August 12, 2008

What exactly is wrong with Justin Verlander?

Tigers 2-7 Blue Jays

I'm nowhere near smart enough to put together a huge analysis to try and figure out why JV has been so un-ace-like this season, but I still kind of know how to read. After looking at his numbers, the worries we already had about his performance seem alarming when staring at the evidence.

Early in the season the big scare was how his velocity was only reaching the low 90's. That improved as he got some starts out of the way but now there are more troubling trends. His last four starts have been awful: 24 runs given up in his last 21.2 IP, 9 walks, and a .376 OBP-against.

For whatever reason he's having a much tougher time with his control when he faces lefties than compared to '06 and '07. Below are his BB/per 9 innings splits from Fangraphs.

Against LHB, you can see his walk rate is leaving Earth's atmosphere. Last year it was under 4/per, this year it's soared to 5.45/9 IP. The batting average-against is about the same for lefties as it is righties, but he's chucking a lot more pitches to the former. His lefty WHIP is almost 50% higher than against right-handers, too.

Overall he's picked up the strikeout-rate against everybody as the year has gone along, but it's still only around the league average for 2008. It's the unpredictable control that seems to be getting him though. From game-to-game he looks like he can be in a groove, like a couple starts ago against the Indians for instance, and then make one or two mistakes and completely lose it.

Another situation that he is struggling with is pitching with runners on base. Look at this shit.

The blue line is league average. The green is JV. At what point to we turn to Chuck Hernandez for blame? I'm not sure, mainly because I'm never really sure about anything. Armando Galarraga is the only starter who has seen significant time with a LOB % above league average. (Not to make a point, but just as a fun fact, former Tiger Tim Byrdak actually leads the N.L. in LOB % right now.)

JV's splits with men on base are saddening. The only category in which he isn't bothered is when runners are on 1st and 2nd. Other than that, his numbers don't look good: He's giving up a .839 OPS with men on as opposed to .575 with the bases empty. Comparing that to somebody who's doing good this year, Cliff Lee is actually doing better with runners on (.604 OPS) than no runners at all (.619). JV really doesn't seem to like having somebody at 3rd, either: with 2 out, he has a .895 OPS against -- and 1.052 against with less than 2 out. This is supposed to be our staff ace, the guy you are least worried about when facing pressure situations. Perhaps he's tightening up when he really needs an out, because he seems like he's lost some of his mental edge. And hitters know they can crack him if he gives them an inch (notably the White Sox).

I don't know how significant any of this is and I'm probably overlooking a number of things. Maybe it's just a long, long fluky stretch. But one thing that sticks with me is that his struggles suck as much for the fact that he seems like a good guy than just because he's a Tiger. He's the anti-Sheffield. Sure, we don't really know these people and he could be a total tool bag, but he's definitely somebody that makes the list of "Guys My Girlfriend Can Cheat on Me With". For the record, that list looks something like:

1. Magglio Ordonez
2. Justin Verlander
3. Christian Bale while he's wearing the Bat-suit and doing this
4. her friend Roland since he's cool
5. Alex Trebek

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