Justin Verlander May Be Hurting, But Is He Injured?

Over the All Star break, Miguel Cabrera admitted he wasn’t feeling great. He also mentioned his teammate while he complained of aches and pains to Jorge Ortiz:

“There are times when I feel good, but there are always muscles that are tightening, muscles that are not functioning properly,” Cabrera said in Spanish. “It’s part of the process. The same thing is happening to Justin Verlander, but the difference is he pitches every five days, so you don’t see it as frequently.”

The line between the little everyday joys of growing older and actually being injured may be fine. As the famous line from The Program goes, “If you’re hurt, you can still play. If you’re injured you can’t.”

So is Justin Verlander hurt, or is he injured?

The fact that he’s pitching every day suggests he’s just hurt, but let’s take a look at him through the lens of current tools. The first that comes to mind is Josh Kalk’s Injury Zone, which was reprised by Jeff Zimmerman on this site. Zimmerman’s BaseballHeatMaps has a tool that shows you how the pitcher is doing in the three main components of Kalk’s injury zone, which attempted to predict injury through PITCHf/x numbers: velocity, late-game release point inconsistency, and ability to hit the strike zone.

Justin Verlander does not look good in the Injury Zone finder.

We know what his velocity has looked like this year, but recently, it’s taken a turn for the worse. He’s still got a freakish ability to never dip below 91 mph, but as Jeff Sullivan showed earlier in the season, his portion of pitches over 95 mph is tanking.


If you zoom in harder, you see that there was a bump in velocity in May, but that Verlander has lost those gains more recently. This is from the Injury Factor finder on BaseballHeatMaps.


When it comes to zone percentage, Verlander doesn’t look great. By PITCHf/x, his current 49% zone percentage is the lowest of his career. And when you look at just this season alone, he’s hit a couple lows in the last month and a half:


By itself, this wouldn’t be enough. Of the forty worst games Verlander’s thrown by zone%, only four have come this year. And his worst year by this stat (12 games with a <40% zone number in 2011) was a pretty decent year. He missed two days due to food poisoning that year.

And so we should check on his release points. They are inconsistent, particularly late in the game, particularly recently:

verlanderlategame release

Take a look at his release points just over the last ten games. The cluster changes shape and moves around fairly drastically from game to game.


So the injury zone finder is giving us results that suggest that Justin Verlander might be more injured than just hurt. In terms of in-season injury prediction, the markers are there. But these markers are usually used when we don’t have any comments on injury. In this case, we have Miguel Cabrera telling us that Verlander has some aches and pains.

And really, in the end, this analysis can’t tell us the severity of the problem. We can say, yes, it looks like Justin Verlander isn’t right. His delivery, velocity, and command are flagging in a way that looks like an injured pitcher. His teammates have mentioned his health. But we can’t know if it’s just a bothersome core due to his offseason surgery, or something worse.

Justin Verlander seems to be hurting. We might not know for sure if he’s injured until the news comes down the pipe.

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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

27 Responses to “Justin Verlander May Be Hurting, But Is He Injured?”

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  1. DanBC says:

    I dunno, maybe that loss of “zip” is all about Kate Upton.

    Just sayin……

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    • Johnston says:

      I find it both admirable and amazing that he has energy left the pitch. I know I wouldn’t.

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    • Hurtlocker says:

      Let’s see, already rich, smokin hot girlfriend, pitching may not be in his top ten most important things these days. We all know pitching is at least third.

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  2. Scott Marcus says:

    As a fan of great pitchers, this is actually good news. It means there is hope that Verlander can still regain some or most of his Ace form, once he heals whatever is hurting.

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  3. Statgeek6 says:

    Maybe this is a repeat of Lincecum. Lack of zip on the fastball, bad control, sounds similiar to me.

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    • a eskpert says:

      His velocity is still league average (for all pitchers).

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    • The Party Bird says:

      Lincecum’s control was fringy at its best. When he lost the fastball velocity he didn’t have the secondary skills to succeed.

      Verlander has a long-established track record of good control, so it’s not unreasonable to suggest that he can regain some of his form even if this velocity loss is permanent.

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  4. Phillies113 says:

    Somebody in a chat a couple of days ago (Dave Cameron?) suggested possibly going to a 6-man rotation to combat UCL strain/elbow issues. Do you think something like this is feasible in the long-run? It seems to me like this could be a big help. The question, then, is what do do with the spot that’s now taken up by a starter. Do you sacrifice a relief pitcher, or the bench?

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  5. Matt says:

    That velocity chart is just weird. It looks like something is broken somewhere.

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  6. LaLoosh says:

    He’s lovesick.

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  7. MBB says:

    For velocity, it looks like pitchFX calls Verlander’s slower fastballs change ups for some reason, although it’s obviously still a group that are fastballs. That’s where the freakish straight line at 91mph comes from:

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  8. MDL says:

    As the FA/CH graphs indicate and the velocity charts confirm, between 2011 and 2013 Verlander’s FA “never” dips below 91.1 and the CH “never” comes above 91.0. With these numbers obviously being wrong am I correct to conclude that his velocity has probably degraded more than it appears in the PITCHf/x numbers?

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  9. Emcee Peepants says:

    Could be that he’s a victim of the Tigers’ success the past 3 years. Counting the postseason, he’s pitched 38 GS/271.1 IP, 37 GS/266.2, and 37 GS/241.1 IP. This after averaging 216.2 over the previous 4 years. His 2009 and 2010 average FB velocity ranked 7th and 8th out of all qualified player seasons over that stretch (694 total), 2011 ranked 19th, and 2012 ranked 27th.

    That many starts and innings throwing that hard had to take its toll some time, right?

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  10. Spit Ball says:

    That last graph is some kind of cool. Like “The Dos Equis Most Interesting man in the world cool” or “Jay-Z, Beyoncé cool”, or dare I say “Cool Whip Cool.”

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    • YABooble says:

      It’s just like watching the Doppler weather showing a thunderstorm approaching the area.

      Hopefully Dombrowski’s got a “Severe Weather” team watching these developments.

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  11. John says:

    The Tigers should give him a 15 day-DL stint to rest him and try and get him fresh going into the playoffs.

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  12. Johnny Northcarolina says:

    He’s also 31 and you’d expect him to lose some velocity even if totally healthy. What JV is ultimately dealing with is learning to get hitters out without overpowering them. He looks like he tries to put guys away the same way he did five years ago, only now they foul off the 93-94 stuff instead of whiffing the 98-99 stuff.

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