Game 96: Verlander, Leyland and careful pitching
Let’s all agree on this: It’s no longer a question of velocity with Justin Verlander.
His fastball on Saturday averaged just under 96 mph, according to data from MLB.com Gameday and brooksbaseball.net. That’s his best of the year. His command of it, on the other hand, was not.
There’s a strike rate on Verlander fastball that seems to correlate with how he has been doing this season. When his strike ratio on his fastball has hovered around 60 percent, he has usually struggled. When it’s around 70 percent, he has been at his best. On Saturday, he threw 28 out of 44 fastballs for strikes, according to Brooks’ site. That amounts to a 63.64 percent rate, or the exact same rate of strikes he threw with his changeup.
His hardest pitches ranged around that 32-pitch fourth inning, when he loaded the bases twice and walked in a run.
To suggest he isn’t throwing as hard as he used to seems to be an old argument now. Whether he can actually command it the same way when he throws hard now, or anywhere close, is another matter.
Perhaps that’s why there seemed to be some differing views on what exactly is going on with Verlander.
“He wasn’t sharp,” manager Jim Leyland said. “His control wasn’t good. He was behind guys. This is just me; I don’t know what Justin will say. But it looks to me like he’s pitching a little careful. He’s just not being aggressive with his stuff and pitching a little bit too careful. That’s just my observation.”
Verlander’s response: “No.”
Asked what would lead Verlander to pitch carefully, Leyland deferred.
“Can’t answer that,” Leyland said. “You’ll have to ask him.”
When asked later would lead Leyland to suggest he was pitching carefully, Verlander deferred.
“That’s a question for him,” Verlander said.
His catcher’s response was somewhere in the middle, but seemed to trend towards Verlander a bit.
“Well, he’s attacking guys,” Alex Avila said. “I think he just doesn’t have his release point. At times, he knows where he wants to throw it, but it’s just not going there at times. It’s just a matter of finding it.”
The fastball, Avila said, seems to be there.
“I mean, I’m not concerned about his fastball. He’s throwing hard,” he said. “When he’s throwing it there and he has good command of it, they’re not taking good swings. And when they do, they’re not hitting it hard. They haven’t really been taking good swings off his fastball. It’s just making sure you can not only get ahead of guys, but finishing them with the same release point.”
Verlander and Leyland don’t seem to be on the same page as far as the root of the issue, but I’m not sure they need to be. The man Verlander needs to be in agreement with is the pitching coach, because he and Jeff Jones have another long week ahead.