Detroit Tigers News

Evaluating Justin Verlander


It was a rough year for Detroit ace Justin Verlander. After starting the season 2-8, many wondered what was wrong with the young ace. His fastball dipped in velocity. He couldn’t hit his marks with the curve ball. Many fantasy owners were baffled with the season that Justin Verlander gave them (including yours truly). At some point Jim Leyland and Chuck Hernandez (the former pitching coach) were busy like mad scientests, trying to figure the perfect formula to get Mr. Verlander back on track.

Though Verlander began to pitch better down the
stretch, his record didnt show for it, going 3-6 in his last 10 starts. Now, nearly one month after the end of the season, and a new pitching coach (Rick Knapp) in Detroit, many baseball fans have to be wondering if 2009 will be much of the same.

It’s time to put the biohazard gloves and dig in. Maybe I can come up with the perfect equation to why Verlander struggled last season.

He still had the “Stuff” in 2008. Hitters still havent figured him out

How can I say that after his earned run average imploded to over a run more than any other season in his short major league history. It’s simple. Opponents only hit .254 off Verlander last season. That is more then ten points lower than his rookie campaign in which he won 17 games. He still tallied over 150 strikeouts. And finally, he gave up less homers (18) than he has in his whole career. The Stuff is still there, he just had a hard time harnessing it in 2008.

And though in the games I had watched him start in ’08, it looked like he had lost some velocity, I am certain that he still has the stuff to be the Verlander of 2008 and 2007. According to manager Jim Leyland, a lot of the problem had been the command of his fastball. I couldn’t agree more. I would even argue that his dependance of it was a downfall.

“Seeing Eye Fastball”

I admit. Justin Verlander’s bread and butter is the 95+ heater blazing by hitters. It is one of the irreplacable pitches in the league. Remember, this is the guy who reared back and hit 100 M.P.H. on the gun in the ninth inning of his no-hit performance against Milwaukee in 2007. But sometimes, enough is enough.

Overall in 2008, Verlander threw his fastball an estonishing 62% of the time. His curveball, which is considered better than just a secondary pitch, seems to be one of the key factors in the downright blow up. Especially against lefties. His Curveball was only used 255 times in his 1722 pitches against south paws. Now this does make sense, because his changeup is more of an out pitch against those pesky left-handers. But even his changeup was underused. In 2008, Verlander used his change up only 313 times. These numbers strike me because as his career develops, he should be relying on the fastball less and less.

My suggestion to Rick Knapp would be to get Verlander to mix his pitches a bit more. His hammer is one of the best when he fastball is working. His changeup has the ability to downright fool hitters.

Balancing these pitches to a better extent will only better that fastball. And I think at some points last season, Verlander felt, “The need for speed” was a comfort pitch. If anyone can adress this issue, it is Rick Knapp, who has dealt with arguable the best minor league pitching system in the game the last ten years. And though balance and development will help, The major issue for Verlander in 06 was the lack of control on the mound.

‘Walks and Runs’

Two stats can almost tell the story of Justin Verlander in 2008. In total, Verlander gave up 30 runs more in 2008 than in 2007. This doesn’t add up if you consider that his average was around par, and that he had just as many strikeouts and hits as in previous seasons. What adds up though is twenty more walks in 2008, compared to ’07. One of the main reasons hitters crossed the plate so much was because of the inconsistency. As we all know, for pitchers, it is harder to control your destiny, if your giving up the free base night after night. In his last ten starts, Verlander didn’t have even one outing without a walk. This is the point that has to be adressed. And again, Rick Knapp is the man for the job. He has been known to absolutley hate walks and teach his minor leaguer arms that first and foremost is to avoid walks it at all costs.

It’s that simple. Verlander’s 20+ more walks ended up biting him. Of those, ten more then a year ago ended up scoring via the free pass. If you recalculate his E.R.A, it drops nearly a half a point.

The Next Step

Just like anyone, “under the weather,” rest is the best solution. At many times Jim leyland would tell the media that Verlander’s wind up was out of wack, or he was pressing, or any combination of uncomfortable tributes. I say let the big guy rest a big more. He has thrown back to back 200 inning seasons. Then, when it comes time, sit him down with Mr. Knapp and let them feel out what is best for Verlander workout wise. I think that time off would be nearly enough.

Secondly, If I’m Rick Knapp, I work on turning Verlander into the bona-fide ace. Turn him into a true threat because he knows the art of pitching in and out. Don’t get me wrong, I think he is one of the best young minds at work on the mound. But just hearing it and learning it from one of the best could do wonders for Justin in ’09.