For one inning on Tuesday, Justin Verlander stunk. He allowed five runs and you can’t really explain them away with BABIP or bad timing or whatever. It was a bad inning. Bad innings happen and we’re only concerned because they’ve been happening to him more and more this season. One thing stood out about Verlander’s performance, however, and that was the location of his pitches in the first inning compared to the second inning. Observe:
The top graphic is from the first inning and the bottom graphic is from the rest of the game. Let me call your attention to how many pitches are in the strike zone during the first inning. Most of the time when he missed the zone, he missed by big margin and the other times he was right on the edge.
Drop down to the second graphic and notice how he’s delivering a chunk of high fastballs above the zone and inside to righties (away to lefties). They’re close to the zone, but out of the zone. Then you have a population of sliders down and away to right-handers.
I don’t want to make too much of one inning in one start, but I do think it’s worth noting that Verlander was more successful when it wasn’t about throwing strikes and it was about throwing pitches that are difficult to hit. His walk rate is up this year, which leaves people worried about his command, but his strikeout rate is also down because when he does throw strikes, they are more hittable pitches.
I advocated earlier this year for Verlander to pitch differently, recognizing that he doesn’t have 100 anymore, meaning that challenging a hitter with his fastball has to happen in different circumstances than it used to when he had top end gas. Command isn’t just throwing strikes, it’s about throwing quality strikes. I could go up there and put the ball in the zone, but I couldn’t go up there and put it exactly two inches below the outside corner. That’s what you have to do to get good hitters out if your stuff isn’t elite. Expanding the zone a little more with each pitch can really make a difference. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come, but we’ve said that many times this year.