After winning both the Cy Young Award and MVP in the American League last season—a season wherein he threw a no-hitter against the Blue Jays in May—Verlander has not disappointed so far in 2012. In his first nine starts, he’s actually posted a lower walk-rate, a higher strikeout-rate and a lower home run-rate than he did in 2011. He currently sits second in the AL in ERA (2.14), first in FIP (2.24), second in xFIP (2.98), and first in SIERA (2.84).
Last night, against an admittedly poor Pirates lineup, Verlander came within two outs of joining Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax and Bob Feller as the only pitchers in the modern era to throw three no-hitters in their career. With one out in the ninth, Pirates designated hitter (and I use that term very loosely) Josh Harrison—owner of a .269/.280/.382 career slash line—struck a soft liner up the middle, just out of the reach of shortstop (I also use that term very loosely) Jhonny Peralta for the Pittsburgh’s only hit of the day. Verlander went on to retire the next two batters to record the one-hit shutout.
Yes, Verlander was facing the Pirates, but he was so completely dominant, it’s hard to imagine even the best lineup in baseball faring much better.
Verlander struck out 12 batters and induced a staggering 18 swing-and-misses. He did it with every pitch in his arsenal racking up five whiffs with each his curveball and his slider, five more with his fastball, and three with his changeup. He threw just 109 pitches, 70% of which were strikes and in classic Verlander fashion, he increased his average fastball velocity incrementally throughout the game.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Verlander’s fastball averaged 91.4 MPH in innings one through three, 93.5 MPH in innings four through six, and a ridiculous 97.9 MPH in innings seven through nine. He also becomes just the second Tigers pitcher ever to throw a shutout while giving up one or fewer hits and striking out 12 or more batters. The only other one was Jim Bunning against the Red Sox in 1958.
Verlander also used quite a different approach against the Pirates than he normally does. Going into last night, Verlander had thrown his four-seam fastball 63% of the time so far in 2012. Last night against Pittsburgh, he threw it only 39% of the time. Understanding that the Pirates are one of the worst breaking ball hitting teams in baseball, Verlander relied much more heavily than normal on his slider and curve.
And the rest:
Kerry Wood announced his retirement from baseball yesterday and pitched against one batter in the eighth inning of yesterday’s game against the White Sox. He struck out Dayan Viciedo and walked off to a standing ovation from the Wrigley faithful.
Wood may not have lived up to the hype suggested by his first few seasons in the big leagues, but he still pitched for fourteen years and only Randy Johnson has a higher strikeout rate in history for pitchers with at least 1000 innings pitched.
In the same game, White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko was hit in the helmet with an errant pitch from Cubs righthander Jeff Samardzija. The beaning was clearly not intentional, yet White Sox pitcher Phil Humber still threw a balll near the head of Cubs first baseman Bryan LaHair in a subsequent inning. It’s becoming ever clearer to me over the last few weeks that overgrown children play this game.
Free agent pitcher Roy Oswalt intends to be in the Majors by June and has worked out with both the Red Sox and Phillies [Scott Miller, CBS Sports]. He also reportedly threw for the Texas Rangers yesterday [Ken Rosenthal, Twitter], but it’s doubtful he’ll sign there considering the Rangers already have seven starting pitchers for five spots with both Alexi Ogando and Scott Feldman pitching out of the bullpen. The Yankees are reportedly not interested.
Rangers CEO Nolan Ryan doesn’t expect Josh Hamilton to sign with the Rangers before the offseason meaning the world-beating centerfielder will likely test the free agent market [T.R. Sullivan, MLB.com].
Dustin Parkes’ San Francisco Giants have signed righthander Brad Penny to a minor league deal [Chris Haft, MLB.com]. Penny signed with the Softbank Hawks of the Japanese Pacific League in the offseason after he couldn’t secure a Major League contract on the this side of the pond, but he requested his release from the Hawks after just one start.
Andy Pettitte was pretty awesome in his second start since coming out of retirement for the Yankees [Mike Axisa, River Avenue Blues].
Aroldis Chapman is being sued for $18-million for allegedly cooperating with the Cuban State Security apparatus in the detention of Cuban-American Danilo Curbelo Garcia after the failure of his first defection from Cuba [Craig Calcaterra, NBC Hardball Talk. Spanish links here and here].
Our malevolent overlord Dustin Parkes had some stray thoughts yesterday on Brett Lawrie, Interleague Play and many other hot topics [Getting Blanked].
Dodgers GM Ned Colletti expects that his team will have more flexibility to improve at this year’s deadline than in previous years [Dylan Hernandez, LA Times]. Future Dodgers may include: Omar Vizquel, Clint Barmes, Alfonso Soriano and Alex Rios.
Jay Jaffe takes a look at the team with the AL’s best record, the Baltimore Orioles, in his last ‘Hit and Run’ column for Baseball Prospectus. Starting next week, he’ll be turning his attention to SI.com.