While watching Verlander pitch against the Orioles today, I was thinking how he isn't the same electric pitcher he was in 2011 when he won the MVP and Cy Young awards and in 2012 when he probably should won another Cy Young. We keep waiting for him to go off on an unbeatable streak where he is a threat to pitch a no hitter every time out. Instead, he is not even the most exciting pitcher on the team (at least not so far this year) and fans now anticipate a start by Anibal Sanchez or Max Scherzer as much or more than a Verlander game.
It's not that Verlander has been terrible. In fact, he has been good for the most part. His 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings is the best of his career and third best among American League starters this year. According to FanGraphs, he also has induced his usual high percentage of infield flies (14.3% of all batted balls). So, he is still tough to hit, but when they do hit him they have hit him pretty hard. His 24% line drive rate is third highest in the league and the highest of his career. His control has also not been as good this year with 3.1 walks per nine innings, his highest since 2008. The result is a solid but un-Verlander-like 3.70 ERA.
It's not just the results though. It's that he just seems so human on the mound this year. While he still approaches 100 MPH from time to time such as a 98 MPH fastball today, his average fastball this year according Brooks Baseball is just over 93 MPH. That's pretty unremarkable compared to 2009-2012 where he average 96 MPH. He no longer is the fastest pitcher on the team as Scherzer's fastball has averaged 93.8 MPH. In fact, Verlander is not throwing much harder than Rick Porcello who checks in at 92.4.
The best way to illustrate Verlander's lack of dominance this year might be by looking at game scores (explained here). He had six of the top ten game scores on the team in 2011 and generated five of the best ten in 2012. That should come to no surprise to fans who would routinely planned their weeks around a Verlander start and seldom be disappointed.
This year, Verlander has only one of the top ten game scores and that came versus the light-hitting Astros. Sanchez has the top two game scores - his 17-strikeout game and his one hitter - plus one other in the top ten and Scherzer has four of the top ten.
Verlander may return to his dynamic self over the last two thirds of the season, but a Verlander start is not the must-see event it was in the past. For now, that title might belong to Sanchez or Scherzer.