Thursday afternoon, the Cleveland Indians completed a sweep of the Detroit Tigers by besting Justin Verlander. But don't go blaming Justin Verlander for the outcome. The problem for the Tigers was that they couldn't hit enough, generating all of four singles and two doubles. They lost 2-1. Verlander threw all eight innings, allowing six hits while punching out seven.
As Verlander likes to do, he got stronger as the game went on, and the eighth inning was his best inning. He threw 11 pitches in the frame, against Shin-Soo Choo, Jason Kipnis, and Asdrubal Cabrera, all of whom are quite good. Verlander struck out the side. Here's how he got rid of Choo:
Here's how he got rid of Kipnis:
Here's how he got rid of Cabrera:
Choo swung through a 98-mile-per-hour fastball after a 99-mile-per-hour fastball. Kipnis swung through a 101-mile-per-hour fastball after a 100-mile-per-hour fastball. Cabrera watched an 84-mile-per-hour curve after watching a 102-mile-per-hour fastball. Justin Verlander did things in the eighth inning that other pitchers just can't do. He did them in what was ultimately a losing cause.
So, it's no secret that Justin Verlander is incredibly valuable. He's so valuable that a year ago he was voted the most valuable player in the league! It doesn't really matter whether or not you agreed with Verlander's selection - he performed like an amazing player, because he was and is an amazing player.
Watching Verlander today, I got curious about some of the numbers. We have plenty of ways of measuring player value, the most popular of which might be Wins Above Replacement. Alternatively, the most popular of them might be visual observation and anecdotal evidence. "I saw him hit a dinger, he has to be great." Statistically, the most popular is Wins Above Replacement, or WAR.
But a method I've always been fond of is called With Or Without You. It's less popular, more difficult, and more flawed, but also more intuitive. The idea: you have a player. How has his team performed when he's played? How has his team performed when he hasn't played? In theory, everything is the same, except for that one variable. In reality, things are never the same, but maybe they're close over a big enough sample size.
I decided to examine a sort of WOWY with Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers, to see what he's meant. I think Verlander turned the corner in 2009. That's when his strikeouts went up, his walks went down, and he changed from a potentially dominant ace into a regularly dominant ace. Verlander before 2009: 4.11 ERA, 2.2 strikeouts per walk. Verlander since 2009: 2.98 ERA, 3.9 strikeouts per walk.
Anyway, the meaningful numbers. Thursday's was Verlander's 112th regular-season start since 2009. Over those 112 games, the Tigers have gone 75-37, for a 67-percent winning percentage. They've scored an average of 4.7 runs per game, and they've allowed an average of 3.4 runs per game.
In games since 2009 not started by Justin Verlander, the Tigers have gone 207-212, for a 49-percent winning percentage. They've scored an average of 4.6 runs per game, and they've allowed an average of 4.8 runs per game.
Right there, you're given a good idea of Justin Verlander's value. These numbers are capturing an assortment of things, some of which have to do with Verlander and some of which don't, but if you feel like keeping things simple, the difference between those winning percentages over 112 games is about 20 wins. For reference, Baseball-Reference gives Verlander a WAR of about 21 since 2009. This doesn't take into consideration whatever positive cascading effect Verlander might have on the bullpen by taxing the relievers less. That could help out in the games after Verlander.
So, statistically, that's the meaning of Justin Verlander. Without him, the Tigers have been about a .500 team. With him, the Tigers have won two-thirds of their games. To put it another way, without him, the Tigers have been about average. With him, the Tigers have been maybe the best team in baseball.
Of course, there are two sides here. From the Tigers' perspective, the numbers show that Verlander provides an enormous boost, just like you'd think that he would. From the opponents' perspective, the Tigers with Verlander are hardly unbeatable. Verlander and other aces can develop this air of invincibility, and it's understandable - you see Verlander pitch like he did against the Pirates not long ago and he looks impossible to touch. But if the Tigers have won two-thirds of their games with Verlander, that means they've lost one-third of their games with Verlander. Tony Gwynn got a hit in one-third of his at-bats. Verlander is awesome and intimidating, but he can be defeated and has often been defeated.
There's your meaning of Justin Verlander, and it's got a little something for everyone. Tigers fan? Feel good - Verlander makes your team beastly. Even in a game like Thursday's, when the offense isn't hitting, Verlander nearly did everything himself. Fan of an opponent? Feel better - Verlander doesn't make the Tigers invulnerable. He is one player, one incredible player, but a baseball game involves many players.
So today many of us have learned nothing. But maybe you've learned about With Or Without You analysis! With luck this was not a complete waste of your time. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to sit back and watch those .gifs for a few hours.