The original plan was to focus on fantasy content early in this off-season, but like most of you, I’ve been enveloped in this year’s World Series. It’s exhilarating, thrilling, unpredictable, every hyperbole you want. I’ve been helping out the inimitable Jonah Keri over at CBS Sports as he writes his takes on each game and he gave me the green light to feature what I prepared for him last night on Pitcher List today.
I wanted to talk about what happened to Justin Verlander in what seemed like yet another of his marvelous workhorse outings where he puts Houston on his back and carries them to the end. But something happened. Mike Petriello summed it up in a fun way:
Every pitcher is “dealing,” right up until the second they aren’t.
— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) July 31, 2016
But was Verlander dealing? How good was he in this start and was his bad really that bad? Let’s tackle these questions that as I break down the best and worst pitches Justin Verlander threw in Game 6 of the World Series.
We’re going to start with Good since he there is plenty more of it and he was never all that bad until the last frame he pitched. I do want to make one thing clear. These aren’t necessarily the nastiest pitches he though – this Slider to Corey Seager would be on here if it were – but the most important. The biggest pitches. The ones that he needed to execute and did with flying colors. Let’s get to it.
1. 2nd Inning – Curveball to Joc Pederson
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Let’s start with a superb display of Verlander’s confidence in the early innings. It may look like your standard gorgeous 12-6 hook, but what you’re missing is the pitch prior – an 86mph slider that starts in the same location and was hammered foul down the line. Many pitchers would see that result and elect to go fastball away and avoid anything closely resembling a breaking ball inside. But Verlander is no mere mortal and nailed it. You can even see Pederson getting locked up as he expected something harder in the same spot, with his resignation moments later.
2. 4th Inning – Slider inside to Corey Seager
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What’s remarkable about this pitch is it was the first non-Fastball Seager saw in the whole at-bat and he fell perfectly for the trap. The 1-2 pitch prior was a heater that landed just a hair inside and at Seager’s belt. This Slider starts in nearly the same exact location, looking as if Verlander was trying to nail the spot he missed the pitch before. Seager took the bait, can’t adjust properly to the break, and Verlander has himself a much deserved out.
3. 4th Inning – Slider to Justin Turner
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There are two pitches that set this one up beautifully. The first was a 97mph Fastball for strike two that was fouled off about thigh high and off the plate. With that in mind, Verlander elected to throw a 91mph Slider (with tight break akin to a Cutter) off the plate that started in the same spot as the previous Fastball but fell well away from the zone. Turner was able to resist swinging at this pitch, albeit by a very slim margin. Now Verlander has him. Turner thinks he’s going to return back to the Fastball – it’s the common philosophy to alternate between different pitches – and spot the outside corner. Verlander goes one step further and throws the hard Slider again, this time ramping it up to 92mph, and with Turner thinking it’s a Fastball, he has no chance as he swings over the pitch. Filthy.
4. 4th Inning – Three Fastballs to Cody Bellinger
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Here’s a fun one. Check out how Verlander inched closer into Bellinger on three consecutive Fastballs, throwing off his sense of the strikezone to ultimately jam Bellinger with a pitch he doesn’t know if he should have swung at. It’s as if he was testing Bellinger on each one, eventually seeing if he would continue to offer just a little further inside. I cheated a bit here featuring more than one pitch, but the allure of the three pitch progression was too good to pass up.
5. 5th Inning – Fastball to Yasiel Puig
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This pitch followed the Astros leaving the bases loaded and failing to get a big hit to open up the game in their favor. Feeling a little deflated after squandering such an opportunity, nothing would be better than a quick inning to give them another chance to batter the Dodgers’ bullpen. That’s exactly what Verlander gave them right out of the gate in the bottom of the fourth by making a perfect 0-0 pitch to Yasiel Puig on the down-and-outside corner, earning a quick first out. This set the tone of the frame and got the Astros right back on track.
6. 5th Inning – Slider + Fastball to Logan Forsythe
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This might be my favorite sequence of the game. At 2-2, Verlander dropped a beautiful Slider that rides the outside edge for about 90% of the pitch’s path before falling just below the strike zone. This pitch strikes out a hefty majority of batters, but Forsythe read it all the way to glove and had the discipline to lay off. Many pitchers would be frustrated and possibly on tilt for the 3-2 pitch, but not Verlander. He painted the next pitch right on the outside corner at a blistering 96mph as a way to say “If you’re not going to chase, just try to hit this.” And Forsythe was blown away for the inning-ending strikeout. It was dominance in its purest form.
7. 6th Inning – Slider to Chris Taylor
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Here’s an odd one in the bunch. Verlander’s sixth inning was terrible – we’ll talk about that in just a moment – but with runners on first-and-second and a 1-1 count to Taylor, there was still hope to escape unscathed. This brilliant 90mph Slider was the step in the right direction that could have turned Verlander around. The end result wasn’t in his favor, but executing such an excellent pitch to get to 1-2 may have returned a different outcome and he needed to execute this 1-1 pitch to give him that chance.
Now we have the bad, the fuel for regret, the “how did this happen” pitches. They all came in the sixth inning where Verlander struggled through each at-bat, leaving us to watch helplessly as his grip on the Astros’ lead slipped away.
8. 6th Inning – Fastball Austin Barnes
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This was a horrendous inning for Verlander and it wasn’t one where things simply didn’t go his way or his only made a few mistake pitches. There were plenty of wasted offerings in the frame and it started with Barnes. In fact, this heater down the middle that Barnes slapped for a single was the third bad pitch of the inning as the pitches leading to the 2-0 were easy takes on Fastballs that didn’t hint at the zone. It was looking bad from the start.
9. 6th Inning – Changeup To Chase Utley
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I’m not sure if this was a hard slider or a changeup (it’s labeled as a Changeup, but I’m leaning that it was actually a Slider), but either way, it was terrible. After a trio of poorly thrown pitches to Barnes, Verlander followed that up with a wasted Slider in the dirt, a Fastball right in Utley’s wheelhouse that he missed, an inside hard Slider that didn’t break and was crushed foul, then this atrocity that will fuel Verlander’s nightmares. Two batters in and Verlander hasn’t made one good pitch yet.
10. 6th Inning – Fastball to Chris Taylor
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The pitch prior to this one was excellent – the 90mph hard Slider at #7 – and there was hope that Verlander was going to get out of this one with a few more well-spotted pitches. That was erased as this Fastball tailed way too far over the plate, allowing Taylor to punch it to right for an RBI double. Prime Verlander places this pitch right on the outside corner (see Forsythe at #6!) and this was nothing like it.
11. 6th Inning – Slider to Corey Seager
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The first pitch Fastball soared high. Second missed in, tailing middle-away and Seager swung through it. Phew. The 1-1 pitch nicely tailed back to the inside corner to get the 1-2. He replicated it but Seager fouled it off. We’re actually back to the same sequence as we saw in the fourth, where Verlander fed Seager all Fastballs until 2-2, where he spotted a Slider down-and-in to put him away. Here’s the Slider again and…Verlander misses it without as much break. Fortunately, Seager expected that extra break and got under it just enough to keep it in the yard (Brian McCann didn’t think it would), but it still gets the run in from third and Verlander’s beautiful lead is gone, just like that.
There you have it. We don’t so often see a pitcher go from carving up a lineup to falling apart so quickly, but it’s exactly what Verlander did last night in one of the biggest games of his career.
I wonder if we’ll see it again in Game 7 tonight.