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Undervaluing the $180 million man
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - I normally wouldn't advise putting more stock in five starts than 32, but in Detroit Tigers starter Justin Verlander's case it's a smart move.

After working on his mechanics all season, Verlander finally rediscovered his optimal release point in late September, the same release point that helped him go 41-13 with a 2.52 ERA, a 0.99 WHIP and 489 strikeouts over 489 1/3 innings in 2011-12.

He had a 3.66 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP at the time, but allowed just one run in his final 35 innings while fanning 53 batters in that span.

Because three of those starts came in the postseason, they didn't factor in Verlander's final numbers -- 13-12, 3.46 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 217/75 K/BB in 218 1/3 innings. However, if you throw in those three playoff starts, he had a 3.17 ERA, a 1.24 WHIP and 248 strikeouts in 241 1/3 innings.

Verlander was selected second among pitchers after Clayton Kershaw in most fantasy leagues, but he ended up being the third most valuable pitcher on his own team behind AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer and AL ERA leader Anibal Sanchez.

It appears fantasy owners are either holding his relatively disappointing regular season against him or not paying enough attention to his dominant finish.

His aggregate average draft position (ADP) taken from Yahoo, CBS, nfbc.stats.com and mockdraftcentral.com drafts is 50.3, outside the top 10 among starters.

He should be going in the top five, even ahead of Scherzer, who is coming off a 21-3 season with a 2.90 ERA, a 0.97 WHIP and 240 strikeouts in 214 1/3 innings. That doesn't mean I don't love Scherzer, who was every bit as brilliant in 2013 as his numbers suggest; I just like Verlander a bit more in 2014.

Even though Verlander's mechanical issues caused him to lose a tick off his fastball velocity in 2013, he still was able to miss bats and keep the ball in the park.

His K/9 was 8.95, nearly the same as the 8.96 mark he registered during his MVP and Cy Young season of 2011, and his HR/9 was 0.78, lower than 2011 and just 0.06 higher than 2012.

Verlander's swing-and-miss rate and his contact rate both ranked in the top 20 among qualified starters and weren't much different than where they were in 2011-12.

And he ended the season with an average fastball velocity of 94 mph, down 0.7 from 2012 but still eighth best among qualified hurlers.

JV's biggest issue last year was his control, as he issued 3.09 free passes per nine innings after walking 2.15 per nine the previous two years. But he handed out just 13 walks in his last 62 2/3 innings, good for a 1.87 BB/9, while striking out 11.35 per nine during that timeframe.

Verlander still had his fair share of strong starts in 2013, he just had more blowups than in years past. He gave up five earned runs or more in six starts last season after doing that only five times in the previous two years combined. Re-establishing his release point late in the year should help him keep those types of starts at a minimum in 2014.

He also had some bad luck with a .316 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), 28 points higher than his career BABIP and sixth worst in the majors. That too should improve this season.

If it's hard for you to get over the inconsistency we saw from Verlander in his first 32 starts of 2013 and instead focus on his last five, perhaps you should look at it this way: if the improved release point really did bring Verlander back to the ace level he established in 2011-12, then it's more like we're favoring 72 starts (34 in 2011, 33 in 2012, last five of 2013) over 32.

That's some math you can get behind.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Thomas J. Harrigan at tharrigan@sportsnetwork.com.

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