Thanks to being in the top-six in runs, on-base percentage and batting average (which they lead the league in with a .291 team batting average), the Tigers are 9-5.
Another reason why the Tigers are off to this division-leading start is due to excellent starting pitching. The Tigers have gotten eight quality starts in their first 14 games, tied for eighth in the league. Their starting pitchers are a combined 8-2 with a 2.70 ERA, good for fourth in the league, and a WHIP of 1.12, good for fifth in the league.
From those numbers, it should be no surprise that Justin Verlander is off to a good start. Despite his peripheral numbers being up to par with past seasons, a look deeper into his numbers show that he is not quite the lights-out pitcher that he was two seasons ago when he won a Cy Young Award.
In his MVP and Cy Young Award winning season in 2011, his fastball averaged 95 mph. This season thus far, his fastball has averaged 93 mph. While 93 is still extremely hard, those two miles per hour can make all the difference.
Another issue with Verlander this season is his inability to locate his fastball. In each of the past two seasons, his walk rate on fastballs have been below 10 percent. This season, his walk rate has climbed to 23.1 percent on fastballs. Without an ability to set-up his off-speed pitches, Verlander has found himself getting bounced out of games more quickly due to higher pitch counts.
Verlander has also changed his pitch selection this season. From 2009 up until this year, Verlander’s second most frequently used pitch was his curveball. Verlander’s curveball has been devastating in the past, striking out batters 49.5 percent of the time in 2011.
This year, in his first three games, his most commonly used pitch has not been his fastball nor his curveball, but rather his changeup. While his changeup is a plus-pitch by any definition of the phrase, he has never been this reliant on the pitch in the past. According to pitch f/x, an astounding 47.2 percent of his pitches are changeups while only 11.8 percent of his pitches are curveballs.
For a point of comparison, in 2011, 18.6 percent of his pitches were curveballs while 18.4 percent of his pitches were changeups.
If Verlander can start to throw more curveballs again and locate his fastball better, we will see him get past the sixth inning far more frequently and reduce the stress on the Tigers shaky bullpen.