Sitting in the tenth row down the third base line at Comerica Park on a Saturday night while watching a playoff game with 40,000 of your closest friends may be the most enjoyable way to take in a baseball game. A generation ago, watching on a big color television was becoming a reasonable alternative. Two generations ago, you could not do better than listening to Ernie Harwell on a transistor radio, whether on the front porch nursing a lemonade or under your covers. One hundred years ago, you would be thrilled to be in a town square where the game was being transmitted by telegraph and someone was pushing wooden plaques with players' names around a wooden display. And now we occasionally consume a game on our smartphones, with names moving around an electronic display.
Following a game without audio and video can be enlightening. You are not distracted with obscure statistics, defensive positioning, advertising, or banter. You just follow pitch by pitch, and yell at the phone when far too much time has elapsed for there not to have been a pitch.
And this allows a different perspective. For instance, while attending a soccer game last fall but surreptitiously following the Tigers, I was struck by this pitch sequence. Ok it was not surreptitious, though that was my wife's desire. But the game was late last season and quite important, so many of the soccer fans were counting on regular updates from me.
We miss the first two pitches, but they were strikes. Then the pitcher misses with a curveball, a changeup, and another curveball. So to mix things up, the full count pitch is a fastball. But the batter fouls it off. Well it almost worked, so why not try another fastball? Because it will be fouled off again. And again. And again and again and again.
Who would use a fastball on six consecutive pitches? Someone with plenty of success with his fastball. Someone who is used to finishing off batters with heat. Someone who thinks he can still reach back for 100 miles per hour when he needs it.
The pitcher was Justin Verlander. His fastball is not what it used to be.
Velocity data is from PITCHf/x at Fangraphs
It was painful to experience the at-bat, even by smartphone. It was as if Justin was convinced that he could reach the upper 90s if he just tried harder.
Why not mix in even one changeup? Is there conceivably a batter with a scouting report of "throw nothing but fastballs in a full count?" It could be that Verlander does not trust the changeup because he is throwing it too hard. He was a fine pitcher in 2007, though his fastball was not at its peak. But his changeup was much slower then. The gap between it and his fastball is shrinking.
I have seen quotes from Verlander this winter that he is ready to accept his limitations and truly pitch. I have seen other reports that suggest he thinks last year was all due to physical issues, and if those are resolved he can return to his old ways.
A dominant Justin Verlander will go a long way toward replacing Max Scherzer. Accepting that he needs to change is part of returning to excellence. Plenty of pitchers excel with his current velocity.
Can you figure out the specifics of this at bat, given only pitches 3 through 11 and that it was a late-season start by Verlander?