Detroit Tigers: Is Verlander still an ace?
The Detroit Tigers signed Justin Verlander to a seven-year $180 million contract before the 2013 season. In the first two seasons of that contract, they have not gotten the bang for their buck expected from a former MVP and Cy Young. During that span, Verlander has gone only 28-24 with his ERA and strikeout rate both headed in the wrong direction.
Verlander used to tickle 100 with his fastball, even in the eighth inning. In 2010, his average fastball velocity was 95.5 mph. Last year, it was only 93.1. Fastball velocity, however, has not been at the core of Verlander’s decline. The real cause of his downfall has been the decreased effectiveness of his secondary pitches. The swing and miss rate on both his curveball and slider have declined significantly. From 2005 to 2013, right-handed batters hit only .184 and slugged .275 against Verlander’s curveball. Last season, those numbers ballooned to .327 and .592.
Verlander’s fastball is now a league average fastball. That is not the issue. Pitchers like Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens all stayed effective into the twilights of their careers despite losing a few ticks on the radar gun. Losing velocity is inevitable, especially when considering Verlander has thrown well over 200 innings every year since his age 24 season.
At 32, he needs to accept that he must change his style of pitching to remain effective. He must work to get the bite back in his curveball and slider. The decline in his fastball velocity has no doubt reduced the effectiveness of his secondary pitches. Concerned Tigers fans must keep their eyes on Verlander’s curveball and slider in his Spring Training starts. Velocity does not come back at this age, but he can tinker with his breaking pitches which can help him shake off the malaise of 2014.
His days as a yearly 20 game winner may be behind him, but Verlander should remain, at worst, a number three starter in the Tigers rotation. With the loss of Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello, the Tigers cannot afford another mediocre season from Verlander. His performance may be the deciding factor in the division race.