Mostly MLB Notes: Asking what’s wrong with Justin Verlander and other looks around the league

Justin Verlander isn’t having a bad season, but those who drafted him early can certainly complain about his pedestrian 3.90 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. In fact, over his past seven starts, he’s posted a 6.11 ERA and 1.58 WHIP over 45.2 innings. He hasn’t had a single start all year without walking at least one batter, and after having once gone 63 straight starts pitching at least six innings, he’s failed to do so in six of his 16 outings in 2013. Looking at his peripherals, he’s actually been roughly the same pitcher as ever. Here are his current numbers vs. his career marks: HR/FB% (7.4 vs. 7.9), GB% (42.3 vs. 40.5), LOB% (72.9 vs. 73.7), K% (26.3 vs. 22.9) and SwStr% (10.4 vs. 9.8). This isn’t an entirely fair comparison because Verlander reached another level the last two years compared to the rest of his career, but it still illustrates that for the most part, he’s been a similar pitcher when it comes to most of the underlying stats. So what gives? His current .347 BABIP, which would easily be a career-high, really jumps out. It’s easy to call this bad luck, and it’s certainly likely that number drops moving forward, but since it’s also tied to a career-low average fastball velocity (92.6 mph), it might not necessarily regress as much as his fantasy owners hope.

There are other tangible issues when looking at the abnormally high hit rate, such as Verlander’s career-high 1.22 GB/FB ratio (the Tigers’ poor infield defense especially hurts here) and a career-high 23.2 LD%. Since entering the league in 2006, Verlander has thrown the most pitches in all of baseball - and 1,177 more than the next highest (CC Sabathia) – and that’s not even including his 12 postseason starts (he’s especially been worked hard in October recently, as he’s tossed 48.2 innings over the last two years in the playoffs). Are the heavy workloads finally catching up to him? Consider Verlander’s average fastball velocity has dropped in each of the past four seasons, and according to Fangraphs' pitch values, it’s gone from one of the best pitches in baseball to one with a negative value. I hardly want to make this seem like I’m writing Verlander’s obituary – even the most elite pitchers in the game go through rough stretches, and after all, this is someone with a 10.21 K/9 rate whose BABIP is 60 points higher than his career mark, so he’ll almost certainly improve from here on out. But the downward trend with his fastball combined with such heavy workloads (and a pretty stark change in control) does suggest a return to 2011 and 2012 form is no sure thing.

Here’s Colin Kaepernick throwing the fastest “first pitch” in the history of baseball.

And then there's this.

Speaking of struggling players failing to live up to their ADP, Starlin Castro currently sports a .228/.264/.318 line with a 61:12 K:BB ratio over 311 at-bats. While the Cubs scored 14 runs during their last game Sunday, Castro failed to record a hit, although he did walk for the first time in more than two weeks. He’s still just 23 years old, but his slow start gets more worrisome when you factor in his poor performance over the second half of last season. Since June 1 of last year, Castro is batting just .250 (187-for-748). He’s not a great base stealer and hits a lot of groundballs while sporting a career HR/FB% of 5.4, so batting average is especially key to his fantasy value. His weak production looks especially bad considering Wrigley Field has been the No. 1 hitter's park by a wide margin so far this season. I certainly expected much more from Castro this year, but his career arc is moving in the wrong direction right now.

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NeverWet seems like a potentially cool product.

Restroom attendant prank.

Andrew Bailey is having quite a strange season. He sports an impressive 31.3 K%, and he combines that with a .286 BABIP, a 25.8 IFFB% and an 88.5 LOB%, which makes his 4.37 ERA highly unlikely. Bailey has had poor control (11.5 BB%), but most glaring is his 0.26 GB/FB rate. He has a 15.1 GB%! That’s easily the lowest in all of baseball (minimum 20.0 innings. And it’s nearly half the lowest among qualified starters) and not a great combination when 19.4% of his fly balls have gone for home runs. The strikeouts have been great but since joining Boston last year, Bailey has walked 19 batters and allowed eight homers over 37.2 innings in between injuries. I expected Junichi Tazawa to be named as replacement closer, since he was the favorite last time Bailey missed time, but it actually makes since Koji Uehara was tabbed instead, since the former is much more likely to be available to work more than one inning. Uehara currently has a 35.9 K% and a 6.0 BB%. Since 2010, Uehara’s 15.8 SwStr% is third best among all pitchers (minimum 150.0 innings), behind only Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman, and his WHIP (0.79) not only ranks first over that span, it dwarfs the next best (Sergio Romo at 0.88). The right-hander has recorded a .138/.219/.325 against lefties this season. Uehara could very easily be a top-three fantasy closer pitching for the first place Red Sox from here on out.

This week in unnecessary censorship.

Here’s an ancient statue that suddenly started spinning in a museum.

Monkey traffic stop surprises officer.

Pedro Alvarez has homered in four straight games, and while all of them have been solo, he has racked up eight RBI over that span. Despite a .237 BA and .303 OBP, he’s on pace to finish with 41 homers and 109 RBI, giving him plenty of fantasy value, especially as a third baseman. Alvarez has seemingly improved defensively this year, but his plate discipline remains a disaster (32.6 K%), including an MLB-high 18.1 SwStr%. Still, the power is real. Alvarez’s 31.1 HR/FB% is almost certainly going to come down, but his career mark is 22.2%, and his 1.00 GB/FB and 39.9 GB% are both easily career-lows, while his 20.3 LD% is a career-high. Alvarez’s fantasy value improves in daily leagues, as he continues to post major lefty/righty splits. He has 17 homers and 40 RBI over just 180 ABs against RHP. His slugging percentage (.572) against right-handers is higher than his OPS (.555) against southpaws. (One other silly split quirk: he has a .927 OPS on the road this season despite a 48:6 K:BB ratio). Alvarez is a former No. 2 overall pick still just 26 years old, and since June 15 last year, his 41 homers are the most in the National League…Sticking with the Pirates, Gerrit Cole threw a 101.0 mph fastball Friday, which was the fastest thrown by a starting pitcher over the past five seasons other than Justin Verlander. In fact, Cole threw eight pitches 100+ mph during the outing; all other starters in MLB this year have combined for one (Matt Harvey). If he can ever improve his secondary stuff, the strikeouts will start coming in bunches.

Soul Cycle For Homeless People.

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In real life baseball (meaning not fantasy), drafting position players is generally viewed as far safer than pitchers, but I’d like to offer a counter. Health is more of a concern with hurlers, there’s no denying that, but performance wise, if a starting pitcher fails, there’s an alternative (move them to the bullpen) not available to a hitter. The latest example is Brett Cecil, who entered 2013 with a career ERA of 4.79. He currently hasn’t given up a run over his last 19.2 innings, including a 23:3 K:BB ratio and most impressively, he’s somehow allowed just two hits over that span. It’s hardly a surprise his average fastball velocity (91.9 mph) is well above his career mark (89.8). The same could be said about Andrew Miller, who has a 2.93 ERA over 27.2 innings this year and was even in consideration to overtake Boston’s closer’s role recently (Miller gave up three unearned runs Sunday). Miller has a 7.1 K/9 rate in his career as a starter. As a reliever, his K/9 is 11.3. Former No. 1 overall pick Luke Hochevar entered 2013 with a career 5.39 ERA over 771.0 innings. Moved to a full time role in the bullpen this season, he’s posted a 2.67 ERA and 0.89 WHIP. Of course, a reliever isn’t worth a first round pick (let alone No. 1 overall), but there are many more examples of this, and it’s just worth noting pitchers have this fallback option that hitters don’t.

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Quick Hits: Jay Bruce had one homer over his first 34 games this season. He’s hit 17 over his next 42, including eight long balls over his last 10 contests. He’s never hit more than 12 homers against left-handers in a season. He’s already hit seven against them in 2013, as he’s actually slugged higher versus southpaws (.544) than right-handers (.536). A monstrous second half could be in store…For those looking for saves in extremely deep leagues, check the availability of Seattle’s Yoervis Medina and Houston’s Jose Cisnero. The former has poor control but is extremely tough to hit (.198 BAA) and is a part of a bullpen in complete flux, while the latter has allowed zero runs over his past 18.1 innings, recording 21 strikeouts over that span. Astros’ closer Jose Veras has quietly had a good season, making him a trade candidate…Clayton Kershaw has allowed six homers this season and five of them have come against the Padres…One year after Cliff Lee somehow finished with just six wins despite a 3.16 ERA and 1.11 WHIP (and a 207:28 K:BB ratio), Cole Hamels is on pace to finish with 24 losses this season. He currently has a 94:31 K:BB ratio over 100.0 innings with a 12.0 SwStr%. Again, 24 losses!...The Giants had gone 90.0 innings without hitting a home run until Hunter Pence finally went yard in the sixth inning of Sunday’s game.

TV Talk: I’m surprised I’m saying this, but “Hannibal” is fantastic. I enjoyed all of the Thomas Harris novels, especially “Red Dragon,” but even as someone who may be biased, I’d argue this is the best network drama since “Lost.” What a finale last week. Mads Mikkelsen is nothing short of brilliant…Adrien Broner was a bit disappointing during his fight with Paulie Malignaggi, but at least his post-fight antics were entertaining. “I beat Paulie. I left with his belt and his girl.” Paulie then responded by saying: “Don’t brag about taking my side piece!” Classy stuff!...So I FINALLY started watching “Game of Thrones.” I ran through season one in two days. I’m definitely all in. Not sure what took me so long…R.I.P. Tony Soprano…If you’re not watching “Inside Amy Schumer,” you’re doing it wrong…I was lukewarm on “Maron” at first, but it’s really picked up of late…Here’s an interview with Vince Gilligan about the end of “Breaking Bad.” August 11 can’t get here soon enough.

Longread of the Week: How a Nation of Junkies Went Cold Turkey.

Quick Hits Part Deux: Jose Iglesias currently has a .484 BABIP through 108 at-bats. The next highest (minimum 100 ABs) is Jhonny Peralta at .404…Over his first 59 games, Ichiro Suzuki had five steals. Over his last 10, he has six…At this point, I’d rather be stashing Alex Rodriguez on my roster than I would Mark TeixeiraIke Davis has a 1.261 OPS with five homers over 45 at-bats while walking more than he’s struck out since getting sent to Triple-A. That’s come in the PCL playing in Las Vegas, so it’s an extreme hitter’s environment, but hopefully it means his mechanics have been worked out. He should be back up with New York soon enough…It looks like this play will cost Angel Pagan the rest of the season, or at least a very good chunk of it…Here’s me acting as the blind squirrel finding a nut…It’s been just two starts, but Nathan Eovaldi has averaged a whopping 97.0 mph with his fastball and produced an 11.2 SwStr% over them, so he needs to be on the radar moving forward…If you’re searching for some cheap speed, check on Jarrod Dyson’s availability in your league. He’s back off the DL and should see close to regular playing time against right-handers. Dyson has more steals (eight) this year than times he’s struck out (seven). He swiped 30 bags (while being caught just five times) over just 292 at-bats last season. Dyson has an impressive 90.6% SB success rate in his major league career, and while his two homers so far have been a fluke (just one of his previous 69 fly balls went over the fence during his career before two of 13 have so far in 2013), but he could be a major contributor in the steals department from here on out, a category that’s been extremely scarce this season.

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