Justin Verlander has turned in 3 remarkable outings in a row amassing 31 strike outs as hitters can’t catch up with his heater or their knees buckle with the curve. But very quietly Verlander has added a slider to his repertoire.
This pitch received significant attention from Rod Allen and Mario Impemba last night when he picked up a swinging strike with it against Kelly Shoppach. But he actually began throwing it as early as the April 27th Yankees game. The pitch was first noticed by Eric Cioe (who comments here on occasion) and he posted about it at Motown Sports.
Eric and others weren’t sure what to make of the pitch at first. It only showed up a handful of times against the Yankees and we weren’t certain rather it was in fact a new pitch, some pitch f/x funny business, or simply Verlander mis-throwing a pitch. After the pitch turned up again during last Sunday’s start against the Tribe it was pretty clear it wasn’t a fluke. But the pitch seemed to be used primarily as a “show-me” pitch. However last night it took on a more prominent role.
Let’s turn to some pitch f/x graphs to show you the characteristics. Each of these graphs are a compilation of Verlander’s last 3 starts (April 26th, May 3rd, May 8th).
Figure 1. Horizontal and Vertical Movement
There at least 3 distinct groupings here, but that doesn’t tell us much because we knew that Verlander’s repertoire included a four seam fastball, a change-up and a curve ball. We know that the lower right cluster is the curve ball, and that the fast ball is included in the upper cluster.
Figure 2 Pitch Speed and Horizontal Movement
Now we can visualize 4 different clusters. The fastball is of course the upper most grouping and the curve is again the lower right bunch. The change-up is centered around 84-85mph and has a little more right hand bearing action than the fastball. With this in mind you can look at Figure 1 and see what is actually a 4th grouping to the left of the fastball grouping.
But, look at that little cluster in the middle. The pitches are thrown 88-91mph and with a horizontal movement component that is completely unique. These aren’t underthrown fastballs or overthrown change-ups.
Figure 3 Speed and Vertical Movement
Taking a look at velocity and vertical movement the fastball group is still the fastball group and the curve is easy to identify as well as the only group with downward movement. The change-up can be identified by the velocity and vertical movement that is less than that of the fastball. But at that high 80’s range we see pitches that just don’t fit anywhere else. But they also are a fairly unclustered cluster so perhaps he is still trying to find consistency with the pitch.
Verlander has only thrown this pitch about a dozen times over the last 3 games total so this isn’t a frequent pitch or something that Verlander is likely to rely on. However, with Verlander’s fastball electric and sitting in the high 90’s, the last thing opposing hitters need is one more thing to think about. As long as Verlander keeps the pitch down and doesn’t hang his 4th best pitch, it can only help.