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Verlander was fantastic! Um … wasn’t he?

Oct 4, 2011, 9:40 AM EDT

New York Yankees v Detroit Tigers - Game 3 Getty Images

Posnanski makes a great point today about how sports commentators, columnists, broadcasters and the like tend to fall in love with narratives, even if they don’t really hold up.  His example: how everyone during and after last night’s Tigers game was gushing about Justin Verlander, and sticking with that narrative even though, on the merits, the performance wasn’t all that great: eight innings pitched, four earned runs.

I agree with the general point, but I must quibble with Posnanski’s use of Verlander as an example of this.

For one thing, four runs in eight innings against an offense like the Yankees on short rest (or however you want to characterize pitching three days after Friday’s false start) isn’t anything to sneeze at.  Not otherworldly, strikeouts notwithstanding, and I agree with Posnanski that it’s way too easy to blow it out of proportion. But it’s not nothing.

More generally, I think the praise of Verlander last night and into this morning is less about his line score and more about him just being an amazing freak of nature who is outrageously fun to watch.  Posnanski himself describes it in his column: the crazy velocity, changing repertoire and control; the fact that he was still cracking 100 on the radar late in the game.  Setting aside his game score — and acknowledging that people who overstate his literal effectiveness are drinking Verlander Kool-Aid — that stuff was pretty damn remarkable, and it’s thus understandable that it is being remarked upon so much.

This all falls under a theory I’ve cited many times recently in which our friend Ken Arneson reminds us to “Remember the Beer.”  That enjoying something and wishing to honor it some way is a totally different matter than properly assessing something and wishing to praise it in a different way.

We can appreciate that Dwight Evans was objectively better than Jim Rice, but if people want to recall Jim Rice’s exploits more fondly because they took great enjoyment from them back in 1978, so be it.  We can be in awe of Wily Mo Pena’s home runs even though, by every objective measure, Wily Mo Pena sucks.  The point is that just as we should never let our fond memories of a player shake our objective assessment of his merits (no matter how much I enjoyed Jack Morris’ career, he wasn’t a great pitcher), we shouldn’t let the objective assessment of the player detract from our enjoyment of him.  Same goes for movies and records and art and stuff too, by the way, but that’s another essay.

As for Verlander: no, his performance was not “great” last night in an objective way.  But it was dazzling. And enjoyable as all hell unless you’re a Yankees fan. And if people want to talk that up to the heavens today, I see no real reason to take any issue with that.

  1. danandcasey - Oct 4, 2011 at 9:49 AM

    Sure, if Verlander pitches that way at the end of August, people are wondering if he is wearing down from the long season. But his performance was in October, in Game 3 (the pivotal game of any 5-game series), and he out-pitched the Yankee’s ace. By definition, the outing was “fantastic.”

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Oct 4, 2011 at 12:12 PM

      if Verlander pitches that way at the end of August

      9/24 – Bal – 7IP – 5ER
      9/7 – Cle – 6IP – 4ER
      8/27 – Min – 6IP – 4ER

      Three of the last 6 games he pitched he gave up 4 or more runs. He won all but the last in which he got a no decision.

  2. Chris Fiorentino - Oct 4, 2011 at 9:50 AM

    That’s an awesome article. I’ve never read it, but it goes exactly to my point about WAR. We aren’t GM’s…we are fans. As such, who cares how good someone is above a replacement player at the same position. Remember the beer!!!

    • Craig Calcaterra - Oct 4, 2011 at 9:55 AM

      Generally yes, but there is a nuance there you can’t forget: don’t mix up what you’re doing, because remembering the beer goes both ways.

      If you just are talking about enjoying shit and commenting about it as entertainment and awe, sure, feel free to throw stats out the window. But don’t pretend that your enjoyment and awe counts as objective analysis. Specifically:

      Saying “Carlos Ruiz is my favorite catcher of all time because, Christ, he’s awesome” is totally cool.

      Saying “Carlos Ruiz is the best catcher of all time, and don’t tell me differently with your stats” is to confuse your enjoyment with some objective truth.

      Use stats for their purpose. Use your gut for your own purposes. Don’t mix ‘em up.

      • Francisco (FC) - Oct 4, 2011 at 10:00 AM

        Use your gut for your own purposes.

        For example C.C. uses his gut to pitch great baseball games, never quote him the stats!

      • Chris Fiorentino - Oct 4, 2011 at 10:01 AM

        I agree with what you said, but my point about WAR goes more to those who will tell me that Carlos Ruiz is more valuable to the Phillies than Ryan Howard, because his (b-ref)WAR is 3.0 while Howard’s is 2.7. Well, no, Ruiz is an important part of the Phillies, but he is not as valuable to the Phillies as Ryan Howard is. That’s my major beef with WAR as a fan…who cares that Ruiz is 3.0 wins better than a replacement at catcher. He isn’t nearly as valuable to the Phillies as Ryan Howard’s bat in the middle of the lineup.

        Now…if I were starting a team as the GM of an expansion team…that’s a totally different story.

      • skipperxc - Oct 4, 2011 at 10:20 AM

        That’s exactly what Craig is talking about, Chris. Your judgment about Howard’s bat being more valuable is rooted in…what, exactly? A notion of clutch hitting and home runs? Catcher is a profoundly difficult position to play, so to have a player like Chooch manning it instead of, say, Jorge Posada (to name one) is a distinct advantage. Not very flashy, but every bit as valuable to those who study the game.

        You’re more than allowed to enjoy Howard for the power and the personality, but you simply can’t conflate that with objectivity. Your last line indicates that you understand that notion…I guess I don’t get why you wouldn’t run the Phillies the same way as your fictional expansion team. Unless your explanation truly is, “I like him because he’s awesome, not because I think he’s the best player in the league at the position.” Which is fine! But you have to own up to that.

      • Mark - Oct 4, 2011 at 10:48 AM

        From a purely hitting standpoint, ignoring positions, yes, Howard’s bat is more valuable than Ruiz.

        But Ruiz is more valuable because the difference between him and the typical offensive catcher is greater than the difference in offense between Howard and the typical 1B.

        And I know you really like Howard, but offensively he was only middle of the pack compared to other 1B. Ranks 10th/22 for 1B in OPS – not WAR, OPS.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Oct 4, 2011 at 11:47 AM

        You boys just don’t get it and never will.

  3. yankeesgameday - Oct 4, 2011 at 9:56 AM

    I’ve been on the Verlander wagon all season. From the gutsy as hell performance in 30 degree weather in Yankee stadium on opening day I feared exactly what happened last night and knew it was an inevitability he’d crash into the Yanks in the playoffs.

    Obviously, I am a huge Yankee fan, but there isn’t a pitcher in all baseball I enjoy watching more than Verlander. And even last night I enjoyed it on that sinking self loathing “i just knew this sh*t was going to happen” level that I have been expecting/dreading for the past seven months.

    I’m just glad we don’t have to see him twice if this series goes to five games.

  4. cintiphil - Oct 4, 2011 at 9:58 AM

    Verlander has been much better this past year, but not with so much on the line. CC looked OK, but obviously tired. Whenever you can strike out 11 Yankees, you have done a great job.

    • lukeslice - Oct 4, 2011 at 10:27 AM

      Anybody that actually watches CC consistently will tell you that he looked like absolute dog$hit last night. When all was said and done, yes Verlander IS dazzling to watch…but they both game up 4 earned runs. The difference is that CC looked rough the whole time and managed to ONLY give up 4 ER somehow, while Verlander packed all of his suck into a 5 hitter span (Jeter/Grandy to start the game then Posada/Martin/Gardner in the 7th).

      Glorify him all you want for “how dazzling he was” outside of those batters, but the real heroes of this game were Ramon Santiago, Brandon Inge and Delmon Young. And you have to credit Leyland for putting Santiago and Inge in there in the first place cuz those 2 guys aren’t even everyday starters.

      • cintiphil - Oct 4, 2011 at 10:42 AM

        The other way to see this is: Except for three or four pitches, Verlander was unbeatable. I think the critical mistake was the hit batsman in the 7th.

    • daisycutter1 - Oct 4, 2011 at 10:37 AM

      Beating a dead horse here, it’s a lot easier to strike out batters when you consistently get 6″ or even a foot & more off the plate called a strike.

      That takes nothing away from Verlander, BTW. He’s a terrific pitcher to watch, unless he’s pitching against your team in a big playoff game. What that means is if the ump is calling that a strike for you, you should take advantage of it. Which Verlander certainly did, mixing it in with the rest of his pitches.

      • deathmonkey41 - Oct 4, 2011 at 1:19 PM

        The ump got swept up with the fans cheering. He looked like Frank Drebin in Naked Gun- just waiting to throw out the strike-out pose. I’m not taking away from Verlander’s performance- he took what the ump gave him, but the ump was awful and that generous strike zone in no way bled into the Yankees pitchers. MLB should review this game and discipline the ump for a horrid performance.

  5. celauritz - Oct 4, 2011 at 10:30 AM

    The 5th inning.

    10 pitches
    9 strikes
    3 K all on curveballs (2 looking)

    Possibly the nastiest postseason inning ever.

    • lukeslice - Oct 4, 2011 at 10:35 AM

      I’ll take “outrageously brash comments” for $1000, Alex!

      Those 3 Ks were against Jorge “practically dead” Posada, Russell “.237 regular season average” Martin, and Brett Gardner.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Oct 4, 2011 at 11:50 AM

        Luke, I agree with part 1, but you can’t tell me that Posada(.500) and Gardner(.333) haven’t been the best hitters on the team so far in the ALDS.

      • deathmonkey41 - Oct 4, 2011 at 1:39 PM

        Jorge has gone down looking a lot this season. The first two pitches were fastballs down the middle. He never ever looked like he had any intention of swinging that entire at bat. Why Girardi decided to sit the hot bat of Montero is mind-boggling and might end up biting him in the ass with this anemic offense. I would sit Tex- who has just become an awful, awful, awful hitter and play Posada at first with Montero at DH. Yeah, A-Rod’s not hitting either, but at least he can take a walk. The only thing Tex has been good for the past few months is striking out and popping up to left field.

  6. brianbowman16 - Oct 4, 2011 at 10:43 AM

    As for Verlander: no, his performance was not “great” last night in an objective way. But it was dazzling. And enjoyable as all hell unless you’re a Yankees fan. And if people want to talk that up to the heavens today, I see no real reason to take any issue with that.

    As Tigers fans, some of us will view his performance last night as, well…..ordinary
    I MUCH prefer it when he doesn’t fall in love with that damn fastball and gets himself into trouble.
    I love the 100mph shit, but i enjoy him MUCH more when he actually outsmarts people and cripples them with his offs peed stuff, of which he has 3+ pitches. It seems when he leans on that fastball and tongue kisses it, trying to prove his undying love for it, he gets into trouble (the first inning last and friday night).

    Verlander is a FREAK worthy of legend, but i think he may have just a little bit more growing up to do, the games are WAY to important now to just throw 101 and expect guys not to eventually time it.
    I really hope he goes back and watches the at bats when he made guys look absolutely INFERIOR and notices that most of them came because he molested the strike zone with ALL of his pitches.

    Not complaining, just offering my take as a guy who has watched every game for 5 seasons. I Love my Tigers and i really hope we don’t lose a pivotal game because he time travels to his start in new york a few years ago when he threw 88 percent fastballs and got DESTROYED.

    Love your posts Craig and Chris, keep up the great work fellas

  7. The Science Guy - Oct 4, 2011 at 10:53 AM

    Nice article, Craig. But how about taking it easy on Wily Mo? His kids may read this!

    You’re a great writer. I’m sure you could come up with a more euphemistic way to say someone sucks without actually saying it. How about, “… by every objective measure, Wily Mo Pena is a fairly weak player.” Then again, that may be too generous. I don’t know. Just something to think about..

  8. wondroushippo - Oct 4, 2011 at 11:08 AM

    The problem with “remembering the beer” is that baseball is judged in an objective manner unlike judging aesthetic beauty. The team that scores more runs wins, even if the other team looked better while scoring fewer runs. The facts are the judge, and the facts say that Verlander gave up 4 runs in 8 innings. He just did it in spectacular fashion. If Delmon Young doesn’t hit a homer to take the lead, or if CC Sabathia gives up even one fewer run, then it really doesn’t matter that Verlander was out there throwing 101, now does it?

    • Craig Calcaterra - Oct 4, 2011 at 11:12 AM

      I think the response to that is that we don’t have to “judge” baseball. If we do, great, forget the beer and go for the stats because that makes sense.

      But we can just enjoy baseball as an entertainment. In which case the stats don’t have to concern us (unless that’s how we get the most joy), and we can just remember the beer.

      • skipperxc - Oct 4, 2011 at 2:06 PM

        “Remembering the beer” for me usually comes in the form of Russell Branyan and Micah Owings. No, they’re not very good on the whole, but I love them for the skill set they have and I’ll pay extra attention any time they’re in the game.

  9. 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Oct 4, 2011 at 11:27 AM

    I would use fantastic to describe any pitcher who hits 100 mph on his 115th pitch

    • lukeslice - Oct 4, 2011 at 11:38 AM

      NEWSFLASH…VERLANDER IS FANTASTIC…ESP. THIS YEAR!!!!!

      Seriously is anyone saying Verlander ISN’T fantastic? Not last time I checked…some of us are just bringing the rest of the “glorify him!” narrative back to earth by reminding the rest of you that his ERA was 4.50 last night (and the other 2 starts he had against the Yanks for the record…both of which the Tigers lost even though he didn’t factor into the decision). He’s awesome…he’s dazzling…and though he was last night also, he simply was NOT Cy Young incarnate out there.

  10. seanmk - Oct 4, 2011 at 11:46 AM

    verlander was just pitching to the score, he knew his offense would score him 5 runs, in the future. Btw yesterday you mentioned that the papers were saying Cano failed in the clutch in the ninth, where was the mention of Jeter coming up small as a main headline today? 2 of the fastest players on the team on first and second and captain clutch strikes out swinging to end it.

  11. Chris Ross - Oct 4, 2011 at 12:21 PM

    Justin Verlander was absolutely huge last night. He got in trouble but it didn’t bother him. He kept motoring through even though he was on modified 3 days rest and his pitch count was reaching 120. I was real impressed with him. It’s interesting how we were so excited for two huge pitching matchups and neither of them lived up to the duel that we thought we would see. Both guys had to grind it through and Verlander got the better of it. Funny how it’s all up to Burnett now. Isn’t he due for a stud performance tonight?

    http://chrisross91.wordpress.com/2011/10/04/justin-verlander-the-v-is-for-victory/

  12. purnellmeagrejr - Oct 4, 2011 at 1:23 PM

    After watching Jeter ground seeing eye singloes through the infield (seems like they comprise about 3/4 of his hits this year) I think it’s about time teams started using five infielders when he’s up. Kind of like a shift but for a pull hitter.

  13. dodger88 - Oct 4, 2011 at 1:35 PM

    “we shouldn’t let the objective assessment of the player detract from our enjoyment of him.”

    It is this approach that allows me to still enjoy fallible stats such as batting average, RBI and wins. Watching Kershaw win 21 was great joy even though that in and of itself was not proof of how good he is and the same can be said for Kemp trying to win the triple crown.

  14. foreverchipper10 - Oct 4, 2011 at 2:04 PM

    Verlander’s performance was tops because it helped put the Yanks in a hole :)

  15. jkb0162 - Oct 4, 2011 at 6:42 PM

    As a fan, yes it is okay to enjoy a players perfromance in the moment, but the job of the media is to objectively cover the story, and not get caught up in the hype. The reality is that neither C.C or Verlander were great and that this game belonged to the hitters, but that didn’t fit the narrative of the “great pitchers duel” the media expected it, so they ignored it. To be honest Price vs. Lewis in the Tampa, Texas series was a better pitchers duel but no one watched it because it was on at five in the afternoon.

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