Dominant, fantastic, and brilliant were all words to describe Justin Verlander not too long ago. He's been to six All Star games, won the 2011 American League Cy Young award, along with the MVP that same year. Just for good measure, Verlander was the 2006 American League Rookie of the Year.
In 2014, Verlander is 5-4 with a 4.04 ERA, a 1.514 WHIP, and a 3.45 FIP. He's allowed 32 earned runs in 71.1 innings pitched, striking out just 50 hitters. Where did Justin go? Let us take a look into his disappearance from dominance.
Back in 2009, when Verlander went 19-9 with a 3.45 ERA in 240 (!!!) innings pitched, he threw his fastest average fastball of his career at 95.6 miles per hour. His fastest fastball from that season was clocked at 101.0 miles per hour. During that season, Verlander had the highest strikeout rate of his career, striking out 10.1 hitters per nine innings, while posting the third lowest walk rate of his career, walking just 2.4 batters per nine innings. I'm going to refer to this season as his "peak."
Since Verlander's peak, his fastball velocity has fallen noticeably, especially this season. His average velocity this season has been 93.1 miles per hour, leading to the second worst strikeout rate (6.3) and second worst walk rate (3.8) of his career (excluding his 2005 season when he pitched 11.1 innings pitched). These numbers are at his age 31 season, when Verlander should still be good.
Of his 1,228 pitches to start this season, 35.1% have been fastballs. During Verlander's peak season, he threw 67.5% of his pitches as fastballs. It looks like he's not willing to throw the fastball much anymore. It almost looks like Verlander is scared to throw his fastball like he used to.
For the first time in his career, Verlander's fastball has walked more hitters than struck out. This season, when throwing the heater, Verlander has walked an astounding 13.5% of hitters, compared to just striking out 9%. In 2009, the results were exactly the opposite. Verlander walked just 7.9% of hitters with the fastball, and struck out a fantastic 21.7%. Not only has his fastball lost the velocity it once had, but he cannot seem to throw it when he needs to, with two strikes or deep into counts.
Hitters have adjusted to Verlander as well. In 2009, hitters swung at 37% of fastballs outside the strike zone against Verlander, while just swinging at fastballs inside the zone 65.8% of the time. This season, hitters swung at only 30.3% of fastballs outside the strike zone and 71.2% of fastballs inside the strike zone. They're willing to wait for some of Verlander's mediocre off speed pitches before swinging the bat.
It does not look like it'll get much better for Verlander at this pace. The "former" ace needs to be able to locate his fastball and fine-tune his off speed pitches to turn into more of a pitcher than a thrower. It's the only way for Verlander to return to form as the fantastic pitcher he once was.