Is Justin Verlander Already Entering First Stage of Pitching Decline?

Chris Stephens@@chris_stephens6Correspondent IIAugust 28, 2013

Justin Verlander is having one of the worst seasons of his professional career.

The Detroit Tigers ace is currently sitting at 12-10 with a 3.73 ERA. He's been wildly inconsistent this year, throwing a three-hit shutout one start, then giving up 12 hits in the next start. Needless to say, things aren't working right for Verlander as much as he'd like them to.

With the struggles and his age (30), one has to wonder if Verlander is in the first stage of pitching decline.


How Denny McClain Sees It

Denny McClain has his own version of why Verlander has been struggling, according to Terry Foster of the Detroit News.

Former Tigers pitcher Denny McLain said the problem is with Verlander’s head. But it is not what you think.

“Right now his head is moving a great deal when he pitches,” McLain said.

McLain admits Verlander appears to be pressing, but there are three fundamentals Verlander has either forgotten or is still working on. The art of pitching for a right hander is keeping your head still, driving the left shoulder toward the plate and using your legs to initiate that drive.

McClain sees Verlander struggling also due to his age. "Verlander is 30 years old and he believes this might be the beginning of the decline caused by age and too many pitches. Pitchers rarely get better past the age of 30."

Then there's the big contract that's part of the equation as well, according to Foster.

There is a lot of pressure on Verlander. He makes $20 million a year and is viewed as the Tigers franchise pitcher. Two years ago, he celebrated a Cy Young and Most Valuable Player Award after finishing 24-5. Last season, he finished second in the Cy Young voting after finishing 17-8.

Having had two great seasons before this, and trying to live up to his contract, Verlander could be doing too much and it's hurting him.


Should Changes Be Made?

He'll still get paid the same, but does Verlander need to change his style to ensure he's a contributor and not another Barry Zito?

Sure, he's lived off the strikeout and that's got him to where he is now. But, not many people could live off the strikeout late in their careers. Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson are a few of the names that come to mind that consistently got a lot of strikeouts late in their careers.

I'm not saying Verlander can't be a strikeout pitcher, but is the fastball the way to go to get those strikeouts?


He's Overworked

Another thing you have to look at is the fact that Verlander has been overworked over the last four years. From 2009-12, Verlander pitched 953 innings with 977 strikeouts.

This year, he's already thrown 178.2 innings and will likely go over 230 again this year. Add in the fact that he's also pitched 48.2 innings in the postseason the last two years and 79.1 innings in spring training. That shows you the wear and tear on Verlander's body.

Of course, people will say they expect a high innings count for a guy who gets paid like Verlander. But he's also human and needs a rest.

The Tigers could consider skipping one or two of Verlander's start down the stretch, and let him get ready for the playoffs. Doing that, and limiting his innings in spring training, could go a long way in helping him get back on track.



I look at all of these factors and I think Verlander's case is an exception to the rule. He's long proved he is one of the best pitchers in the game.

But even the best pitchers in the game have years where they have slumps. 

Ryan went 10-13 with a 3.72 ERA when he was 31, and Steve Carlton was 15-14 with a 3.56 ERA when he was 30.

Both went on to have more dominant years and I believe Verlander will do the same.

Just because he's making $20 million a year doesn't mean he isn't allowed to have a slump.