Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
If you have a theory on why Detroit Tigers starter Justin Verlander is struggling, we're accepting all of them right now.
Is the workload catching up to him? He averaged 238 innings over the previous four seasons, so it makes sense.
Is he unlucky? With a .330 BABIP, you can make that case.
Is he having Kate Upton withdrawal? We'll have to see how Blake Griffin plays next season before we consider that one (assuming the rumored new couple calls it quits by then).
Whatever the problem is, there's no denying that a 10-8 record, a 3.99 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP are not the numbers fantasy owners wanted out of the right-hander, 2013 All-Star selection aside.
In his latest debacle, Verlander allowed 11 hits and seven earned runs in six innings. It was already the third time this season he allowed double-digit hits and the fifth time he has allowed at least nine base knocks. He gave up double- digit hits just twice in the last two seasons combined.
Arm fatigue from throwing all those innings over the last four seasons is definitely a feasible reason behind the decline.
If you haven't heard by now, Verlander's fastball velocity is down from 94.7 mph last season to 93.7 this year, according to FanGraphs.
It might be the easy way out to blame his struggles on that and call it a day, but there are numbers to support that theory.
When throwing his fastball this season, Verlander's line-drive rate is 25.2 percent, his infield flyball rate is 21.8 percent, his chase rate is 25.3 percent and his batting average is .294. On his fastball the last two seasons, Verlander has recorded a line-drive rate under 19 percent, infield flyball rate above 24 percent, chase rate around 30 percent and a batting average below .235.
Verlander's walk percentage on the pitch is a career worst 15.2 percent, and his BB/9 is up from 2.15 over the last two seasons to 3.33 in 2013.
That decline has made his other pitches less effective. Verlander's curveball and slider are getting hit for a line drive 29.8 percent and 26 percent of the time, respectively, and the contact rates on those pitches are significantly higher than his career rates. His changeup is generating swings and misses at a rate of 10 percent, down from 14.7 percent for his career.
Working against Verlander's case is the fact that several frontline starters who have lost velocity over the past few seasons are now struggling mightily.
Tim Lincecum, CC Sabathia, Ubaldo Jimenez and Yovani Gallardo had an average fastball velocity of 93.3 mph and a collective ERA of 3.31 in 2010; this season, they are throwing 90.9 and have an ERA of 4.61.
Of course, Jered Weaver and Felix Hernandez have dealt with velocity declines gracefully -- both have ERAs under 3.00 this season -- so it isn't set in stone that Verlander is done as an ace, especially when he still has the ninth best average fastball velocity in the majors.
The good news is that the former AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner has kept the ball in the park as well as he has over the previous two years -- his HR/9 is 0.78 and his HR/FB is 8.1 percent. In 2011-12, his HR/9 was 0.79 and his HR/FB was 8.6 percent.
The theory that Verlander has been unlucky also stands up to examination. Yes, his line-drive rate is 22.5 percent, but his LD rate was 22.2 percent last year and his BABIP was 57 points lower.
And the 30-year-old's extra-base hit rate (extra-base hits per batters faced) hasn't increased much. His XBH% this season is 6.6 percent; it was 6.4 percent in 2012 and 6.0 percent during his otherworldly 2011 season.
Having some better luck on balls in play over the rest of the season should at least help Verlander pitch to his 3.42 FIP, which still isn't what fantasy owners paid for but is better than his performance to date.
If you're expecting more than that, it's probably time to log on to Twitter and try to get Verlander and Upton back together using the hashtag #reuniteJK.
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