The return of the king

Over the last decade, major league baseball has seen an astronomical rise the average pitcher’s velocity. It was not that long ago when big, bad, Bobby Jenks was scrapping 100 and was a sight to be seen. Now just about every bullpen has at least 3 guys you have never heard of sitting 97 plus.

This even extends down to the college recruitment level, where if you are a righty who isn’t throwing 95 out of high school, you will not even get the time of day from high level programs.

It seems that baseball too has been caught up in the craze of everything being bigger, faster, and better just like every other aspect of life. However, while these are actually what a team would want in a player, there are more important aspects of the game and no one exemplifies them better than Justin Verlander.

Verlander was once the top dog of lighting up the radar gun himself. He was known for his ability to throw late into games and actually start to throw harder as the game went on, not slow down. In 2011, every week on ESPN, you could find Verlander throwing 102 in the 8th inning at 105 pitches.

He had new age velocity combined with an old school mentality that together, made him the most feared pitcher in baseball. In 2011, Verlander made in mark on baseball by winning the AL MVP, Cy Young Award and pitching triple crown.

He stood alone at the top of the mountain and continued his success with another dominant season in 2012. However, in 2013 he posted a 3.46 era, which is good but over a run higher than his MVP season.

From there, the velocity stated to drop and the era started to rise. Verlander’s age was catching up to him along with the athleticism of the league. Pitchers were throwing harder and harder and hitters were starting to catch up. The days of blowing a hitter away at 97 were gone.

In 2014, he posted his highest era since his 2nd season in the league and following the conclusion of the season, underwent back surgery.

He halfway through the 2015 season starting only 20 games and finishing with a record of 5-8. And he no longer had the electric fastball he was known for. On a good day, you might see him hit 96, a far cry from what he once was.

The world had surpassed him in youth and in raw power, but Verlander is unlike most. He is not just some show pony; he is a pitcher in the purest form of the word.  

In 2016, he posted a 3.04 era with a record of 16-9 and finished in a controversial 2nd place in the Cy Young voting. He regained some of his velocity but that is not where he found success. He had reinvented himself.

He started doing something almost no one else was doing. He started pitching almost exclusively in the top of the strike zone. In a world where hitters only care about hitting the ball in the air, Verlander still had just enough mustard on his 4 seamer to keep hitters from getting on top of the ball.

He also added a cutter to his already extensive repertoire. He combined that with an increase in the amount of sliders he was throwing to add a more deceptive element to his game.

Verlander was back, but the Tigers had suffered a few significant losses to trades, free agency, and age. Verlander was ready to win again, but his team was not.

Late into the 2017 season, Verlander agreed to a trade that sent him to the hot new contenders, the Houston Astros. Verlander got off to an immediate dominant start were he won his first 5 games with the team.

This got the attention of the league and of the world. The forgotten ace was now back in the spotlight. Behind Verlander’s veteran arm and leadership, the extremely young Astros won the World Series.

In 2018, he continued his success. He finished with a 2.52 era, his lowest since 2012. His record was 16-9 with an impressive .9 whip over 214.0 innings pitched. He also recorded a career high 290 strikeouts which helped him reach the milestone of 2500 career strikeouts.

The days of a starting pitcher throwing more than 5 innings before running to the bullpen may be drawing to a close if they are not already here. But every 5th day when Justin Verlander takes the mound, you forget about all the commercials, instant replays and flash. You just watch some good ol’ fashioned baseball.

Then as it was, then again it will be. And though the course may change some time, rivers always reach the sea.

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