Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Who's the real Justin Verlander?

Like that old game show (To Tell the Truth) used to ask at the end -- will the real Justin Verlander please stand up? It's difficult to figure out just what's going on with the Detroit Tiger pitcher.

In years past, there is no doubt he was once an ace. Consider a few stats: After a miserable 2008 season (11-17) JV went on a tear.

2009. 19-9.
2010. 18-9.
2011. 24-5, including winning the Cy Young award.
2012. 17-8.

Do the math. For those 4 years, Verlander compiled a 78-31 W-L record for a winning percentage of .716. That's as dominant as it gets in Major League Baseball. Name your Top-3 pitchers of all time and I highly doubt any, much less all of them sported a better winning percentage than .716. That's really good stuff.

But then something happened. In 2013 Verlander would turn in a journeyman type season of 13-12.
Last year, JV went a so-so 15-12, but his ERA spiked as well. 4.54 for a starting pitcher is on the low side of mediocre.

On to 2015. Verlander has started 13 games, and sports a 3-6 record, with a 3.45 ERA. Granted, Verlander likely lost out on a couple wins when the Tigers' batting practice pitchers (sometimes referred to as their bullpen) blew leads late in games. And just recently he came within 3 outs of tossing his third career no-hitter. A very impressive outing indeed.

But that begs a question. Was the almost no-hitter the former ace having returned to form or merely an anomaly? After all, lots of no-hitters have been thrown by pitchers that nobody even remembers. It requires two things. The pitcher has to have really good stuff on that particular day, and every batted ball has to find it's way into a fielder's glove. A certain amount of luck is involved as well.

Earlier tonight against the American League leading KC Royals, Verlander turned in an average performance at best. He gave up 5 runs in 7 innings -- not so good -- and sweated it out while the bullpen barely hung on to preserve his 3rd win of the season. For a guy making $28,000,000 this year, one could easily conclude having only 3 wins going into September means he has either grossly underperformed or is getting paid WAY too much money. A million bucks a start? And he's lost twice as many as he's won? Really?

A few other things have flown under the Verlander pitching radar, but they're there. Once able to deal heat up to 100 MPH, JV rarely tops 95 anymore. Soon to be 33 years old, this number will never go back up again and will erode even further over time. Verlander still possesses a very effective slider, but it seems his once formidable out-pitch -- the split-finger -- has deserted him. For whatever reason, he doesn't throw it anymore. This was a HUGE difference maker in years past, but apparently has fallen by the wayside.

Opposing Major League hitters have no problem catching up with 95 MPH fastballs, and if they guess right on a slider, chances are they'll make decent contact. Like other aging pitchers, Verlander can't blow anybody away anymore. His control is at a premium. If he can't put his pitches in the right spots and keep the batters off-balance, it can be rock and roll time for #35 in the Tiger uniform, and not in a good way.

Reality check. Verlander started off the season with an arm problem. When he first came back, he got rocked. Recently, he's settled back in and pitched well -- not great -- but OK.

So who is the real Justin Verlander these days? Has he still got a few high-priced good years left in him, or is he on the brink of pulling a Tiger Woods meltdown? The Tigers are certainly hoping it's the former, because they're on the very expensive hook for JV's guaranteed mega-contract through the year 2020. That's a whole lot of cheese and pepperoni for owner Mike Ilitch to have to sell.

Closing thought. Enter Elin, see Tiger's career head south. Enter Fastball Flakes, see Justin's career take a nose dive. One must be very careful as to which sort of cuisine/nutrition they partake of these days. Ahem. But I suppose it's all a matter of taste. However, some things are definitely yummier than others......

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