Last night, Justin Verlander was a strike-throwing machine. Over eight innings, the right hander threw 96 strikes, or nearly 73% of his career-high tying 132 pitches. That not only represented the most strikes ever recorded by the Tigers’ ace in one game, but it was also the highest total by any pitcher since Brandon Morrow registered 97 against the Rays on August 8, 2010 as well as the third most ever thrown against the Yankees.
At the risk of making whine from sour grapes, Verlander’s impressive display of strike throwing was aided somewhat by home plate umpire Tony Randazzo. According to PitchFX strike zone data, the right hander was the beneficiary of 11 favorable calls, almost all coming on outside pitches to left handed hitters. With such a wide strike zone, it’s reasonable to think Yankees’ batters were forced to swing at pitches they would otherwise take. Although it’s unfair to assume every pitch out of the zone would have been taken for a ball, almost 30 pitches (11 called, seven swings, six fouls, and five in-play) off the plate wound up being recorded as strikes, or nearly one-third of Verlander’s total.
In fairness to Verlander, the fire-baller certainly had swing-and-miss stuff last night. The Yankees came up empty on almost 14% of his pitches, which was five percentage points higher than the team’s 8.6% whiff rate for the entire season. An anecdotal illustration of Verlander’s dominance was provided by Ichiro Suzuki, who struck out three times and had three swings and misses (including one foul-tip third strike) in his four at bats. In his previous 12 games with the Yankees, Ichiro hadn’t struck out and had whiffed on only four pitches.
Not surprisingly, Verlander ranks fourth among qualified starters in the American League with an 11.3% whiff rate, so even if he did get some help from Randazzo, his performance was pretty much par for the course. In fact, whenever the Tigers and Yankees get together you can expect a lot of cool breezes. The two teams currently rank first and third, respectively, in pitcher whiff rates, so if the umpires continue to be as generous, there could be a parade of batters forlornly walking back to the dugout during the rest of the series.
Note: Swinging and miss rates are relative to all pitches, not just strikes.