Coping with the decline and fall of Justin Verlander

Duane Burleson

When this comes out in pamphlet form, the title will be "So Your Ace Pitcher Is Horrible Now."

For years, your baseball season was different, better than everyone else's. Every five days you got to watch him. Fans of the other 29 teams didn't. Could you imagine what that would be like, not to watch him pitch? You could not imagine. You were glad you were not them.

And then, suddenly, your ace was awful.

Hello, Detroit Tigers fans. This is a safe place. I'm here to talk about Ace Sucking Syndrome. You might be in the denial stage or somewhere close to it, so you'll just close this tab and go about your day. There's nothing wrong with Justin Verlander that can't be fixed, you mutter. How silly, you silly man.

I've been there. I'm a Giants fan. I have a Tim Lincecum bobblehead with real locks of his hair. Don't ask where I got the hair -- I know a guy who knows a guy -- just know that he was a hero in this town, the kind of star the city hadn't seen since Will Clark or Joe Montana.

And then he was terrible. So terrible.

There was an adjustment period. Then there was an adjustment to the adjustment. Then there was an adjustment to the adjustment to the adjustment. We're still adjusting. It's completely strange, still, watching him pitch, knowing something is wrong, without knowing exactly what. We're three seasons into this, and it's still stunning.

As such, I can help you through this time by letting you know what to expect. Here is what happens when your pitcher comes down with a case of ASS.

1. You will overanalyze everything

The 95-mph fastball means something that a 94-mph fastball doesn't; the 96-mph fastball is proof of something altogether, just as the 91-mph fastball is. Every curve and change will be Zaprudered if it's hit a mile. It will get twice as much attention if the batter whiffs. A good start is a sign of things turning around; a great start is proof of things turning around; a bad start is another one of those things.

The answer is probably simple -- he's not throwing as hard -- but that's an answer that brings up more questions. Why is the velocity down? Is he hurt? Are his mechanics out of whack? Is his body just a little less capable of exerting the same, top-tier kinetic force that it used to? It's probably that last one, but what if it's his mechanics? Those can be fixed.

Here is a 442-still analysis of his mechanics compared to 2011.

Here is a 443-still analysis because I missed a picture the first time.

Here is a 40 MB png of Verlander's grip, zoomed in, that proves a point I'm unsure of.

Here are fielding-independent statistics that hint at improvement. Unless those statistics don't hint at improvement, in which case they're ignored.

The next seven-inning, one-run start will be a regional holiday. It will confirm what you were expecting, whatever that was.

2. You will secretly hope for an injury

This sounds ghoulish, and it is. But there will come a time when you're so frustrated, you'll secretly hope the problem is physical, because then there's a chance it can get fixed. A torn ligament can be mended. Reduced velocity can't be fixed because that's just what happens.

Unless it's a mechanical problem. Maybe it's a mechanical problem? It's probably a mechanical problem, you tell yourself, over and over.

But if it isn't, you'll want some closure and hope. And you'll hate yourself for it.

3. Baseball will make you sad

It's a tricky compact, this business of sports. We picked this hobby because it's enjoyable to us. At least, that's the idea. But when your former ace pitches horribly again, you will feel awful about your choice of hobbies. It's like being a voracious reader, but every fifth day reading a book about your personal faults and failings. For three hours a sitting, at least once a week, you read something like this:

You are not thoughtful. There are ways you could make the lives of those you love easier, but you refuse -- flatly refuse -- to do it. You are reading a book right now, selfishly, when you haven't called your friend Scott in a year.

Your hygiene is on a downward trajectory.

There's pages and pages of that stuff. After the three hours, you close the book and sigh. You couldn't have chosen another book. You had to read that one. That is your hobby, and it's too late to pick another one. In five days, you pick the book back up.

4. You will trick yourself into thinking a new, expensive extension is a good idea

(Giants fans only)

5. Acceptance and rosterbation

This is where you stop worrying and learn to love the bombs. Or, at least, start to get practical about them. This is where you start with the hypotheticals. What about him in the bullpen? What about Verlander in a deal for Matt Kemp?

As a postscript, however, I should note there are some serious differences between Verlander and Lincecum. The latter's problem right now, more than the reduced velocity, is that he has no idea where the ball is going. It makes me wonder if he ever did, or if he could live all over the strike zone when he had his early stuff.

Verlander has command. He has an advantage that most pitchers don't when it comes to dwindling velocity. All of that up there, all of those words, will be laughable if/when Verlander figures out how to pitch. And he still ranks ninth in the AL for fastball velocity -- it's not like he's gone full Zito. He still has a chance to come out of this. Maybe even a good chance.

Baseball is better when Verlander is at his best (except for A's fans), so no one wants to believe this is the beginning of the end. If he doesn't come back from this stretch, though, hopefully this will prepare you for what's going to happen. Stay strong, Tigers fans. You still have a good team, with several excellent pitchers. It won't get easier for a while, though. It won't get easier for a while.

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