After Verlander’s second start of the year I commented that JV seemed to be throwing his change-up more on crucial counts. It was not rooted in any scout-like acuity, but just a casual observation from a guy who watches too much Tigers baseball much like you do. My recollection is that JV primarily has relied on his fastball and curveball, and on nights when his curveball isn’t working, that leaves him susceptible.
Well, his change-up has been working all year, and on Saturday he threw his slider with great frequency. This could be very, very bad news for AL hitters. It also represents further maturation by JV (dare I say “the art of pitching?”) an important point not lost on Jack Morris.
According to Fangraphs, JV has been throwing his change-up 19.6% of the time this year, which is the highest percentage since Pitch f/X started tracking theses things in 2007 , and likely the highest of his career. He’s always used it to setup the fastball, but using it to get outs early, or as a bona fide strikeout pitch, will help him to become an even stronger pitcher. Another benefit is that the change-up early in the game allows him to throw his less taxing fastball (four seamer at 92-94) in the opening innings but make them look faster because of the change of speed. We are all well aware of JV’s perpetual early inning troubles and “over-pitching” is as much of a culprit as there is (though I still like blaming the national anthem singer). If he can use his change-up earlier in the game, or at least pitch to contact with what is still a plus fastball, then he can stay in games longer.
(Fangraphs link here. FA = four-seamer, FT = two-seamer.)
Now, if you weren’t already convinced that JV has 5 more no-no’s in him, the really exciting stuff is that he’s throwing his slider more and more (including 4 out of 6 pitches against Rajai Davis for the last AB on Saturday, remember that was the pitch for the last K), which means that he could develop a legitimate 5 pitch repertoire (four seamer, two seamer, curve, change, slider). Unfortunately, we don’t have great Pitch f/x data for Saturday’s game. But from what we can see, he threw a ton of sliders, and is throwing more sliders this year (7.7%) than ever (compared to 5% for his career).
For the first time since making the bigs, JV is throwing his fastball less than 50% of the time. (I actually don’t have data on this for 2005 & 2006, but I’m willing to be Coleman’s clown suit that this is the case.) He’s throwing his slider, two-seamer and change-up more than ever. JV has always had dominant stuff, arguably the best in the AL. But he’s been prone to high pitch counts and chasing the strikeout, which have kept him from being the best in the AL. Let’s see if Saturday’s effort is an indication that JV is ready to move from best in Detroit to best in the AL.