(Photo Credit: REUTERS/JAYNE KAMIN-ONCEA)
When you think of pitchers who have bested Father Time, names like, Bartolo Colon or Mariano Rivera are probably the first that come to mind. But Justin Verlander is quickly making that case for himself as well. Verlander isn’t just outplaying himself on the field, but he’s also trying to turn back the clocks to a time in baseball that may be long gone for starting pitchers. He was quoted by Avery Yang of MLB.com last night, saying:
“I want to be the guy who can go out there and throw 120 pitches, and that’s something I talked to skipper about when I first got here. … I think it’s an asset for me to be able to go out there and throw 120 and sometimes take the strain off the bullpen guys.”
That’s right. Verlander, and probably Verlander alone, is trying to bring back the days of the complete game pitcher. He’s a weapon to Houston in more ways than one if he can continue to complete full games for them. Just imagine as the opposing team, knowing you’ll never get the chance for a comeback victory because you just can’t seem to get past the ace on the mound and into that team’s bullpen.
To make matters worse, for any team facing Verlander, is that he seems to be as sharp as ever. That 2,500th strikeout was recorded in the 9th inning last night. While he can get himself into trouble as the game marches into the later innings, he always has the answer with the right pitch to get himself out of the jam. When you can get one of the best players in baseball in Mike Trout to ground out on a checked swing with runners on second and third, it doesn’t seem like much else can stop you.
Shaking off the Motor City woes
Until last year, it looked as though Verlander may have been on the decline. In his last two seasons in Detroit, his ERA was on the higher side of three. That isn’t terrible, but the fact that it continued to climb despite his best efforts, is concerning for someone who is supposed to be the ace on your staff.
When he was traded at the tail end of the deadline last season, his ERA was at 3.82. No one really knew what to make of him or whether he would thrive in Houston as the team was trying to make their playoff push. In the next five games that Verlander started for Houston, not only did he walk away with wins in all of them, but he got his ERA down to 1.06 in an Astros uniform. At age 34, Verlander’s ERA had never been lower and his K/9 had never been higher at 11.4.
And just when you think he couldn’t get any better, he comes back this year and as of today is posting an even lower ERA of 1.05 while still striking out at least 11 batters per nine innings. He is what every struggling, aging pitcher has always wished they could become.
Adapting and Dominating
It's interesting to note that since Verlander made the move to Houston, his fastball velocity is up another two ticks at 94 miles per hour, and he's throwing it just a bit more than he used to at about 60% of the time. However, it's not just his fastball that's responsible for his success in the Lone Star State, but his combination of throwing it along with his slider.
In Detroit, Verlander was only throwing his slider anywhere from 11 to 18% of the time. Since he's played for the Astros, he's throwing his slider about 23% of the time, switching it off with that famous fastball and no doubt generating more swings and misses from batters.
It's that adaptation that makes Verlander so dangerous on the mound. Moreso than his fastball, and his stamina to pitch 200+ innings, it's the fact that he is capable of change. As he starts to age north of 35, it will be interesting to see how he continues to be one of the best in baseball.
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