On Tuesday night, Justin Verlander and Lance Lynn will square off in a marquee pitching matching when the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals begin their three-game interleague series. Lynn has been quite a surprise so far this season, and he actually boasts a better ERA than Verlander (2.42 ERA vs. 2.66 ERA) and better team outcomes in his starts (10-2 record vs. 6-4). However, Verlander is the one with the longer track record and better peripheral advanced stats. He is on-pace for another 200-strikeout season and hitter are having a tough time making good contact against him. His .265 BABIP is much lower than the conventional MLB average of .300 for pitchers, but there may be a good reason for that trend.
Several weeks ago, Glenn DuPaul of Beyond the Box Score took a deep look at Verlander's amazing stretch of limiting hitter's batting average on balls in play (BABIP), a trend usually associated with luck more than skill. The story is long and quite involved, but the trends are interesting:
Verlander has improved his ability to suppress home runs, as well as, issue fewer free passes; which has lead to a drop in FIP, but isn't really relevant to his BABIP. Tom Tango showed that high walks and HR-rates usually lead to a lower BABIP, not the other way around. While there isn't evidence that combination of high K's, low BB's and low HR's leads to a high BABIP, there also isn't evidence to prove that it leads to a lower than average BABIP.
Batters have been swinging a good deal more of Verlander's pitches outside of the zone than they were earlier in his career, but have been making more contact on those pitches. Despite the increase in contact Verlander has been able to maintain his strikeout rate.
The good news is that the Cardinals are only hoping to hit well against him for one night.