How Verlander is defying age, TJ

May 4th, 2022

Justin Verlander looks eerily like Justin Verlander. And that's the story.

The 2022 Verlander, 39 years old with a repaired elbow ligament, is pitching like aging and Tommy John are make believe. He's pitching like it's still 2019.

Verlander has a 1.73 ERA as he enters his fifth start in his return from the surgery that cost him almost two full seasons. For a pitcher who's nearly 40, it's a remarkable return to form. And for the Astros team that re-signed its old ace, getting the same ace-caliber Verlander is a huge win.

Here are three key ways 2022 Verlander resembles 2019 Verlander.

He's keeping runners off the bases

In both of Verlander's two full seasons with Houston, he led the Major Leagues in WHIP (0.902 in 2018, 0.803 in '19). This season, he's … leading the Major Leagues in WHIP (0.692).

Verlander's skill at suppressing baserunners stems from impeccable command of the strike zone -- he punches out a lot of hitters and issues very few walks. That's stayed consistent into 2022.

Verlander's strikeout and walk rates with Astros
2018: 35% K / 4% BB -- 7.84 K:BB ratio (led MLB)
2019: 35% K / 5% BB -- 7.14 K:BB ratio (led AL)
2022: 30% K / 4% BB -- 7.00 K:BB ratio

Verlander's strikeout-to-walk ratio is up in the 7s again. He's attacking the strike zone (54% in-zone rate), getting chases (30% chase rate) and spotting up on the edges (48% edge percentage).

Even though his strikeout and swing-and-miss numbers (24% whiff rate) are a little lower than before, he's still getting the K's he needs, striking out more than a batter per inning while walking barely anyone. Maybe he won't strike out 300 batters again this season, but he's still following the recipe for success.

He has the same arsenal

Verlander still has the good stuff. He's getting his great results by using the same repertoire he did in 2019.

Verlander's pitch usage, 2019:
50% 4-seamer / 29% slider / 17% curveball / 4% changeup

Verlander's pitch usage, 2022:
50% 4-seamer / 31% slider / 18% curveball / 1% changeup

With the pitch mix replicated from 2019, here's how Verlander's main three-pitch combo is performing.

4-seamer (94.6 mph) -- .229 BA (69-for-301, 104 K)
Slider (87.5 mph) -- .119 BA (35-for-295, 127 K)
Curveball (79.4 mph) -- .190 BA (22-for-116, 38 K)

4-seamer (94.7 mph) -- .119 BA (5-for-42, 6 K)
Slider (86.9 mph) -- .222 BA (8-for-36, 17 K)
Curveball (77.7 mph) -- .111 BA (1-for-9, 5 K)

Verlander's three plus pitches are all working. A few more plate appearances are being decided on his fastball, and he's getting a few more of his strikeouts on his slider, but the trio is still getting the job done across the board.

He's still got the high fastball

Verlander's signature pitch is the elevated four-seamer, and he's still throwing them right by hitters.

Verlander has regained his velocity from pre-Tommy John, averaging an almost identical 94.7 mph to where he sat in 2019 and reaching up to 96.7 mph so far this season. Though his spin rate has dipped a little bit, to 2,408 rpm, that's still a high-spin fastball, and Verlander is efficient at turning that spin into the riding action that carries a four-seamer past a hitter. He throws a true backspin four-seamer with 98% "active spin," which means that essentially all of his fastball spin contributes to the pitch's movement. That's why Verlander's four-seamer continues to work so well at the top of the strike zone.

Verlander's fastball, 2019
94.6 mph / 2,577 rpm
10.7 inches vert. movement / 10.1 inches horiz. movement
56% elevated / 2.87 feet avg. pitch height

Verlander's fastball, 2022
94.7 mph / 2,408 rpm
11.4 inches vert. movement / 9.5 inches horiz. movement
60% elevated / 2.98 feet avg. pitch height

Verlander is throwing his four-seamer in the upper third of the strike zone or higher even more often than he did in 2019. His high fastballs are the ones that turn into swinging strikes.

Verlander is throwing high fastballs more often than three out of four Major League pitchers. Those fastballs haven't lost their life, and as long as Verlander has his fundamental weapon, he's going to be himself.