In light of Justin Verlander’s struggles I am going to skip my normal opening paragraph designed to introduce the topic at hand and just plain pose the question – What is going on with the Tigers ace?
Last year, he went 18-6 with a 3.99 FIP, a WHIP of 1.23, and 183 strikeouts in 201.2 innings. This year, his WHIP currently sits at 1.46; his FIP has jumped to 5.37; and he has already matched his total losses from last year at six. Here are his stats in a form easier to compare:
2007: 18-6, 201.2 IP, 181 H, 82 ER, 67 BB, 183 K
2008: 1-6, 49.0 IP, 51 H, 35 ER, 21 BB, 30 K
2007: 3.66 ERA, 3.99 FIP, 1.23 WHIP
2008: 6.43 ERA, 5.37 FIP, 1.46 WHIP
In eight starts Verlander has allowed less than 4 earned runs just once! His BABIP against has not changed much, going from .294 last year to .289 to date. Does this match what we would expect?
2007: 19.1 LD%, .311 xBABIP, .294 BABIP
2008: 13.4 LD%, .254 xBABIP, .289 BABIP
Okay, well there’s a possible explanation. He is allowing just about six percent less line drives, splitting the difference between grounders and flyballs, so he has been unlucky, but is his performance really only driven by a lack of luck?
Looking at his percentage of runners left on base, it has plummeted from 74.9% last year to 56.4 right now. He is stranding over 18% less runners in the early going than he did last year.
The jump in his WHIP can be attributed to a decrease in his K/9, increase in his BB/9, and decrease in his K/BB:
2007: 8.17 K/9, 2.99 BB/9, 2.73 K/BB
2008: 5.51 K/9, 3.86 BB/9, 1.46 K/BB
He isn’t striking out nearly as many batters and is walking more; this is not a formula for success. Why isn’t he striking as many batters out?
Looking at his pitch selection and velocity, he is throwing essentially the same percentage of fastballs, curveballs, and changeups.
2007: 62.3% FA, 18.9% CB, 18.8% CH
2008: 62.5% FA, 19.6% CB, 17.9% CH
Looking at velocity we can see a discrepancy. While his curveball and changeup have maintained their velocity from a year ago, his fastball has significantly decreased.
2007: Fastball, 62.3%, 94.8 mph
2008: Fastball, 62.5%, 93.0 mph
He currently has the ninth lowest WPA amongst starting pitchers, at -0.72, but his WPA/LI comes in lower at -0.38. This tells me that his results regardless of the situation are better than what his results due to the situation suggest. He is the one putting himself in these situations, though, with his increase in baserunners allowed.
From first glance it appears that, if his decrease in velocity is truly the reason for the lack of strikeouts, than that would be a big, big problem. When he experienced success in 2006 and 2007 he threw 94+ mph, limited his baserunners, stranded a high percentage of those that reached base, and struck out a good amount relative to his walks surrendered.
This year, none of that is happening relative to the last two seasons. Sure he is a bit unlucky in his BABIP, especially since he is allowing a very low rate of 13% line drives, but if I am on the Tigers staff I am going to be more concerned with Verlander regaining the controllable skills that made him a dominant AL pitcher than chalking everything up as some bad luck.