In 2011, Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander went 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA, and he was rewarded with the AL Cy Young award as well as the AL MVP award. Right now he only looks like a shadow of the pitcher he was back then.
The most striking difference between the old Verlander and the new Verlander is the drop in velocity and the lower strikeout rate. Although he could be counted on for about a strikeout per inning pitched from 2009-13, Verlander only has 50 strikeouts in 71.1 innings pitched thus far in 2014. He is now averaging just 6.3 strikeouts per nine innings, which is down from the 8.9 he averaged last season in what was widely considered to be a “down year” for him. His all-time best K/9 rate is 10.1, which came back in 2009 and led the league as did his 269 strikeouts.
Some are beginning to wonder if we are merely witnessing the beginning of a “post-30 downfall” for Verlander. Some are asking, “If this is Verlander at 31, what can we expect from him when he is 36 and still under contract?” Despite these reasonable concerns, it is not time to hit the panic button quite yet.
Although he was striking out fewer batters than fans are used to, Verlander was actually very good in March/April of this season, going 3-1 with a 2.48 ERA and an adequate WHIP of 1.35. The wheels have simply fallen off in May, as he has gone 2-3 with a 6.03 ERA and a 1.72 WHIP.
He has also given up 16 earned runs over 17.1 innings pitched in his last three starts. His record on the season now stands at 5-4 with a 4.04 ERA, and his WHIP now sits at a bloated 1.51.
Verlander, in the eyes of many, has now lost the title of the Tigers’ ace to Max Scherzer, who is currently 6-1 with a 3.00 ERA although he has been knocked around a bit in his last couple outings as well. Anibal Sanchez, as a matter of fact, has likely been the Tigers’ best pitcher over the past few weeks.
Many believe that Verlander is simply adjusting to becoming a different type of pitcher now that the 100 mph fastball has all but abandoned him, and there has been a bit of a learning curve for the six-time All-Star. Verlander is a fierce competitor, though, and one can expect him to work through it and not give up.
Tonight, he will be making his final start in the month of May against the Seattle Mariners, and he will have his work cut out for him as he will be going head-to-head with Hisashi Iwakuma. Runs may be at a premium for the Tigers’ offense, so Verlander is going to have to be on top of his game. If he can manage to throw a decent game tonight and pick up the win, it could boost his confidence and set the stage for a much smoother month of June for him, which will hopefully be more akin to his April than his May.