COMMENTARY | Not much has gone wrong for the Detroit Tigers in 2013. After clinching another trip to the playoffs and a third straight American League Central title, the Tigers are in position to return to the World Series.
However, a major concern has taken shape throughout the season and it revolves around ace Justin Verlander. Considered by many to be the best pitcher in baseball at the start of the season, Verlander has turned in a miserable performance in 2013 and the most disappointing of anyone on the roster.
After an MVP season in 2011 and Cy Young-worthy season in 2012, Verlander was expected to be the leader in the rotation. Things haven't turned out as planned in 2013, however, as Verlander has been rather average all season long.
His 3.56 ERA and 1.33 WHIP are the highest he's posted since 2008 and his strikeouts are nowhere near the level we've come to expect. After throwing 10 complete games over the past two seasons, he has yet to finish a game this season. Verlander is a pedestrian 13-12 on the year -- which isn't a bad mark if you're Rick Porcello. Coincidentally, Porcello is 13-8 on the year.
When you're one of the highest paid players in baseball, you have to be better than the fifth starter in your rotation.
Shockingly, Verlander has been worse at home than he has been on the road, posting a win-loss record of 6-7 at Comerica Park compared to 7-5 away from home. Right-handed batters are hitting .289 off him this season with a .422 slugging percentage. Those numbers are significantly higher than his career averages against righties, who have hit just .244 with a .359 slugging percentage over Verlander's career.
In recent years, if Verlander was on the mound it wasn't a question of if he was going to win or not, but how dominant he would be in doing so. This season, each start has been a guessing game of "which JV shows up tonight?"
There has been discussion in the local media about whether or not Verlander should start the first game of playoffs when the Tigers begin their march toward the World Series. Clearly, Max Scherzer should get that honor as he has been the most consistent pitcher this season, but that doesn't mean Verlander can't return to form.
As bad as the season has been for Verlander, he can obviously redeem himself if he performs better in the playoffs. A deeper look at the numbers suggests that some of Verlander's struggles have simply been bad luck.
Over the course of his career, opponents' batting average on balls in play is .290, but, this season, that number is .318, a near 10-percent jump. Combined with a higher walks per nine-inning ratio, the higher earned run average makes more sense.
In games where the Tigers have scored two or fewer runs for Verlander, he is 0-5 with two no-decisions. However, in those seven games, Verlander's ERA is 2.79 and his WHIP is 1.179, suggesting that if he got even a bit of help from his teammates in those game his record could more Verlander-like.
He has continued to strike out nearly a batter per inning, and in the month of September his ERA is 2.67 with a 1.188 WHIP.
Make no mistake about it, Justin Verlander has had a terrible 2013 campaign by his standards, but he is still one of the most dominant pitchers in the game when he is on. With the regular season nearly complete, Verlander has a chance to quiet the critics with a clutch postseason.
Matt Durr is a reporter from Michigan who has followed the Detroit Tigers his entire life. He has covered University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University athletics for Annarbor.com. Follow him on twitter @mdurr84.
- Sports & Recreation
- Justin Verlander
- Detroit Tigers