July 14, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) pitches fourth inning against the Texas Rangers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Justin Verlander‘s velocity drop in April had everyone talking, but he was still pitching incredibly well and so we tried to shrug it off. He finished the month of April with a 1.83 ERA, a nearly matching 2.14 FIP, and a 9.4 K/9 rate. May wasn’t great for his results — he posted a 6.41 ERA for the month — but the peripherals were still more than fine: a 2.42 FIP and a 13.8 K/9 rate.
After two months, the only thing keeping Verlander’s pitching line from being truly ace-like was an abnormally elevated BABIP (3.68). He was striking out batters at a career high rate, he wasn’t allowing home runs, and, although his walks were up a tick from years past, they weren’t prohibitively high. Every sign pointed to Verlander still being Verlander even though he was no longer reaching back for 98+ mph.
Since the start of June, however, things have been different for Justin. His ERA isn’t bad at all during this nine start stretch — it’s 3.30 — but the numbers behind that ERA are concerning. His strikeout rate dropped to 7.4 per nine innings in June, and then to 4.7 in his three starts so far in July. The sample size isn’t huge here, but in these last nine starts combined, he’s managed a strikeout rate of just 6.45 K/9. Walks haven’t been a huge concern (3.3 BB/9) and he hasn’t given up a crazy amount of home runs (1.05 HR/9), but he hasn’t dominated in any aspect of the game, a fact that shows up in his rather pedestrian 4.28 FIP.
Nine games is only nine games — Verlander has been pitching just fine (if worse than anticipated) on the season as a whole — but this trend of the gradually declining peripherals isn’t encouraging as the Tigers prepare for a second-half stretch run toward a division crown.
I ultimately have faith in Verlander’s ability to compete and tinker with his pitch mix in order to stay at the top of the game even minus his blazing fastball velocity, but this type of learning on the fly may cause some growing pains for a club that’s attempting to go all in for a World Series ring.