Reporting Jeff Riger
By: Jeff Riger
By now I’m sure you are sick of reading and thinking about Jose Valverde and how he blew yet another save Wednesday in Kansas City as the Tigers lost 3-2 in 10 innings.
Let me give you something else to read about, I promise it won’t take long!
Justin Verlander is not the same Justin Verlander anymore — even after his brilliant 7 inning, 3 hit scoreless performance against the Royals.
Before Verlander’s last start I asked Jim Leyland if Verlander was back to being Verlander. Leyland’s response was that “everybody is spoiled” and when I tried to follow up he simply repeated himself.
Verlander had a three game hiccup this season where he struggled to get out of the 5th inning and all those “spoiled” Tiger fans collectively freaked out. People offered many reasons why Verlander was not the same. I heard that the new fat contract ruined him. I heard that his new “superstar” persona ruined him.
And, my favorite: I heard that Kate Upton ruined him.
Well, I guess we all freaked out too soon?
Since the struggles Verlander has won four of his last five games and if it wasn’t for the Valverde blow up on Wednesday it would have been five for five. The last four games, Verlander has gone 7 innings in each and has given up a combined nine runs in 28 innings. He’s been good but not great. There seems to be something missing! He might be back to being Verlander but he is not “vintage” Verlander. And, maybe that is what Leyland is talking about?
Verlander doesn’t throw 100 mph anymore!
I’m not trying to bash the Tigers ace and I’m not even trying to nitpick. I just simply wonder where the heat has gone. On Wednesday against the Royals Verlander threw 117 pitches with most of his fastballs being from 92 to 95 mph which anybody should be happy with. However when you are used to watching Verlander reach back for those 98 to 101 mph fastballs to retire a hitter late in the game then you miss what used to be. In the 6th inning yesterday, Verlander reared back and threw a 97 mph heater to strike out Billy Butler but that is as fast as he threw the entire game. Now I know what you are thinking! Verlander was so dominant all game long that there was no reason to reach 98 and higher, and I might agree if it hasn’t been an ongoing issue.
Verlander has not hit triple digits the entire season.
It was that late inning ability to overpower that separated Verlander from the rest. Without it he is still very good, but is he great? I keep waiting for it to come back, but it hasn’t yet.
He also is not going as deep into games either.
JV has pitched past seven innings once this season; it was a seven and a third performance against the Yankees in his second start of the year. In his 14 outings in 2013 Verlander has completed seven innings, nine times which is pretty good but in 2012 Verlander went eight or more innings in seven of his first 14 outings. That’s a big difference when you are talking about going a full extra inning or two.
Remember those times you thought Verlander would throw a no-hitter or at least get a complete game every time out? Yeah, he hasn’t given fans that feeling all year long. Even in the “no hit” bid against Houston, JV only lasted 7 innings.
Either teams have adjusted to Verlander and learned how to work him harder or he is just not as dominant as he was.
Verlander is not throwing as many pitches!
It’s no secret that Jim Leyland keeps a close eye on his pitchers and their pitch counts. Leyland has gone on record many times saying that he refuses to put a guy’s career in jeopardy just for the here and now and he continues to manage that way. However Verlander has been allowed to throw more pitches in previous seasons. In 2012 Verlander threw 115 pitches or more in 18 of his 33 starts. 10 of those times he was able to pitch at least until the 8th inning. This season Verlander has thrown 115 or more pitches 3 times in his 14 starts and all of those times he reached the 7th inning.
A cause for Verlander not being as dominant could be the number of innings he has complied over his career. He has thrown at least 200 innings a season over the last six years and that’s not including playoffs. I should also mention that a lot of those innings have been stressful ones as the Tigers ace was pitching in games to get to the postseason or in the playoffs.
I don’t pretend to know the reasons why Verlander isn’t truly Verlander anymore — and maybe this entire blog is unfair.
The only thing I do know is that Verlander is often referred to as the greatest pitcher in the game, and right now he is not even the greatest pitcher on Detroit’s staff.
To be fair, Verlander is not down in every category. He’s striking out more batters than he ever has registering 10.45 a game. That’s good for top five in the league. But that is where it ends. I spent a lot of time looking at expanded pitching stats for Verlander and he seems to be down in everything else.
People have speculated that Verlander’s lack of pitches, innings and velocity is an organizational plan to keep him healthy and fresh for late in the season — and I could buy that if those aspects weren’t such a big part of who he is and why he’s so good.
Detroit’s ace makes a ton of money and with that money comes a ton of expectations, something that Verlander claims to be comfortable with, along with the criticism that comes with it.
Justin Verlander can’t throw 100 anymore! Am I being too critical, or do you miss it too?
OK now go back to ripping on Jose Valverde!