3 things to make sense of Verlander right now:
1. The drop in velocity is a combination of age, but moreso his pitching style. He is a very good pitcher who has run up so many innings (including the postseason) each year that this “new” Verlander approach was built so that he throws his fastballs slower, keeps his stamina in games for longer, keeps his pitch count down by utilizing weak contact in a huge ballpark, and possibly keeps his arm from blowing out.
He’s so talented that it seems odd to redevelop your pitching style, but you see it with a lot of guys who either come of age or reach that point where they can’t consistently throw filthy pitches without greater fatigue. Pretty sure management and Big-V sees what happens when you get too old change your pitching style with the likes of Jake Peavy or CC Sabathia. They waited too long, and look at how their doing.
Jon Lester did the same thing couple of years ago, and he was only 26-27 at the time.
2. His new approach is a little more hittable, but he still can dominate, and save his energy for the postseason. Same with Lester, they hold up on the gas and keep hitters from squaring on the fastball with cutters and sliders. Verlander’s fastest pitch last year was 99.9MPH. Not a speed that should be coming from a broken arm.
Downside to pitching more for contact is that it takes time to progress, and depending on age, injuries, decline etc. the “ability” to pitch that way might take time, and might not co-exist when you have your best stuff. By time Pedro was able to utilize his game around a slower fastball, the Yankees already had the best of him and injuries killed his Mets tenure.
With Verlander, he’s much stronger, and as we saw last year it might take a good 3rd of the season to pitch this way. Now, when July rolls around, he won’t be fatigue since he isn’t gunning it a 98 every pitch. And with age, sometimes the fastball and curve might have more off-days. Instead of being lost, he can still dominate with less stuff or holding back until its needed (like we saw in the playoffs).
3. Verlander started “slowing” down his FB after that contract extension. I think they were already aware of his longevity, and it must be painful to have to change your style. But in the long-run, he will become a more efficient pitcher, which will allow him to pitch heavy loads of innings, and then come out strong when the Tigers need it in the WS. As great of a pitcher as Greg Maddux was, one of his weird faults was that he would b exhausted by time the postseason started. And if he had some energy left in the tank, ATL could’ve had 2+ championships in the 90′s.
Look at Verlander’s decline as a re-invention. He knew he wasn’t going to pitch 100mph forever, and if he kept going he would’ve blown his arm out or become lost when he actually can’t hit those speeds anymore. He’s growing, and its not the same as the old V. But he will still be a great pitcher. If he masters his new approach, possibly better.