Justin Verlander Heads to Big Apple

Just three days after Jacob deGrom signed with the Rangers, it was reported that the Mets agreed to a two-year, $86.66 million contract with Justin Verlander. That’s a lot of money for a 40 and 41 year old pitcher! Ignoring his age and the possibility of performance decline, let’s consult the park factors to determine how the move from Minute Maid Park to Citi Field might affect his results.

Park Factor Comparison
Minute Maid Park (Astros) 98 94 97 101 101 99 100 97 100 101 99 99
Citi Field (Mets) 96 92 84 96 102 98 96 102 94 105 97 93

Welp, it looks like Verlander has hit the jackpot! It’s a completely clean sweep for Citi Field, as it’s more favorable for pitchers in all 10 factors compared. Now let’s get into the specifics.

As usual, we’ll start with the hit type factors. The singles factor has the biggest impact on BABIP because it’s far more frequent. Both parks suppress singles, but Citi does so a bit more. Thanks to his fly ball tilt and ability to generate harmless pop-ups, Verlander has consistently posted better than league average BABIP marks for most of his career. His career mark sits at .278, and he just posted his third lowest season mark at .240, which ranked fourth lowest in baseball among qualified pitchers. No matter what park he pitches in, his BABIP forecast obviously must be higher than his 2022 mark, and probably significantly so. However, his new park should still reduce his BABIP projection slightly. Then again, all defensive metrics do show the Astros were a much better defensive team this season than the Mets, so if that remains so in 2023, the defensive differences might offset the park benefit and result in a wash.

Moving along to doubles and triples, both parks suppress doubles, with Citi being even more pitcher friendly, while is tied for the second toughest park to hit triples in. Both these factors should have a positive impact on Verlander’s ISO allowed, which should increase his LOB%, all else being equal.

Finally, we get to home runs. Contrary to the perception from years ago, Minute Maid isn’t a home run haven. It was barely better than average this season. On the other hand, Citi does remain a somewhat difficult place to hit a home run, but not as much as it had before changes were made to the park some seasons ago. Verlander hasn’t actually had issues keeping his fly balls in the park throughout his career. His 8.9% career average is well below the league during that time. However, his ability to hold his fly balls in the park has deteriorated in recent years. From his second full season in 2007 through 2015, he had posted a HR/FB rate no higher than 8.8%. From 2016 through 2019, he posted a double digit HR/FB rate every season. This year, that mark dropped back to just 6.2%, which was second lowest among qualified starters.

Clearly, Citi is more pitcher friendly for home runs, which should help Verlander. Given his extreme fly ball tendency, the move should help offset some aging effects, if he ever starts to feel them!

Let’s move to strikeout and walk factors. Both parks are similar, with each increasing strikeouts and reducing walks. However, Citi is slightly more pitcher friendly for both factors. That said, they are close enough that luck and Verlander’s skills are going to act as the majority of the drivers of his strikeout and walk rates. It’ll be impossible to tease out what impact Citi ended up having on each of these metrics.

Now we get to batted ball type factors, and the only two that have a true good and bad level. Citi suppressed line drives, while Minute Maid was neutral, which is a nice positive. While Verlander has endured a couple of seasons with a higher than average LD%, his career mark is probably just below, and he has posted a sub-20% mark for three straight seasons. Given his advanced age, I might expect this mark to go up, so the park switch could help offset the effects of aging on his ability to avoid line drives. Verlander induces tons of pop-ups, thanks to a high FB%, plus a high rate of those flies being of the infield variety. It’s hard to imagine him getting even better at generating pop-ups, but Citi inflates them even more than Minute Maid. Both the lower LD and higher IFFB factors are a good combination for his BABIP. This combines with the hit type factors and likely accounted for in those, so be sure not to double count.

Finally, we get to the summary factors, FIP and Basic. Minute Maid was slightly pitcher friendly in 2022, while Citi was more pitcher friendly for FIP and extremely pitcher friendly for actual run scoring. That’s not a surprise given that Citi was more pitcher friendly for every single factor.

The ballpark switch should be a major positive for Verlander, though he may experience a decline in his defensive support. The Mets actually scored more runs than the Astros, so there shouldn’t be any significant change in run support. The only question that remains is whether age-related decline will ever rear its ugly head, or will Verlander remain an elite pitcher into his 50s?!

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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1 month ago

The Mets aren’t going to score more runs than the Astros this year. Also, they’re moving part of the fence in RF in a few feet to put in a club or something, and Citi (maybe because of the way the winds swirl or something) is a park where seemingly small changes can have larger-than-expected effects, and Verlander’s home run rate was so low in 2022 compared to recent seasons, that I’d expect a healthy amount of regression anyway. (I’m sorry, but after a year of being positive and optimistic about the Mets, I’m returning to doom and gloom.)