It was met with skepticism, with few believing in the confidence of the former AL MVP. Now more than a month removed from his horrendous start against Cleveland, Verlander is backing up his tweet. In his last six games, Verlander tallied a 2.01 ERA, 0.78 WHIP and is striking out 10.48 batters per nine innings pitched. He’s clearly made a significant change for the better. But what change did he make?
There are two distinct facets that have vastly improved since his early struggles. The quick and easy one is his increased velocity, as his four-seam fastball has improved consistently since the start of the season, peaking at an average velocity of 94.5 mph in his last start against Chicago.
But there is more to Verlander’s success than simply throwing the ball harder. After his start against Oakland on April 27, Brooks Baseball shows Verlander switching from a slider to a cutter, which became a prominent member of his repertoire beginning in his May 8 start against Texas. The shift in pitch approach came with the same velocity jump as his fastball, but also one notable difference: a major increase in vertical movement.
To illustrate the dramatic tweak, take a look at the pitch during Verlander’s April start against the Pirates as he allows a double to Starling Marte:
Now compare that break to the version last the weekend to Todd Fraizer:
It’s easy to tell the difference between the two pitches at hand. Ignoring its poor location, the former features loose, soft break down that allows Marte to square up and drive the ball with authority. The latter displays much tighter movement with a more pronounced and later drop into the strike zone. Watching the start contrast between these pitches should make it no surprise that Verlander has earned more than three inches of extra vertical movement with his cutter since the transition from his slider.
It may not be a return to his prime years of 2011 and 2012, but Verlander’s newly added velocity and transition from a weak slider to a heavy and tight cutter have allowed him to recover from a horrific opening to his 2016 campaign. The Tigers are in dire need of a proper ace as they sit three and a half games back in the AL Central, and Verlander is answering the call.
All stats courtesy of FanGraphs and Brooks Baseball, all GIFs courtesy of Pitcher List.