Justin Verlander, RHP
This one is simple. Justin Verlander has somehow taken his game to new levels since he first donned a Houston Astros uniform a year and a half ago. The literal last-second trade had been a godsend for this team and it’s hard to imagine the same success the past two years without him.
Since he made the move to Houston, he has arguably been the best pitcher in baseball even though the hardware hasn’t indicated it. In 39 starts, Verlander sports a 2.32 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP. On top of that, in the 248 innings in those 39 starts, he has struck out 333 batters to only 42 walks. That turns into 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings, 1.5 walks per nine innings, and 7.93 strikeouts per walk.
Those numbers are simply astounding, I mean truly jaw-dropping. He’s put up some of the best numbers in his entire career in Houston and he’s now locked in here for at least the next three seasons after inking an extension that gives him the highest annual average salary ever given to a pitcher.
Dominance over a 1+ month span following a non-waiver trade isn’t the most unheard of thing but he continued to be dominant over the entire 2018 season. He had a terrific year and a great case for the Cy Young after a 200+ inning and 290 strikeout season. Unfortunately, Blake Snell hedged him out and took home the hardware.
Verlander has continued his terrific performance this Spring Training and is ready to continue his dominance for the Houston Astros into the 2019 season. He should easily top 200 innings once again (an extremely rare feat) and he even has a shot at eclipsing 300 strikeouts if he continues his strikeout rate from the end of last year and Spring Training. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t be a prime Cy Young contender once again.
Honorable Mention: Gerrit Cole, RHP
Of course, the Houston Astros aren’t limited to just one elite ace on their pitching staff. Last offseason, the Astros shipped a trio of prospects to Pittsburgh for the young ace and it paid off in dividends.
Gerrit Cole had one of his best seasons yet and was also a contender for the Cy Young award at the end of the season. He placed fifth last year but could end up a lot higher in 2019. It’s a contract year which will help with motivation and after one year in Houston, year two could truly blow up.
Cole has absolutely excellent stuff. He only seemed to get better as the season progressed and this trend has continued in the spring to get ready for the regular season. Tomorrow’s game should be a good litmus test but look for Cole to show out once again in 2019.