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Deep Thought: Justin Verlander: playoff relief ace

Aug 1, 2014, 9:24 AM EDT

justin verlander getty Getty Images

The Tigers rotation at the moment, along with current ERAs, looks like this:

Max Scherzer: 3.27
David Price: 3.11
Rick Porcello: 3.24
Anibal Sanchez: 3.57
Justin Verlander: 4.79

Obviously there are other, better stats than ERA, but I’m pretty sure none of them which truly matter say that, this season, Justin Verlander is ahead of any of the others. He’s clearly the fifth best guy going at the moment.

Verlander’s problems have tended to pop up by around the fourth or fifth inning too. He’s got a 3.14 ERA in innings 1-3 (and that’s inflated by a couple of awful first innings) and an ERA of 5.91 in innings 4-6. He just seems to hit a wall. Or at least they’re figuring him out the second and third time through the lineup.

So, if you are the fifth best starter in an age when teams use four-man rotations in the playoffs and you tend to do way better early in your outings than later, doesn’t it make sense for your manager to turn you into a relief pitcher come playoff time?

Not a one-inning closer — the Tigers have one of those — but a Goose Gossage-style relief ace. A guy who can come in and get you out of a jam with a strikeout, but hang around for a couple of innings too. A Randy Johnson/Curt Schilling in 2001 type of deal. Or a Tim Lincecum in 2012 type of deal.

No, it’s not perfect. Verlander’s strikeout rate is way down this year, so maybe he’s NOT the guy to come in and get a K in a key situation. And he’s making about eleventy-gabillion dollars to be a starting pitcher these days, so it could cause some discomfort among some.

But the Tigers pen is a perpetual work in progress and the idea is to win a World Series, right?

UPDATE: Since posting this I have learned that many people had this idea yesterday on Twitter, including Wendy Thurm and David Schoenfield. I didn’t see that as I was literally unable to keep up with Twitter as the trade deadline was hitting yesterday, but a belated shout-out to those guys and others who have similar thoughts.

  1. proudlycanadian - Aug 1, 2014 at 9:29 AM

    That is a very good rotation; however, looking at the era’s, it is obvious that along with the excellent games, those guys do have off days and playoff wins are not guaranteed.

    • jfk69 - Aug 2, 2014 at 10:14 AM

      Cal Two words on All Star starters doing relief work in the playoffs. Considering the stacked rotations we are looking at.

  2. dsaverno - Aug 1, 2014 at 9:33 AM

    At the end of last season, Justin Masterson, after a stint on the DL (have fun, Cardinal fans) threw a few games in relief, and pitched out of the pen in the wild card game. He was nearly unhittable, with SSS caveats applying, and both velocity and movement were better than they were while starting. I always wondered why good-stuff 4th or 5th starting pitchers aren’t moved to the bullpen for short playoff series.

    But the Tigers probably won’t do that with Verlander; in fact, he’s probably going to start game 3 no matter what (or two, if the Ausmus’ed one considers tenure more than performance).

    • quintjs - Aug 1, 2014 at 9:51 AM

      I will add in Doubront for the Red Sox in the playoffs – in quite a few games the starters got into trouble and Doubront came in a threw a couple of scoreless which got the Sox into the back end bullpen and the win.

      It isn’t a bad idea because no matter how good your starting rotation is this is payoff baseball and the opponents will get to at least one of your starters so having a good backup plan isn’t a bad idea. Agree it won’t be Verlander but the tigers are in good position as they have Porcello to do just that.

  3. Detroit Michael - Aug 1, 2014 at 9:38 AM

    I’m not saying it is right, but Porcello is used to being bumped into the bullpen during the post-season and his paycheck is a lot smaller than Verlander’s is, so I’d guess that Ausmus will go that route at least in the first round.

    Of course, this assumes that the Tigers win their division, recognizing that’s far from certain with two months to go.

    • lukedunphysscienceproject - Aug 1, 2014 at 10:49 AM

      I often wonder why teams don’t just pay the clubhouse attendant a few thousand extra and tell them to fill out the lineup cards. I mean seriously, any manager who put three seconds of original thought into it would put Verlander in the pen. But you’re right, completely absent of logic, Verlander will start in the playoffs because he makes more money and Ausmus will make the easy decision so that he won’t be second guessed later.

      With a few exceptions, would anyone argue that MLB manager is the most over rated job in professional sports?

  4. icanspeel - Aug 1, 2014 at 9:40 AM

    Would be the highest paid reliever ever

    • dsaverno - Aug 1, 2014 at 10:16 AM

      Don’t tell the Phillies that or they may give Papelbon a $7 million raise, just cuz.

    • sandpiperair - Aug 1, 2014 at 10:20 AM

      Couldn’t you say that about Tim Lincecum from the Giants’ last WS run?

  5. rbj1 - Aug 1, 2014 at 10:41 AM

    Do you want you highest paid starter to be the #1 starter in the playoffs, or do you want a WS ring, egos be damned.

    • ashot - Aug 1, 2014 at 11:38 AM

      Verlander’s contract is a sunk cost so that’s a terrible excuse for refusing to use him as a relief pitcher. The Tiger’s used Max as a relief pitcher against he A’s last year on one occasion so they aren’t completely opposed to thinking out of the box. Obviously Verlander is going to be given every opportunity to be a starter during the regular season, but I think they’d be willing to put him in the pen if he doesn’t show signs of improvement.

  6. bgrillz - Aug 1, 2014 at 12:12 PM

    Giants did it with Lincecum, and they won a World Series. They don’t get out of Cincy, then St. Louis without his huge relief appearances.

  7. thatguytml92 - Aug 1, 2014 at 12:24 PM

    You’re insane to think that Verlander is pitching out of the bullpen come playoff time over porcello. Verlander shows up playoff time that’s all that matters for these tigers.

    • twinfan24 - Aug 1, 2014 at 5:44 PM

      Maybe the Verlander of old showed up, but you can’t guarantee this old Verlander will.

  8. edelmanfanclub - Aug 1, 2014 at 1:30 PM

    Verlander has not put up a respectable month since april. He is the arm that should go to the pen if needed. I don’t wanna book A’s Tigers in ALCS, because one is bound to flounder either in the ALDS or September…

  9. timmmah10 - Aug 1, 2014 at 1:37 PM

    Verlander would be great out of the pen, but we all know it won’t happen.

    Anibal can’t get passed the 6th without imploding, he’s an option for the pen as well.

    Ricky P has earned a spot in the rotation, but my fear is he will get bumped to the pen. $$ always plays a strong role.

    I’d put Verlander out there though, He might throw 95 out of the pen, instead of the 91-93 in his starts. He also doesn’t have to throw as many pitch types out of the pen, sticking with his slider, change and fastball mostly since he’s seemed to lose touch of his curve.

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