Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander had possibly his worst start of the season Tuesday night, giving up seven earned runs on ten hits. He ended up with a no-decision in a 9-8 Tigers loss. The bad outing might have swung the race for the 2012 American League Cy Young Award in the favor of the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez in what is a freakishly close (and dominant) Cy Young race.
Both pitchers are having statistically ridiculous seasons. Verlander has a 12-7 record with a 2.80 ERA. He is averaging 9.08 strikeouts per nine (that’s one per inning, people) with a .269 BABIP and a 5.6 WAR. All of these stats are markedly worse than his 2011 season (24-5, 251 innings, .236 BABIP, 7.0 WAR), which was essentially porn for pitching-dominance fetishists. Not that I would know about that.
Some will claim that Chicago White Sox lefty Chris Sale is in the mix, but when you breakdown the statistics, Verlander and Hernandez have separated themselves.
Hernandez’s 2012 season has been essentially equally dominant. King Felix is 13-5 with a 2.43 ERA for the crappy Mariners. He is averaging 8.42 K/9 with a .278 BABIP and a 5.5 WAR. He has a lower ERA than Verlander but a higher BABIP and a half-strikeout less per nine innings pitched. It’s basically a statistical tie between the two.
However, Hernandez threw his league-leading fifth shutout of the season in his last start on Monday, a 1-0 win over the Twins. The win also improved his record in 1-0 games to 4-0 in 2012. Verlander has just one shutout, though he does have more complete games (6) than Hernadez (5). They’re both receiving about the same amount of run support overall, however.
Verlander is getting 3.67 runs per start (fourth-lowest in the AL) while Hernandez is getting 3.78 runs per start (sixth-lowest in the AL).
Oh, did I mention that Verlander lost a no-hitter in the ninth inning this year after throwing one in 2011, while Hernandez tossed a perfect game a few weeks ago?
Even their pitch f/x stats are virtually identical. So much so that they’re even throwing their various pitches at virtually the same rates. Hernandez throws his fastball 57.2 percent of the time while Verlander throws his 56.8 percent of the time, for example. They also throw their changeups 17 percent of the time (17.1 percent for Verlander and 17.7 percent for Hernandez).
They’re even missing bats at basically the same rate: 10.3 percent of Hernandez’s pitches are swung at and missed while batters swing and miss 11.4 percent of the time against Verlander.
This race is truly going to come down to each pitcher’s last few starts, with Hernandez taking the lead currently after Verlander’s debacle against the Royals Tuesday night. At this point, I defy you to go to their respective FanGraphs pages (Verlander, Hernandez) and find a major statistical difference between the two with five or so weeks to go in the season.
The good news is both pitchers will have about six to eight more starts before the end of the season, though only Verlander will be pitching with any kind of pressure on him. The Tigers are still in the race for both the AL Central title and one of the wild card spots, meaning his next several starts are incredibly important for the Tigers postseason hopes.
Hernandez’s Mariners are 14.5 games behind the AL West leading Texas Rangers. This may end up the difference in the race unless Verlander melts down again and Hernandez is f-ing awesome in his final starts.
Either way, in the Year of the Pitcher, these two are the king-hell monsters, dominating virtually every time they get the ball.