Justin Verlander has two no-hitters, a Cy Young award and an MVP to his credit, and is certainly one reason that anything besides a World Series victory this year for the Detroit Tigers will be a disappointment.
Whenever you hear people on television talking about Verlander they usually talk about his strikeouts and his wins. Those are both valid as he has been a strikeout machine since coming to the big leagues, and he has only had one year with fewer wins than losses. But there is so much more to say about him.
One thing that most people forget about, or just don’t bring up as often, is the amount of innings he’s pitched. He has led the American League in innings pitched for several years now. This is good for the Tigers on the days he pitches, but it also helps out the team on his off days as well. When he pitches eight innings or a complete game, which he often does, it gives the bullpen a chance to rest and recover. This in turn allows the skipper, Jim Leyland, to bring in a relief pitcher an inning or two earlier than he might otherwise be able to. It is impossible to quantify, but I believe the Tigers have won several games thanks to this fact.
As far as the playoffs go, it’s been a mixed bag for Verlander. In 2006 his numbers weren’t great in the postseason, especially in the World Series. But then again, no Tiger pitcher had a good series, save Kenny Rogers. In 2011 Verlander went 2-1 in the playoffs, but had an ERA above 5.0.
Tigers fans remember that Verlander lost game one of the 2012 World Series, and didn’t look that good in the process. We also remember that if anyone else besides Verlander had pitched in game five of the 2012 American League Division Series against Oakland, Detroit probably wouldn’t have made it to the next round where they swept the Yankees to make it to the fall classic.
Rod Allen, the Tigers’ color commentator for Fox Sports Detroit, once told a story about a conversation he had with Tigers’ General Manager Dave Dumbrowski. The conversation happened when Verlander was first coming up to the majors and Allen was asking Dumbrowski what to expect from the young right-hander. Dumbrowski told Allen that Verlander reminded him of Nolan Ryan. At the time, hat seemed like an overstatement to me.
I have a signed Ryan ball on my mantle that I have owned for 20 years now. I’ve been a fan of the fireballer ever since he pitched his seventh no-hitter the night before my ninth birthday. While Verlander will probably not reach seven no-hitters in his career (though don’t count him out) I see now what Dumbrowski saw back then. He throws a 100 MPH fastball like Ryan and he works late into games the why Ryan did also. If anything Verlander could go down in history as a better pitcher than the Ryan Express. His secondary stuff is probably better, and if he can stay healthy as long as Ryan, he might record more wins, have more playoff success and end his playing days with a lower ERA.
Staying healthy has been another strong point of Verlander’s career. He has been nothing but durable ever since he put on the Old English D. I went to see him pitch on opening day in Minnesota this year and on the car ride there my friend Dave Golnick and I talked about the Tigers extensively. Golnick said that the reason for Verlander’s durability was his lower body strength. It honestly wasn’t something I had thought about before, but after hearing my buddy explain to me that leg strength was crucial to a pitcher being able to handle the grind of a 162 game season, it made perfect sense to me.
I have heard older friends and family members talk about watching pitchers like Sandy Koufax or Tom Seaver. I can imagine what it would have been to like to be able to see Christy Mathewson or Cy Young pitch. This is what I feel like when I am watching Verlander. I feel like I am watching a once-in-a-generation starting pitcher. The kind of pitcher I will one day tell my grandkids I was privileged enoutgh to see in person.