Reviewing 2015 Pod Projections: Justin Verlander

At last, we have reached our final 2015 Pod Projection review! All pitcher projections were based on the methodology laid out in my just released eBook, Projecting X 2.0. Yes, it’s the follow up to the original Projecting X, and is chock full of new research, new metrics, new ideas, and new methods for projecting baseball player performance.

Aaaaaand, back to our regularly scheduled programming, where I’ll recap my Justin Verlander projection. Heading into 2015, Verlander was a tough man to forecast. In 2014, his ERA jumped by more than a run, marking just the second time in his career it hopped over the 4.00 plateau, while his strikeout rate tumbled below 20% for the first time since 2008. Since his fastball velocity was down a mile per hour as well, a rebound was not to be automatically assumed.

IP: 205 projected vs 133.1 actual

The 205 inning projection would have actually represented his lowest mark since that ugly 2008 season. Instead, he suffered a triceps injury during Spring Training and took far longer to recover than expected. He missed more than two months with the ailment as a result, but luckily it did not seem to affect his performance.

K%: 20.3% projected vs 21.1% actual

Verlander’s strikeout rate was one of the more difficult metrics to project. In his glory days, he routinely posted marks in the mid-20% range, peaking at 27.4% in 2009. But then, his velocity also peaked at 95.6 mph. Heading into 2015, his fastball velocity had declined for five straight years. The second paragraph of my original writeup said what to expect best:

You have to assume that at some point, his severe velocity downtrend ends. He either regains a bit back or it stabilizes, and given how successful he has been historically, you figure that he begins to learn how to pitch with lesser stuff and his strikeout rate inches back up.

I was right. The downtrend ended and he did regain a bit of his velocity (it jumped from 92.3 mph to 92.8 mph), while his strikeout rate bounced back between his 2013 and 2014 marks. Importantly, his slider returned to form in the swing and miss generating side of things. Unfortunately, heading into his age 33 season and with average velocity that is likely going to remain below 93.0 mph, it may not get any better than this.

BB%: 7.4% projected vs 6.0% actual

Perhaps Verlander is transforming himself into a crafty soft-tosser with pinpoint control? Ha. His walk rate was the second lowest of his career, even though his strike percentage sat well below his marks from 2009 through 2013. It makes me believe this apparent improved control is not real.

GB%/LD%/FB%: 40% / 20% / 40% projected vs 35% / 20% / 45%

Fly ball rate rises with age and with Verlander’s strikeout rate well below where it had been pre-2014, all those extra fly balls are dangerous. Luckily for him, he has made it a career to suppress home runs on fly balls, as his HR/FB rate is just 7.7%. He has only posted a HR/FB rate anywhere near the league average once in his entire career, and that was during his full season debut back in 2006! But if that “skill” disappears, trouble is coming.

HR/FB%: 8.5% projected vs 7.5% actual

We have found that high velocity suppressed HR/FB rates, right? It’s by a very minor degree, but I believe the effect is there, if I recall correctly. That said, Verlander’s velocity has been in free fall, and yet his fly balls continues to stay in the park. What is he doing?!

BABIP: .295 projected vs .267 actual

Oy vey. So pitching in front of brutal defense, Verlander posted inflated BABIP marks in 2013 and 2014 in the mid-.310 range. We figured the Tigers had improved their defense in 2015, so I projected an improved BABIP, and was all set at .295, which is around the league average. So naturally, Verlander’s BABIP doesn’t just decline a little thanks to better defense, it actually drops like a rock! More fly balls and pop-ups than expected certainly played a leading role here, and perhaps a little bit of Lady Luck. Then again, before 2013, Verlander posted low BABIP marks for three straight years, so he has done this before. Oh Justin, you’re such a big mystery.

Below is a summary of how Verlander was projected by all systems, along with his actual totals.

Justin Verlander Projections vs Actual
Pod 205 13 3.67 1.27 174 7.6 2.8 0.92 20.3% 7.4% 0.295 73.3%
Steamer 204 12 4.02 1.27 163 7.2 2.7 1.11 18.9% 7.0% 0.285 71.7%
ZiPS 202.1 14 3.78 1.27 183 8.1 2.7 0.80 0.315 71.5%
Fans (15) 216 15 3.72 1.22 186 7.8 2.7 0.83 0.298 71.9%
2015 133.1 5 3.38 1.09 113 7.6 2.2 0.88 21.1% 6.0% 0.267 70.9%

Would you look at that, my ERA projection was closest! But we were all off because none of us saw that low BABIP coming. I also nailed the K/9 rate, but missed the walk rate just like everyone else. I’m curious how Verlander will be valued this year, given that he finished with a strong ERA and WHIP, which could fool many into thinking that he has returned for good. I still have my concerns. In early NFBC drafts, he’s being selected as the 40th starting pitcher off the board and about 153rd overall. I don’t think that’s too crazy, but perhaps just marginally higher than I expect to have him ranked.

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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Mike – I happen to be looking for a good read on building projections, and your article happened to have impeccable timing. Is Projecting X 2.0 a rerelease of the original with some updates, or is it advised that I read the original first?