If you’re a Verlander owner you’ve probably been asking yourself when the ace will get back to his old self. Heck, I’m a Verlander owner and have been asking the baseball gods to give me back 2011 Verlander for some time now. Where did he go?
His 2013 season left a lot to be desired, however ended with a lot of promise. His final five starts saw him post a 0.26 ERA and 0.74 WHIP, giving owners, including myself, hope that he’d be back to his usual self in 2014. Sadly what we’ve seen so far has been anything but a rebound. As much as it hurts to say, both as a Verlander owner and a pure baseball fan, I don’t see a rebound coming.
One of Verlander’s biggest issues in 2013 was a lack of control that led to his worst walk rate since 2008. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, it’s only gotten worse so far in 2014. He is through 11 of his assumed 33 starts and is currently on pace for a 3.79 BB/9, a would-be career worst. This lack of command, emphasized by his career worst first pitch strike %, has him battling from behind in counts. Not surprisingly, this has left him with a career low 0-2 count percentage and cost himself easy strikeout opportunities in the process. It’s hard to comprehend that Verlander’s command, formerly one of his biggest strengths, has now become a liability.
To compound the issue, his stuff isn’t what it used to be. Verlander’s fastball velocity has steadily declined since its peak of 95.6 in 2009 and currently sits at an all-time low of 92.1 MPH. He has attempted to adjust by using his change-up more as his velocity decreased but the results haven’t followed. One can only assume the seven straight 200+ inning seasons are really catching up with him.
This diminishing velocity has afforded Verlander a smaller margin for error and hitters are taking advantage. He used to succeed at inducing batters to chase bad pitches (O-Swing%) while getting them to swing and miss at others (SwStr%). So far in 2014 he’s posting four-year lows in both categories. Noticing a trend yet?
I’ll lastly take a look at xFip, one of the more telling stats in regards to a pitcher’s effectiveness. For those not familiar with the stat, this number essentially replaces ERA with a more accurate number assuming fielding performance and home run rates to be up to league average. In Verlander’s case the results are discouraging. His xFip has gotten worse each of the past four years and reached its peak of 4.68 so far in 2014 due to an unsustainably low HR%.
While all these numbers look grim, my goal here isn’t to cause you to panic and trade Verlander for whatever you can find (though it may be worthwhile if you can get excess value). Rather, I want to give you a chance to adjust your expectations. The Verlander of 2014 is nowhere near the Verlander of old. He’s throwing slower pitches in a less effective manner; two facts that discourage me from believing he can ever reach “ace” status again. For all but a handful of starts over the past two seasons Verlander has been a good, but not great, starting pitcher. Moving forward you should begin to regard him as such.