It’s an increasing rarity to get marquee pitching matchups in MLB, but baseball fans are getting treated to their second one in four days as the Astros put Justin Verlander on the bump against Dylan Cease and the White Sox.
Jacob deGrom vs. Aaron Nola didn’t disappoint Saturday, as the Mets won 1-0 in a game that saw deGrom go six scoreless innings while Nola gave up one run in eight innings pitched. Verlander and Cease should similarly see runs at a premium, as the Astros try to build on their 2.5 game lead in the American League and the White Sox struggle to catch up to the Guardians.
Both players have been nothing short of incredible since July. Astros manager Dusty Baker gave a bit of a promo for the game.
“I’m going to have to be careful and make sure I don’t spectate…” Baker said, per ESPN. “…because if I was at home, I’d get me a bowl of popcorn and some beer and the only time I would leave is if there was a commercial or in between innings. That’s a classic good one.”
Indeed, Verlander is currently the favorite to win his third Cy Young Award and his second since joining the Astros at -238 odds, per Sports Interaction. Cease has the second-shortest odds at +142, thanks in large part to his success recently.
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Verlander leads MLB with a 1.85 ERA whereas Cease is third (second in the AL) at 1.96, they’re both top-five in batting average against, and they’re both doing it with circa 80 percent of their pitches being fastballs and sliders.
Where they break apart is stylistically. Where Cease is a boom-or-bust strikeout pitcher who is going to walk players throughout the game, Verlander fills up the strike zone with masterful control and doesn’t get a ton of whiffs. He rarely if ever misses over the plate, and that translates to his outstanding walk rate.
Cease, meanwhile, keeps his mid-90s fastball high and hard-to-reach, which mixed with his slider — which has a lot of downward action — is a brutal pitch to hit. His slider generates swings and misses just under 50 percent of the time.
The numbers bear out. Where Verlander performs better in walks, he doesn’t strike out as many players as Cease does. Part of Verlander’s stat line comes from the utterly outstanding Astros defense, which has 25 outs above average, best in MLB. Cease, meanwhile, is pitching in front of baseball’s 25th-best defense in OAA, with the White Sox sitting 15 outs below average.
Both pitchers have a somewhat similar FIP as well, with Cease grading out a bit better at 2.75 to Verlander 2.91.
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While Cease has less of a career to compare his season to, Verlander’s numbers are in some ways better than his MVP season with the Tigers in 2011. The difference, of course, is that MVP means something different in the context of the 2022 Astros than it did to the 2011 Tigers in a season where Verlander netted a ridiculous 24 wins.
One of the more intriguing streaks in baseball is Cease’s 14 straight starts with one or fewer runs allowed. Somewhat maddeningly, he is 8-3 in that span, one of the more compelling arguments against trusting record.
Verlander, at 39 years old, has gone six-plus innings in his last eight starts and the Astros have posted 7-1 record in those games.
With the two riding hot streaks into this matchup, it will be interesting to see who wins out.
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As far as run support goes, both players are somewhat similar, but the Astros have given Verlander a hair less support than Cease has received from the White Sox over the course of the season.
Where Cease has gotten 4.74 runs per game from the White Sox, Verlander has had 4.43 from Houston.
Verlander is also pitching on his traditional five days of rest while Cease is pitching with his standard four.
The biggest difference in this game, however, will likely be Cease vs. the Astros long ball. The Astros are third in MLB with 159 home runs on the season, and Cease is within the top 10 in MLB with 0.7 home runs allowed per nine. Whoever plays to their tendency Tuesday could well come out on top.