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What's Wrong with Justin Verlander and How He Can Fix Each Problem

KANSAS CITY, MO - JULY 20:  Starting pitcher Justin Verlander #35 of the Detroit Tigers pitches during the game against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on July 20, 2013 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Chris StephensCorrespondent IIJuly 25, 2013

What is wrong with Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander?

Verlander got rocked once again Thursday, getting tagged for seven runs and 11 hits in six innings against the Chicago White Sox.

It marks the third time in his last four starts where he's gotten tagged for at least five earned runs.

So, what are Verlander's problems and how can he fix them?

 

He's Not Striking Out as Many Batters

Verlander has not registered double-digit strikeouts in his last 11 starts and has only done so twice this season. He did it five times in each of the last two seasons.

He also has struck out five or fewer batters 12 times this season. In the previous two seasons combined it happened 13 times.

So, why isn't he striking out that many batters?

According to FanGraphs, Verlander is not throwing his fastball as much as he used to.

In 2013, he's throwing his fastball only 39.9 percent of the time, compared to 43.8 percent in 2012 and 46.9 percent in 2011. His curveball percentage also dropped from 15.4 percent last year to 12.4 percent this year. Throw in the fact that he's rarely throwing a two-seam fastball anymore (6.0 percent to 0.6 percent) and you see the problems.

Instead, his changeup percentage has jumped from 22.3 to 33.3, while his slider has jumped from 12.4 to 13.8.

But why the change in percentages?

Looking at FanGraphs once again, his average fastball velocity has dropped from 94.7 to 93.7, as has his curveball from 79.4 to 78.3.

But there's no real correlation between his particular pitch percentage and the runs he's giving up in a game.

For instance, on July 9 against the White Sox, he threw 61.6 percent fastballs and gave up five earned runs and 12 hits in seven innings. 

In the start before that on July 4 against the Toronto Blue Jays, he threw his fastball 61.8 percent of the time and allowed no runs and three hits in seven innings.

The only noticeable difference is the drop in velocity between games. Against Toronto, his fastball velocity was at 93.9, while it was 91.4 against Chicago.

The easiest way to fix the problem would be to throw his fastball more. It sounds simple enough.

What I think is happening is Verlander is overanalyzing everything, trying to live up to his contract. Instead, he should just go out there and throw like he's accustomed to doing. 

Hitters should be adjusting to him, not the other way around.

 

Struggling with Two Outs

Verlander has struggled to get batters out when he has two down in the inning.

For the year, batters are hitting .297 with two outs. Compare that to .242 with one out and .237 with no outs. 

The situation that's been the most dangerous for him is with no runners on and two outs (.389 average) and a runner on second with two outs (.350 average).

He has to get that final out, which he's failing to do.

Against Chicago on Thursday, Verlander gave up one walk and four hits with two outs in seven innings. Those four hits scored five of Chicago's seven runs.

Regardless of who's on base, Verlander has to focus on getting the batter out at home with two outs. His stuff is good enough to where a strikeout can end the inning and the runner will be stranded on whatever base.

 

Pitches 51-75

Going through all of Verlander's splits, his main struggles come between pitches 51-75. Opponents are batting .294 and his strikeout-to-walk ratio is 1.88.

Between pitches one to 25, batters are hitting .229 and Verlander's K/BB ratio is 2.00. Between pitches 26-50, batters are hitting .259 and Verlander's K/BB ratio is 3.22.

But once he crosses into pitch 51, things start to change for him.

Whether it's conditioning or his arm growing tired midway through the game, something is happening to Verlander that's causing things to go awry midway through.

 

Conclusion

In the end, it's just one of those seasons for Verlander. Every pitcher is allowed to have one or two, regardless of how much he's getting paid.

The Tigers are still winning and that's all that matters to him.

As it gets closer to playoff time, things should pick up a little bit as he goes with the stuff that got him to where he is.

No worries. Verlander will be fine.

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