October 10, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) delivers a pitch during the fifth inning in game five of the American League divisional series playoff baseball game against the Oakland Athletics at O.co Coliseum. The Tigers defeated the Athletics 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
The Detroit Tigers have had some great starting pitchers over the years, but when you think that the team will be entering its 113th year of baseball in 2014, they really haven’t had that many terrific pitchers. Perhaps that had to do with playing a majority of their games in the hitter-friendly ballpark that was Tiger Stadium, and all its previous incarnations.
Still, there were quite a few players to choose from, and while it was a very close vote, ultimately the staff of Motor City Bengals chose the team’s current ace, Justin Verlander, to take the hill for its All-Time Detroit Tigers team.
Before we delve deeper, let’s take a look back.
1B: Hank Greenberg
SS: Alan Trammell
3B: Miguel Cabrera
C: Bill Freehan
LF: Willie Horton
CF: Ty Cobb
RF: Al Kaline
Keep in mind that when putting this All-Time team together, we wanted it to represent the exact team we’d throw out there for one game for the ages–perhaps a game played on the Field of Dreams.
So knowing that we had one pitcher we’d want for that one important game, we picked Justin Brooks Verlander. The Tigers picked Justin in the 2004 MLB Draft and after a prolonged and somewhat contentious contract negotiation period, signed the second overall pick in October. It didn’t take him long to reach the majors when he started a pair of games in July 2005, getting rocked for 9 earned runs over 11 innings. Nonetheless he dominated in the minor leagues to the tune of a 1.29 ERA with 136 strikeouts over 118 innings.
2005 would be his one and only season in the minors. Not many expected Verlander to make the team for Opening Day 2006, but he did just that. The rookie paid the team back for their faith in him by winning 17 games, helping the team make the postseason for the first time in 18 years, starting Game 1 of the World Series, and winning the Rookie of the Year.
Verlander suffered no sophomore slump in 2007, improving his record from 17-9 to 18-6, and earning his first of six All-Star appearances. On June 12, 2007 against the Milwaukee Brewers, he threw the franchise’s first no-hitter since Jack Morris in 1984 and first Tigers’ no-hitter in Detroit since Virgil Trucks in 1952.
Prior to the 2008 season, the Tigers made a blockbuster trade that brought in Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. Many predicted the Tigers to waltz through the American League and win the World Series. The team took a step back and finished in last place, and so did Verlander, going 11-17 with a 4.84 ERA.
Starting in 2009, Verlander began establishing himself as one of the top pitchers in baseball. In a year for the ages, Verlander won the Cy Young and MVP award (the first pitcher to win the award since Dennis Eckersley in 1992) when he won 24 games and posted a 2.40 ERA in 2011. At one point that season, he won 12-straight decisions and helped the Tigers win their first division title since 1987.
JV was very good in 2012, finishing second in the Cy Young voting. After struggling in the postseason in the earlier part of his career, Verlander has really put it together, allowing no more than one run in six of his last seven playoff starts. Justin has become public enemy number one in Oakland as he shut the Athletics out in two winner-take-all ALDS Game 5 starts (2012, 2013)–each on the road.
Verlander had a sub-par 2013 regular season, but atoned for it big time by allowing just one run in 23 innings in the postseason. But he also had a bad year in 2008 and recovered very nicely in 2009.
Verlander’s biggest challenger for this honor was Hal Newhouser. “Prince Hal” is the only Detroit Tiger pitcher in the Hall-of-Fame (while a few others in the Hall wore a Tigers uniform, such as Jim Bunning, the bulk of their HOF career was spent elsewhere). Newhouser went 207-150 in his 17-year major league career (15 in Detroit).
Who’d we miss?
Click through the slideshow to see who else we’ve picked and tune in next week for our all-time reliever (non-closer).