The supporting data tells a different story, however. It looks like Petit has been extremely unlucky in those starts. His K/BB rate has actually been even better as a starter (6.17) despite the lower K rate. His strand rate has been a ridiculously low 57.4%, so a high percentage of base runners have come around to score. Considering his low HR rate, Petit seems to be a victim of bad timing. Despite the gnarly ERA, all the indicators still sit well below 4.00.

Petit is not likely to pitch deep into games so he may not be as valuable in points leagues, but he can provide owners in category based formats with some really nice ratios. Owners should expect an ERA in the low to mid 3s with a WHIP around 1.20 and some healthy K totals. If those stats play in your league, then give Petit a chance.

Jarred Cosart, Miami Marlins
Owned in 46% of Fantrax leagues, 12% of Y! leagues and 6% of ESPN leagues

Last season, Jarred Cosart pitched well above his head in route to a 1.95 ERA and received a decent amount of interest during draft season. He got off to a rough start in April, but then put together two strong months before crashing back to reality in July. Since then, Cosart has been traded to National League and he is pitching better than ever. As a result of his 1.64 August ERA, his ownership rates have started to climb again.

Cosart’s K rate almost eliminates him from consideration in K/9 leagues. Despite a mid 90s heater, he has only struck out 5.54 per 9 this season, which is actually up from last year. While his minor league K numbers were significantly better, a 6.3% swinging strike rate does not offer much hope for improvement. Cosart has also had control issues at every level since the low minors. His BB/9 this season is 3.50, but he has had some good stretches and some bad. Overall, a K/BB rate of 1.59 just is not good enough.

Cosart does have a few areas in which he excels. He offers an elite ground ball rate of 55%, which is right in line with what he did last year. He has also been extremely good at avoiding HRs, with a HR/9 of .42 in 2014, after posting a .45 mark last year. He had a flukey BABIP of .246 in 2013, but he still profiles as a pitcher who could have better than average BABIP success, so this season’s .292 mark does not look out of line. In theory, Cosart would make a very good streaming option if he could ever get those walk numbers under control.

Ironically, Cosart’s August success has been a direct result of improved control. Cosart has posted 4 consecutive quality starts and has only 5 walks in his last 27.2 innings. The K numbers during that stretch have still been low, but because he has exhibited elite control, his K/BB rate has been a very playable 2.80. I do not think we can count on walk rates this low going forward, but if he can somehow manage to keep his BB.9 under 2.5, he could be useful in many formats given his other strengths.

I don’t think Cosart is worth adding just yet, but I would keep a close eye on his walk rates for the month of September. If he is able to keep them down and show signs of legitimate improvement there, he could make for a good sleeper candidate next season, if not a potential under the radar streamer for deep league owners.

Tommy Landseadel

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Tommy is also known as tlance on the CBS and Sports Hoopla message boards. He has been playing fantasy baseball for 16 years in many different format types and looks forward to helping you with your fantasy baseball questions! You can now follow me on Twitter @tlandseadel