Justin Verlander May Be Hurting, But Is He Injured?

Over the All Star break, Miguel Cabrera admitted he wasn’t feeling great. He also mentioned his teammate while he complained of aches and pains to Jorge Ortiz:

“There are times when I feel good, but there are always muscles that are tightening, muscles that are not functioning properly,” Cabrera said in Spanish. “It’s part of the process. The same thing is happening to Justin Verlander, but the difference is he pitches every five days, so you don’t see it as frequently.”

The line between the little everyday joys of growing older and actually being injured may be fine. As the famous line from The Program goes, “If you’re hurt, you can still play. If you’re injured you can’t.”

So is Justin Verlander hurt, or is he injured?

The fact that he’s pitching every day suggests he’s just hurt, but let’s take a look at him through the lens of current tools. The first that comes to mind is Josh Kalk’s Injury Zone, which was reprised by Jeff Zimmerman on this site. Zimmerman’s BaseballHeatMaps has a tool that shows you how the pitcher is doing in the three main components of Kalk’s injury zone, which attempted to predict injury through PITCHf/x numbers: velocity, late-game release point inconsistency, and ability to hit the strike zone.

Justin Verlander does not look good in the Injury Zone finder.

We know what his velocity has looked like this year, but recently, it’s taken a turn for the worse. He’s still got a freakish ability to never dip below 91 mph, but as Jeff Sullivan showed earlier in the season, his portion of pitches over 95 mph is tanking.


If you zoom in harder, you see that there was a bump in velocity in May, but that Verlander has lost those gains more recently. This is from the Injury Factor finder on BaseballHeatMaps.


When it comes to zone percentage, Verlander doesn’t look great. By PITCHf/x, his current 49% zone percentage is the lowest of his career. And when you look at just this season alone, he’s hit a couple lows in the last month and a half:


By itself, this wouldn’t be enough. Of the forty worst games Verlander’s thrown by zone%, only four have come this year. And his worst year by this stat (12 games with a <40% zone number in 2011) was a pretty decent year. He missed two days due to food poisoning that year.

And so we should check on his release points. They are inconsistent, particularly late in the game, particularly recently:

verlanderlategame release

Take a look at his release points just over the last ten games. The cluster changes shape and moves around fairly drastically from game to game.


So the injury zone finder is giving us results that suggest that Justin Verlander might be more injured than just hurt. In terms of in-season injury prediction, the markers are there. But these markers are usually used when we don’t have any comments on injury. In this case, we have Miguel Cabrera telling us that Verlander has some aches and pains.

And really, in the end, this analysis can’t tell us the severity of the problem. We can say, yes, it looks like Justin Verlander isn’t right. His delivery, velocity, and command are flagging in a way that looks like an injured pitcher. His teammates have mentioned his health. But we can’t know if it’s just a bothersome core due to his offseason surgery, or something worse.

Justin Verlander seems to be hurting. We might not know for sure if he’s injured until the news comes down the pipe.

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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9 years ago

I dunno, maybe that loss of “zip” is all about Kate Upton.

Just sayin……

9 years ago
Reply to  DanBC

I find it both admirable and amazing that he has energy left the pitch. I know I wouldn’t.

9 years ago
Reply to  DanBC

Let’s see, already rich, smokin hot girlfriend, pitching may not be in his top ten most important things these days. We all know pitching is at least third.