Houston Astros ace, Justin Verlander was an integral part to the team’s World Series win. It’s obvious that the former Cy Young winner still has juice, but does he have enough left to capture another Cy Young award?
Verlander came in and did exactly what the team needed him to do. He rebounded from a, what was sub par by his standards, season. He came in and was lights out for the Astros the last month of the season and in the post season.
Looking at Verlander’s stats throughout his career, there are very obvious mountains and very obvious valleys. He seemingly bottomed out in 2008, posting career worsts in losses (17), ERA (4.84), WHIP (1.402), and walks (87). Aside from injury shortened seasons, it was also his second lowest strikeout total (163) of his career.
However, Verlander completely flipped the script three years later. In 2011, he had a phenomenal year by any standards capturing both the Cy Young and the MVP. This feat has only been accomplished TEN times in baseball HISTORY. Through his 34 starts, Verlander never lasted less than six innings and finished the season first in wins (24), ERA (2.40), WHIP (0.920), strikeouts (250), innings (251.0) and WAR (8.4).
The following year he placed second in Cy Young award voting. Since then, he has bottomed out to another valley with a 4.54 ERA in 2014. Again, these bad seasons are by his standards and aren’t terrible for a non-ace. In 2016, he seemed to be on a late career resurgence with a 3.04 ERA he placed second in Cy Young voting again.
This brings us to 2017, through 28 starts with Detroit he had a 3.82 ERA to pair with 10 wins, 176 strikeouts, and a 1.279 WHIP. Decent numbers, but not Cy Young level. However, after the midnight, August 31st trade the Houston Astros, everything changed.
Breaking Down Verlander’s 2017
Towards the beginning of the year, Verlander took some beatings from Cleveland (16 ER in 7.1 IP) leaving him with a 4.96 ERA through his first 17 starts. However, he then reeled off a 10-start run of 2.31 ERA ball before the trade to Houston. Verlander, then, won all five of his regular season starts with a 1.06 ERA, and 43 strikeouts across 34 innings. That’s 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings. Putting that into perspective, Verlander maintained elite ace status the vast majority of 2017. All culminating with the World Series victory in October.
What can be expected in Verlander’s first full year as the ace for the Houston Astros?
Now, spring training stats always need to be taken with a grain of salt. That being said, Verlander
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has carried last year’s finish into the spring. He’s been excellent with a 1.64 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, and 24 strikeouts.
First off, we need a slight reality check. Verlander’s ERAs during his Astros stint are as follows: 1.06 (regular season), 2.21 (postseason), and 1.64 (spring training). IF Verlander were able to maintain this level of success he would be a LOCK for his second Cy Young. However, that level of success is extremely hard to sustain and we will likely see a regression in 2018.
That being said, there is a lot to love about Verlander’s prospects in 2018. Verlander is currently sitting at a seven year high in terms of velocity. He sat last year and this spring at an average of 95.6 mph for his fastball. This is a major uptick from the previous years and above his career average.
FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) measures what a player’s ERA would look like over a given period of time if the pitcher were to have experienced league average results on balls in play and league average timing. Verlander’s FIP with Detroit was 4.07 and after he moved to Houston it dropped to 2.69. Which indicates even though he was in front of a better defense, he also pitched at an extremely high level. Verlander also had the highest spin rate on his fastball out of any on in the MLB at 2,541 RPM. This is almost 300 RPM higher than the league average.
So, can Verlander win a second Cy Young award?
Absolutely. Even with an assumed, naturally regression towards his mean, Verlander appears to be set for an ELITE 2018. A full season in front of a strong defense in a better park are sure to help him out. Additionally, a great lineup with incredible run support and the best bullpen he’s ever seen on an Opening Day roster will only be a boon to his performance.
Verlander is also an old school work horse, being one of only 15 pitchers to reach 200+ innings last year. A feat, that he has attained in all but two years of his career and one of those was in an injury riddled season. Voters seem to value availability and Verlander should get to 200+ again.
As the season goes on, he also only seems to get better. FanGraphs has his clutch factor at 1.11, meaning he shows up better in bigger games down the stretch.
Lastly, being on an elite team takes away pressure from Verlander. He does not have to carry the weight of a franchise on his back. He has Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer, and Dallas Keuchel amongst a plethora of other names to help carry that burden. He can just pitch and throw and play the game that he loves.
So, can Verlander win Cy Young? Yes he absolutely can. His name should be in the conversation all year long, especially if he’s able to get close to maintaining the level he’s on right now. Look for Verlander, in his first full year with the Houston Astros, to compete and hopefully win the AL Cy Young award.