Users Online Now: 961  |  March 29, 2023
Gary Armida's Blog
The Brilliance of Justin Verlander Stuck
Posted on August 7, 2012 at 09:41 AM.

There are so very few pitchers in today’s game who transcend the sport when they take the mound. It seems like back in the 60’s, pitchers like Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax won games just by taking the mound.

They were tough; they threw hard. They had nasty stuff. Above all, if they did lose, it was a story in itself.

But, that was a different time. It was a time when pitchers threw eight or nine innings on a regular basis. They were allowed to pitch and “win” their own games. In truth, it was easier to pitch then as the offensive threats of today’s game didn’t exist in the 60’s.

That doesn’t mean today’s game is void of elite pitchers. Felix Hernandez, CC Sabathia, Roy Halladay, and Jered Weaver have dominated over the past few seasons. Their mere presence on the mound gives their teams an advantage that most teams in the league lack.

But, Justin Verlander is different from every other pitcher in the game. He has separated himself from every other pitcher in the sport in the way he attacks a game, the way he dominates a game, and by how important he is to his team. His conditioning and mechanics allow him to dominate like no other pitcher in the sport. Luckily, he has a manager who understands that.

Jim Leyland is characterized as an old school type of manager. He plays the part well of the chain smoking, get in your face, crusty baseball lifer who seemingly manages a game by experience and guile rather than by data. Perhaps we are typecasting the 67 year old because of his looks and how he handles the media. He was far from old school last night as he allowed his ace Justin Verlander to throw 132 pitches to get through 8 innings. Even more puzzling, especially to the Yankees announcing team, was the fact that the Tigers were leading the Yankees 7-2 heading into the Verlander’s final innings. Leyland’s use of his ace sure does hearken back to the those old days when pitchers completed their games and when the win had a bit of value as an evaluative statistic. But, his handling of his most important player was actually an example of some of the most progressive thinking on a baseball field in quite some time.

We are living in the era of the pitch count.

That count, once it meets the magic number of 100, is what governs almost every Manager in the sport. No matter how a pitcher is throwing, he is removed soon after hitting that magical mark. But, as the industry of baseball continues to be a slave to the number, injuries aren’t reducing. In fact, they are rising. Why? It’s very simple. Pitch counts do not cause injury. The three biggest factors of pitching injuries according to ASMI are: poor condition, poor mechanics, and fatigue. Can a pitcher get fatigued from a high pitch count? Yes, but a high pitch count doesn’t always mean fatigue. It can vary from pitcher to pitcher. Theoretically, a pitcher can throw an unlimited amount of pitches as long as his delivery stays the same, he’s in shape, and that he doesn’t fatigue. It is the fatigue that will cause changes in the delivery. If Jim Leyland took Justin Verlander out after the 7th inning, he wouldn’t have been questioned.

But, he would’ve been wrong. Justin Verlander was dominating the Yankees. His mechanics were not altered. He was not laboring. His 131st pitch was 100 miles per hour. There was no reason for Justin Verlander to come out of the game. Jim Leyland did what no other Manager would have.

He let his ace work and pitch the eighth inning rather than going to the bullpen. In an age where Managers hide behind pitch counts and do the safe thing, Leyland left his ace in to pitch because he wasn’t tired, his mechanics were sound, and he was simply dominating the Yankees.

Verlander is, indeed, a different pitcher. Right now, there is no other pitcher like the Detroit ace.

The defending American League Cy Young Award winner and Most Valuable Player is having another award worthy season. In 23 starts, he is now 12-7 with a 2.51 ERA. In 168.2 innings, he has allowed just 125 hits, 2.19 BB/9, 8.86 K/9, and a sparkling 2.96 FIP. Including last night’s start, Verlander has thrown a Major League leading 2,615 pitches, almost 200 more than the second place James Shields. Verlander has topped the 100 pitch mark in each of his 23 starts. He’s thrown at least 8 innings in 12 starts. He’s gone into the seventh in 17 starts. He is pitching better than he did last season.

That’s a scary thought considering the hardware that Verlander took home last season. But, the reality is that he is pitching better despite having a terrible defense behind him and with no other rotation member helping him out. The Detroit bullpen has thrown only 315 innings this season, which is just 9th most in the American League. Yet, four of their starters have thrown less than 128 innings this season. Only Verlander has topped that mark and by quite a wide margin. Those 40 additional innings over his 23 starts have saved the bullpen from really being overworked. That value alone makes him a legitimate candidate for the MVP Award for the second consecutive season. Mike Trout gets all the attention now, but Justin Verlander is once again making his case the sport’s most valuable player.

The transformation for talented pitcher to ace wasn’t so easy. His first 62 starts were very good as Verlander won 35 games against 15 defeats. He pitched to a 3.67 ERA and posted 8.2 H/9, 1.0 HR/9, 2.3 BB/9, and 7.1 K/9. Heading into his age 25 season, the future looked bright for the right hander who featured a blazing fastball and deadly curveball. But, 2008 wasn’t so kind. Despite the nasty arsenal of pitches, he pitched to a 4.84 ERA and allowed 8.7 H/9, a career high 3.9 BB/9, and a career low 7.3 K/9. His velocity was down and his curveball use was up. He was beginning to gain a reputation of someone who would lose his focus during starts.

We’ve seen that type of story so many times. Many pitchers started their career well only to fall off. But, the Tigers insisted that their ace was healthy and just enduring a bad year marred by poor control. They were correct as Verlander rebounded in 2009 and 2010 to become a very good pitcher. There were still moments of lacking control and moments when he would become hittable. However, his trajectory was once again moving in a positive direction. He was 37-18 over those two seasons with a 3.41 ERA in 68 starts. He averaged 7.9 H/9, 2.6 BB/9, and 9.6 K/9.

Then the real transformation happened. In 2011, Verlander put all of the potential into a reality as he dominated the American League. He led the league in innings pitched, strikeouts, ERA+, WHIP, and hits per nine innings. That dominance led to winning both the Cy Young and MVP Awards. No other pitcher matched his endurance and sustained dominance. Now, Verlander is gaining a reputation as a finisher. He is someone who supposedly keeps a little in reserve, often starting the game in the 92-93 MPH range. Then, as the game progresses, ramps up the velocity when he needs it. Last night was a clear illustration. He threw that 100 MPH pitch and then followed it up with an 86 MPH changeup. His last pitch was a knee buckling 82 MPH curveball for a called strike three. That changeup and curveball are less effective if he is working in the low 90’s, but that 100 MPH fastball makes a big difference.

Against the other aces of the game, Verlander is just simply better. CC Sabathia is a legitimate ace and workhorse. Yet, Sabathia has pitched more than seven innings just six times. His Manager has removed him from dominant starts after 7 innings six times. He’s only been allowed to top 120 pitches twice this season. Felix Hernandez has pitched more than 7 innings nine times this season. He has topped 120 pitches just twice. He’s been removed from starts with fewer than 100 pitches in seven starts. In 23 starts, Clayton Kershaw leads the National League with 156.1 innings. Verlander still leads him by 12 innings in the same number of starts.

Dominating like few in the game and doing it over more innings is why Justin Verlander has become Baseball’s pitching standard.

So OS'ers, do you think Verlander's pitching standard is sustainable for a few more seasons?
# 1 josephid @ Aug 7
In 1960 the league was watered down. Today, we have so many different players from all over the world. It is not just mostly white Americans playing.

The talent pool is many times bigger today, population alone is many times bigger. Every player on the whole planet is found because of the computer and just the technology we have now.
# 2 MERACE @ Aug 7
I was at the game last night and Verlander showed no signs of fatigue through 8 innings of pitching brilliance. He does need to brush up on his fielding skills a little (he dropped the throw while covering the bag at first which lead to the Yankees 2 unearned runs).

Barring any injuries I expect him to continue his pitching dominance for at least another five or more years.

# 3 HitThatRowdy96 @ Aug 7
Verlander is, at the very least, the Tigers' most valuable player based on how big a drop off it is from him to the next best pitcher. All respect to Fielder and Cabrerra, Verlander gives the Tigers something they wouldn't have without him: a guy who can hold the line every five days. Run support is nice, but it's hard to win when the pitcher isn't supporting the runs.
# 4 jsquigg @ Aug 7
Verlander is the best pitcher in the league, however Doug Fister was arguably just as good down the stretch last year. It is a tad unfair to talk about the other starters innings pitched when Fister and Smyly have battled injuries. Scherzer and Porcello are a Jekkyl and Hyde act, but I'm pleased with the staff. It's the offense that has been sporadic at best, and I believe with the addition of Infante and Dirks getting healthy that the Tigers will do some damage down the stretch.
# 5 rudyjuly2 @ Aug 7
Verlander has had some extra days rest lately and Leyland said Justin could always handle 130 pitches. Leyland feels pitch counts are over-rated and were created by agents to protect clients in order to get big deals.
# 6 psymin1 @ Aug 7
Wonderful, wonderful article! Verlander is absolutely something special, and I'm glad I get to watch him each and every start.
Gary Armida
Gary Armida's Blog Categories
Gary Armida's PSN Gamercard
' +
More Gary Armida's Friends
Recent Visitors
The last 10 visitor(s) to this Arena were:

Gary Armida's Arena has had 449,431 visits