The 33 year old Justin Verlander of 2016, and me, have some advice for the Justin Verlander pitching Game 5 against Oakland tonight.
Win. Be dominant like last Saturday’s start. You’ve got all the physical and mental pieces to define how you’ll be revered…
Like Maximus said…
Then, do the same against Boston. Then again against the Cardinals or the Dodgers.
If Verlander was indeed just tinkering with his mechanics to maintain a steady pace during the regular season, only to (refer to above again I suppose) unleash hell on his playoff opponents, it’s time to rise to challenge he set before himself, or possibly begin to feel the tide of Tigers allegiance ruefully turn against him.
With the way this Tigers team in constructed, there’ll likely be more swings at October greatness in the coming the seasons, but Verlander will be judged on a harsher, more expensive curve moving forward. He is now the man of the $180 million dollar extension.
Then there’s the icy, bitter reality we all must endure. The older we get, the less we can do. For you and I, it’s of no great matter. We’re not professional athletes. We just going from running marathons to running 5K’s, or running 5K’s to a half hour on the elliptical. Some of us, you not me, just stay inert on the couch and scream at rich athletes not living up to their contracts, in your estimation.
I can tell you that Justin Verlander has probably peaked as a professional athlete. 2011 ain’t happening again. That doesn’t mean he’s all of the sudden going to be a meddling starting pitcher fighting to keep his ERA below 4.50. I mean, that could happen. But I’ll posit that Verlander, at least for the next few years will still likely showcase performances that would have him acing at least a third of the starting staffs in baseball.
Before Verlander slides down too far from his peak, I don’t think there’s anyone that doesn’t want him to lead the Tigers to a World Series with the components that create his make up. Rich, Tiger-for-life-ace. Be the reason the Tigers win a championship now, rather than possibly being just a part of the whole later on. (See two time champ Zito, Barry. More to follow)
Things could get ugly for Verlander. Wait. Things WILL get ugly for Verlander, it’s just a matter of when.
CC Sabathia at 32, and a thousand innings pitched beyond Verlander, is coming off a season where he led the AL in earned runs allowed generating a career worst ERA of 4.78. His WHIP of 1.37 was also the poorest showing of his career. He has up to 4 years and $96 million left on his deal with the Yankees. CC doesn’t look to be battling Father Time as his teammate Hiroki Kuroda has the last two seasons. Kuroda’s also not making CC money.
Roy Halladay at 36, coming off a second consecutive year devastated by shoulder trouble, may be finished. After surgery and rehab, Halladay was rushed back to the Phillies because of other injuries, and once a man who could make 90-something mile per hour pitches dance as if he were a puppeteer, lasted only three batters and didn’t top 83 mph in his final Phillies start. It’s akin to hitting that age where you realize your parents get sick, and aren’t immortal. Halladay went to Philly to win a title, and unless he finds a team who’ll offer him an incentive laden deal where he can ride coat tails to a title, he’ll complete a Hall Of Fame career without a ring.
Before more somber endings of greatness, a slightly happier tale.
Cliff Lee has aged quite gracefully during the first three years of his colossal contract with the Phillies. With $77 million and three years left on his Phillies deal, it’s a conservative bet to say the Phillies will get the most possible out of their investment in Lee, who’s coming off a year, at 34, with 222 K’s and a WAR over 7. It’s unlikely Verlander will progress, errrr, regress is the more apt way of saying it, as Lee has. Lee is unique from Verlander, Halladay and Sabathia in that his arsenal has never been an overpowering one. Lee could eventually match Maddux, as my favorite pitcher to have ever watched. 88 mph and you couldn’t touch it! Sabathia and Verlander both have averaged over 94 mph on their fastballs during their careers. Halladay never reached even 93, but his repertoire was like a magician’s endless bag of tricks. Lee’s fastball, which has been up a bit since what you’d call his prime years of athletic life, has never averaged 92 mph. Cliff Lee has always relied on pinpoint control (get it over) AND command (put it where you want) of his array. At 32, 33, and 34 as Phillie, Lee has averaged 34 walks per year. Verlander, who’s averaged 64 free passes since his MVP campaign, would truly have to remake himself to match the precise accuracy Lee has almost always been able to employ.
When his electric fastball begins to escape him, can Verlander paint corners with an average fastball to validate his immense annual salary as he eventually becomes the age of Lee, and then Halladay.
Because of his efforts, ethic and habits – while no one worked harder than Halladay – I’d give Verlander a definite maybe to the conjecture above.
Other harbinger’s of pitching doom to be wary of…
Johan Santana was paid $129 million by the Mets (5 of which, he’ll be paid to go away in ’14). Factoring in two totally lost years in ’11 and ’13, Santana gave the Mets a WAR of 3.8 over the life of the deal. That’s the number Mat Latos gave the Reds in 2013. Not horrific, but not what you expect to get when you sign a player to a deal that should equal over $21 million per year. He got that evasive Mets no hitter though, possibly at a great cost.
Even though they won two World Series during his time as a Giant, the Barry Zito contract was a complete calamity. That was just a dumb signing, period.
The Giants also must be elated that Tim Lincecum refused to sign a long term deal considering what he was less than five years ago. He’s a free agent this winter and it’ll be fascinating to see who pays him, how much and to do what – yep, I believe he could have intriguing value as a rubber armed, do-it-all pitcher.
PItchers like Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels, who within the last year or so, have reached lavish deals with the Dodgers and Phillies, respectively, are my money to age like Lee. Hamels arsenal has always been anchored by one of the game’s finest change ups, though he lacks the precision of Lee. Greinke, who will turn 30 before Halloween, has had to manage an eroding fastball annually. Greinke, who is one of the most introspective, yet mercurial, athletes in all of pro sports, went back to using a change up this year, and added an 86 mph cutter to his assortment of pitches. He earned his $19 million in the first year of his Dodger contract, and after making another $51 million more the next two years, Greinke can opt out. If not, in whatever condition he pitches through, he’s guaranteed another $128 million through 2018 from Los Angeles. I’ll marginally lean toward Hamels. I’m a sucker for a change up. If I were a dad, I’d make sure my kid mastered a change up before he could drive.
Verlander’s inevitable regression will be juxtaposed most against Felix Hernandez and his $175 million dollar new deal. Hernandez, a power pitcher like Verlander, is three years Verlander’s younger, but has just 20 less innings than the Tiger. What the Mariners and Hernandez may have in his favor, is that if there’s ever an injury or a physical challenge, I’ll trust the younger player to heal more efficiently. Hernandez could be just as doomed as anyone though. The body just ain’t supposed to pitch a baseball!
I hope Verlander’s Game 5, and beyond in the postseason, is as electric as his last two playoff starts in Oakland. I hope there’s a title, if not, I hope there’s at least greatness in Verlander’s 2013 postseason. He hasn’t had an unhittable October yet to date, and the years and pitches he has left to do that are waning. I would like both to be now. So that way in 2016, when Verlander’s 33 and making $28 million dollars, when Tiger fans are berating and assailing him for barely being able to make it through 6 meager innings, I can say…’Justin earned his money in 2013, for the World Champion Tigers. Now sit down and shut up.’
Then again, maybe Verlander will twirl like Lee, and go on to be one of the game’s all time greats, and he’ll go on his terms, not those of an ERA with the same amount of fingers on my hand.
Go Tigers. Go JV.