Gray or Verlander: Who’s got the edge in the re-match?
The last time these two pitchers went head to head in a game one was the 2011 Cy Young Award and 2011 American League MVP and the other was a rookie who had been called up to the big leagues in July. Oh and it was three years ago in the postseason.
The pitching champ was Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tiger. The rookie a kid named Sonny Gray, from the Oakland Athletics. The Tigers had already defeated the Athletics in 2012, taking the ALDS to a full five games.
There was quite a bit of speculation surrounding the A’s pitching rotation. Bartolo Colon started Game 1 for Oakland facing off against Scherzer with the Tigers winning 3-2.
Game 2 was the first of two matchups between Verlander and Gray. In this game the rookie pitched just as well as the veteran. They went toe to toe for seven innings when Verlander, who had allowed four hits, was removed from the game. Gray pitched a full eight innings allowing eight hits.
The A’s took Game 2 by a score of 1-0. Catcher Stephen Vogt became the hero after hitting single down the left field line that allowed Yoenis Cespedes to score the game’s only run. Gray was not the winning pitcher but he and Verlander both received a no-decision.
Jarrod Parker defeated Anibal Sanchez in Game 3. Game 4 was started by Dan Straily for the A’s and Doug Fister for the Tigers, neither got the win however, each team used quite a few pitchers as the game ended 8-6 in favor of Detroit.
Here’s where the speculation about who the A’s would use in Game 5 really began. Would it be Colon or Gray? Ultimately it was the 23-year-old rookie (although it now appears that Oakland should have had more confidence in Colon), who had appeared in just 12 regular season games and started 10 of them, that was chosen. Over that short span of three months that Gray was with the big league club he’d already kept his ERA at 2.67 on the year. He’s confident and they went with him.
Verlander had an ERA of 3.46 over the regular season, which of course was a bit more difficult given he started 34 games that year. Even though Verlander seemed to be regressing slowly from 2011 and 2012, he still held the A’s hitless through seven-innings, until Cespedes got a hit in the seventh and shut them out for the second year in a row in Game 5 of the ALDS.
Gray pitched well in Game 5 but was completely overshadowed by Verlander. Verlander went the distance while Gray pitched just 5.0 innings, allowing three runs on six hits and four walks. It wasn’t a terrible outing but it wasn’t close to Verlander’s two-hit, ten strikeout masterpiece.
The two pitchers have not faced each other since that night in Oakland but they will Wednesday night at Comerica Park in Detroit. In the past two seasons since those intense postseason match ups, both pitchers have changed quite a bit.
Verlander is now a 12-year veteran of Major League Baseball, but keep in mind he was AL Rookie of the Year in 2006, has won a AL Cy Young, an AL MVP award and is a six-time all-star.
Still, in the past two seasons, plus three weeks of 2016, it appears that Verlander has started to decline. There have been no all-star appearances and his ERA over that span is 4.19.
His strikeout numbers have also dropped dramatically in the past couple of seasons. He led the league in strikeouts in 2009, 2011 and 2012. Consistently, Verlander would strike out more batters than the number of innings he pitched. That isn’t happening so much anymore. His number of strikeouts per nine innings has fallen from 10.1 in 2009 to just 7.4 over the past two seasons.
Verlander showed some resilience in 2015 posting an ERA under four but only made 20 starts for the Tigers after fighting a triceps injury for the first few months of the season. Verlander is getting older but shouldn’t be considered ancient at the age of 33.
It appears that it’s possible that Verlander could be on the decline but there is still a chance that he could reinvent himself to fool hitters once again. Yet, that reinvention, if it were to happen, certainly won’t happen by Wednesday night when he faces Gray who is six years his junior.
The now 26-year-old Gray hasn’t won an AL Cy Young – yet – but he made his first all-star appearance last season, led the league with two complete games, was the one bright spot on a terrible A’s team and still managed to finish third in the AL Cy Young Award voting. It was just his second full season in the big leagues.
Finishing so highly in the voting at such an early point in his career suggests that one day he will win the award. Thus far, Gray has been the picture of consistency. His numbers have remained the quite similar over his two-full and two-partial seasons in almost every statistical category.
He isn’t, nor has he ever been, the kind of strikeout pitcher that Verlander was just a few years ago. Gray is more of ground ball type-pitcher.
Verlander’s four-seam fastball tends to get hitters to swing and miss more often than most other pitchers’ fastballs. His other go-to strikeout pitches are his curve ball that has a sharp downward “bite” and his change up which also usually results in more swings and misses than most pitchers’ change ups due to an extreme “arm-side fade.” Only Verlander’s slider really produces ground ball outs.
Gray’s four-seam fastball sits at around 93 MPH and tends to generate mostly ground ball outs. Gray’s change up is quite similar as it is thrown very hard for a breaking pitch. It sits around 89 MPH and tends to get the same result as his fastball. Gray has a full arsenal that includes not just his fastball and change up. He has his curve ball as his main swing and miss pitch along with his slider and even a newer cutter that he throws very rarely.
Gray’s ERA currently at 2.73 and he’s never had an ERA above 3.08 making his career ERA below the 3.00 mark. Verlander’s ERA so far this season? 5.79.
It appears as though this time around Gray might be the pitcher with the advantage, having held up so well pitching against Verlander in the playoffs as a rookie, combined with Verlander’s ever growing ERA and age factor.
The age factor worked in Verlander’s advantage the first time around but this time it’s Gray’s advantage. The real difference between the 2013 ALDS is that Gray is on a more even playing field this time around, is more experience and has even more confidence. He’s been solid so far this year while Verlander’s been a bit shaky.
All that said, this is baseball and anything can happen on any given day. Verlander or Gray could completely implode or toss a no-hitter. What can be banked on is that this re-match should be an exciting one especially since it has been three years in the making.
The last time Oakland’s Sonny Gray and Detroit’s Justin Verlander went head-to-head in a game, one was the 2011 American League Cy Young Award-winner and MVP and the other was a rookie who had been called up to the big leagues in July. It was also three years ago in the postseason.
My, how things have changed since then.
It appears as though this time around, Gray is the pitcher with the advantage, having held up so well pitching against Verlander in the playoffs as a rookie, combined with Verlander’s ever-growing ERA and age factor.
The age factor worked to Verlander’s advantage the first time around; it won’t now.
In 2013, we saw one of the league’s most prolific pitchers face off against one whose best days were ahead of him. Wednesday night, we’ll see one of the league’s most prolific pitchers face off against one whose best days may be behind him.
What a difference a year makes.