Hal Newhouser. Mickey Lolich. Denny McLain. Dizzy Trout. Jack Morris. The list of the best Detroit Tigers pitchers includes some of the most elite men to ever throw a fastball in the MLB. But, the list is incomplete without Justin Verlander.
Fans of the Detroit Tigers are fortunate that Justin Verlander is still throwing. And, so is he. The 33-year-old right-handed pitcher has earned nearly every award that can be given to a pitcher in the Major League. He has earned the Rookie of the Year, the Cy Young, the MLB Player of the Year, the pitching Triple Crown, the American League MVP, and several invitations to All-Star Games. He still has one award left to win: the World Series MVP.
Verlander has proven himself to be a step above nearly every pitcher he has ever dueled against. Despite his two rough seasons in 2014 and 2015, he is on track to maintain that reputation. Verlander seems like a man on a mission and that mission is to win the last game of the 2016 season.
Everything about Justin Verlander screams future Hall-of-Famer. He has league-leading stats in ERA, win-loss percentage, innings pitched, strikeouts, and WHIP – all with Detroit. In his 11 years with the Tigers, he has only recorded two seasons where he lost more games than he won, 2008 (11-17) and 2015 (5-8). If his performance in 2009 (19-9) is any indication of what kind of a comeback player he is, 2016 should be exciting to watch. Even with those records, Verlander still has a career ERA of 3.52 and a career WHIP of 1.204.
There is no doubt that Justin Verlander has proven himself to be one outstanding pitcher. The numbers speak volumes. But the numbers do not say it all. He has an intensity and dedication to the game that inspires the people who are around him. With two rough seasons under his belt, he never gave up.
In 2015, most pundits believed he was finished. His speed was low, his stuff wasn’t drawing the swings and misses (or looks) that it once had, and he just couldn’t seem to get it together. Then, on August 26, Verlander’s mojo returned and he pitched a no-hitter into the 9th inning. It was clear that he was turning a corner on the way back to greatness.
In a nutshell, the workhorse found his pace.
The 99+ mph pitches returned and not in the first three innings, but in the last three innings. He is the rare pitcher who gets faster as the game continues, even at age 33. According to FanGraphs, Verlander’s fastball reached 99.1 mph.
Even though the Tigers had their worst record since 2008, Verlander ended the 2015 season on a high note (minus his last game in the frigid wind and rain on the Southside of Chicago). In August, he had an ERA of 1.50 and in September his ERA was 3.27. These numbers were impressive considering his June ERA of 5.09.
As a Verlander fan, I have high expectations for him in 2016. There is a reason he is pitching on Opening Day and these words from Jeff Jones explain it perfectly: “He’s always been a good leader, but I think even moreso in the last year or so. He’s taken more of a role, and it’s been good. He’s a smart guy and he’s been through it all. He’s had success. He’s had some injuries. You couldn’t ask for a better guy to do that.”