Justin Verlander is among the current Detroit Gods. He's David without the slingshot. He doesn't need to kill giants, he just makes them look silly. When he came into the league he was our ace in the hole, now he's just our ace. With 100 mph fastballs and a curveball that I'm pretty sure touches third base before heading home, his skill is pretty much beyond compare.
Still, despite the talent and accolades something has been askew this season. His numbers aren't really down at all. His walk rate per nine is a bit higher than what we're accustomed too, but his strikeout rate is still good. Anything else people would probably tend to explain using the .358 BABIP against him and say that batters are getting really lucky right now.
Luck is not a very strong explanation for me. Something feels more amiss than just a few lucky drops. Batters are only one half of the equation when it comes to the offensive game. Where the batter succeeds, the pitcher must also fail.
To look for answers, we must compare to another season. A season on par with what we've come to expect out of Justin. We shall look to 2012, using a two month data set from April thru May of that season and compare to the total data we have for the 2013 season.
First off, numbers.
The numbers here tell us that Verlander is in fact throwing the ball differently this season thus far. For starters his velocity is down on his fastball. Another thing to note is the absence of his two seam fastball (FT). He's either not throwing it or it has flattened out to where the system is picking it up as a four seam fastball (FF). You can also note that locations are off at the plate by pretty sizable differences. Everything is further summarized by big differences in his spin rate on his pitches.
To illustrate the numbers, I'll display a couple of my favorite charts.
To me, what is most notable from these charts is Verlander's change up. It's not dropping like it should a lot of the time and that may be due to over reliance on the pitch, given he's thrown about 100 more to this point of the season versus last. Often times, hanging change ups are due to mechanical flaw.
Change ups are meant to be a deception pitch. To the batter it is supposed to look like a fastball until it comes out of the pitchers hand and than travels at a considerably slower velocity to the batter. If you don't fool the batter, and you hang the pitch, he's gonna do something with it. With PitchF/X, one of the best ways to look for the presence of mechanical error is with release point charts.
From these charts we can see a slight difference in the release point on the change up, but overall there is more inconsistency across the board on the release in 2013 versus 2012 at this point in the season. Without good video examples from each season, it's hard to make an accurate diagnosis. The most general diagnosis I can safely make is that Verlander is getting ahead of himself in his windup. Verlander has always had a pretty quick windup, but it has always had very few moving parts. It's safe to say that he's probably just a slight adjustment away from regaining consistency on his change up and regaining a mph or two back on his fastball.