June 16, 2014 at 12:05 pm

Kurt Mensching

Don't worry about rest of Justin Verlander's deal, but do worry about rest of this season

Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander is owed $150 million from now until the end of his current deal. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

The Tigers have 150 million reasons to worry about Justin Verlander. Thatís approximately how many dollars are guaranteed to the former staff ace between now and the end of the 2019 season.

Thatís how many dollars are guaranteed to a player whose earned-run average has climbed to 4.61, which would be the second-highest of his career, and who is allowing about 1.5 baserunners per inning, the worst in his career.

Thatís how many dollars are guaranteed to a player with his second-lowest career strikeout rate and highest career walk rate.

You could make the argument Verlander is, at best, the Tigersí No. 4 pitcher right now.

One hundred fifty million dollars owed to a fourth starter? Thereís a lot of reason to worry.

Typically you might be able to look at a struggling star and find some indication of bad luck. Not this time.

You have to go back to 2008 ó Verlanderís last ďlost seasonĒ ó to find a campaign so bad in every single measurable way. Batters arenít swinging at as many pitches. Theyíre making contact. And that contact isnít always resulting in bloop singles.

Aside from repeating platitudes like, ďDonít worry, heís Justin Verlander,Ē there hasnít been a lot of reason to feel positive after the first two months of this season.

But there might be reason to have hope Verlander will perform a little more like expected throughout the rest of his contract, though it doesnít exactly give reason to feel positive about the likelihood of a big turnaround this year.

Look no further than his last game for an example. Verlander entered the sixth inning against the White Sox having allowed only a second-inning solo home run. The first three batters reached with singles, then Verlander seemed to escape harm having forced a double play. No such luck. Verlander gave up another two hits along with a pair of walks.

A good start spoiled.

In the future, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus might be advised to have a quicker hook.

Thatís because this isnít anything new for Verlander this season. The player known for getting stronger as the game grows longer has this year struggled to fulfill his reputation.

Verlanderís ills begin as soon as the third inning ends. Through the first three innings, Verlanderís ERA is a crisp 2.78. In 14 fourth innings pitched, his ERA is 4.50. In 14 fifth innings pitched, his ERA climbs to 5.14. It only gets worse from there.

You can see it in other ways. The first two times through a lineup, Verlander allows an on-base-plus-slugging (OPS) of .686 and .696. The third time through, that climbs to .905.

Or how about this: Verlander allows an OPS of .741 on pitches 51-75, but .886 on pitches 76-100.

So itís not about Verlander losing his competitive edge after earning a big contract ó and itís silly to even consider that thought further, knowing what we do of the man. Itís probably not some arm injury, either. And, please, donít even mention Kate Upton.

Simply put, Verlander seems to be running out of gas. Although Verlander turned 31 years old this year, it seems more likely you can pin his issues on the surgery in January to repair his core muscles. That change to Verlanderís offseason routine may be all it took to derail his year. Or maybe he just tried to come back too soon.

Weíll see the if Tigersí training staff finds a way to keep Verlander strong deeper in games. It would seem difficult to do that while he is taking the ball every five days, though.

For now, worry about 2014. Verlander has certainly given you plenty of reason to. But it might be a little bit too early to start worrying about the next five years.

Kurt Mensching is editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at bybtigers@gmail.com.

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