Verlander hopes Leyland is right, though he might word it another way.
"I think wins are not one of the most telling stats of how a season is going for a pitcher," Verlander said recently at Tigers camp. "I think even ERA is skewed on a team-by-team basis."
"The game's getting a little more in-depth with sabermetrics — which you saw with Felix [Hernandez] winning the Cy Young this year," Verlander said. "People are going a lot deeper into the statistical categories than just wins, ERA and so forth."
So does Verlander check Fangraphs and elsewhere to stay up to date on his expected Fielding Independent Pitching, his WAR value or other advanced stats?
"No, I still focus on ERA and wins [because] those are the stats that people look at a lot," Verlander said, referring to people like Leyland.
Dang, I thought we had Verlander converted to the Church of Bill James.
Understandably, the manager of the team is interested in the bottom line. So is Verlander.
Wins "is definitely a team stat," Verlander said. "If there's a 20-game winner on a team, that should be something that's looked upon as a team victory.
"We've said that wins are slightly overrated for pitchers, but if you go out and give your team a chance throughout the season, it's going to be hard to not accumulate some wins."
Sounds like a compromise. But back to the guts of Leyland's point, that Verlander can still do better. It might sound like a funny thing to say, considering what Verlander has accomplished since his rookie season in 2005.
Here's the paragraph that probably has been inserted in more Verlander stories than any other:
The hard-throwing Verlander is the only pitcher in baseball history to toss a no-hitter, start a World Series game, be a Rookie of the Year and an All-Star in his first two full seasons.
Plus, he has accumulated 25.3 in WAR — ninth in the majors — since '05.
In 2010, Verlander had a 3.37 ERA with 219 strikeouts, a 1.163 WHIP and 18 victories (that's for you, Leyland!). And here are Verlander's (sheesh) victory totals: 17, 18, 11, 19 and 18. Pretty good (or pretty lucky) considering the Tigers have only cracked 90 wins once in that span.
Leyland said Verlander has worked on his pickoff move and overall defense, which should help cut down on some runs. Verlander said there was more.
"I think what differentiates the best in the game from the rest is their ability to shorten streaks when things aren't going right," Verlander said. "And not even on a game-by-game basis, but pitch by pitch. If things get awry for an inning or two, being able to fix it [immediately] rather than a couple of starts down the road, it would be huge.
"Just knowing yourself and your body helps that. That's why you reach your start reaching your pitching maturity in your late 20s, early 30s."
Verlander, who is 28 years old, has never lacked for confidence. It's actually a problem sometimes.
"I think that's one of the things I'm adjusting to," Verlander said. "If a guy hits a good pitch — fouls it off, or whatever — my overconfidence will get the better of me. I'll say, ‘OK, I'm not going to let this guy get the best of me and he's not going to hit this one.'
"But that's stuff I'm learning from and I do that much less often than I used to."
Verlander would prefer to simply "scratch and claw" his way through a start, allow as few runs as possible and hope his guys outscore the opposition.
"I'm not really somebody that sets goals, but I want to be one of the best — if not the best — in the game," Verlander said. "I want to be a guy who can go out there and win 18, 19, 20 games."
Oh, there's that pitcher's victory statistic again. Just shave a few points off his xFIP (4.04), add some luck and more run support and maybe Verlander gets into that neighborhood Leyland was talking about.