Those paying close attention noticed that Justin Verlander was actually "back" in the second half of 2015, after recovering from his triceps injury. In fact, his 2014 struggles were directly related to core surgery he had before that season started, so looking back it seems clear that the supposed decline of Verlander was more a matter of injury than flat out skill erosion. Even still, it's somewhat surprising that Verlander went all the way back to being a Cy Young frontrunner (he was robbed), but a deep secondary arsenal in his prime was always cited as a reason why he would decline gracefully even as his velocity waned. A fully healthy Verlander recaptured some of the lost velocity and worked the top of the zone at 93-96 mph while leaning on a pair of devastating breaking balls in the middle and lower thirds of the zone. Plan for a 3.30-3.50 ERA, a good WHIP and tons of strikeouts.
Manager Brad Ausmus confirmed over the weekend that Verlander will start Opening Day against the White Sox, the Detroit Free Press reports. Verlander's appointment does not come as a surprise, as he will start Opening Day for the ninth time in his career, the second most in team history behind only Jack Morris. Verlander had one of the best seasons of his career in 2016, finishing 16-9 with a 3.04 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and 254:57 K:BB over 227.2 innings.
Verlander allowed just one run on six hits and a walk with eight strikeouts across seven strong innings Sunday versus the Braves. He was a tough-luck loser and fell to 16-9 to finish the season. Verlander was called upon to start with a postseason berth on the line, and although he twirled another excellent outing, the sacrifice fly he allowed in the first stood up as the winning run in a pitchers' duel with Julio Teheran. Verlander enjoyed a return to form this season, as he compiled an impressive 3.04 ERA and 1.00 WHIP to go along with a 10.1 K:9 rate over 227.2 innings. Now 33 years old, Verlander will enter 2017 as a coveted fantasy asset after a couple of years in the wilderness.
Verlander (16-8) silenced the Indians for 7.2 innings, allowing just four hits and one walk while striking out 12 in Tuesday's victory. Some might contribute Verlander's success Tuesday to the hangover the Indians were feeling following their division-clinching victory Monday. Such an assumption may be fair for a run-of-the-mill pitcher, but Verlander has been one of the most dominant arms in the game for more than a decade, and 2016 has been no different. Verlander's career has been drenched in HOF-worthy accolades (including the 2006 AL ROY, 2011 AL Cy Young and 2011 AL MVP), yet he was able to add another feat to his towering list of accomplishments with his latest performance. Verlander's 12 punchouts against the Indians marked the eighth time this year he's whiffed 10-plus batters in a start, a new career high for the 33-year-old. He's scheduled to start the season finale Sunday in Atlanta.
Verlander set down 11 hitters on strikes while allowing two runs on four hits over six innings in Thursday's win over the Twins. Verlander's 15th win of 2016 was actually his first in nearly a month, dating back to Aug. 26; the fault for that lies more with the Tigers' offense than with the 33-year-old fireballer. Indeed, despite having blown past his previous career high in homers allowed (24) with a whopping 30 this year, Verlander's had a great year by virtually every other metric. His strikeout rate has rebounded unbelievably from a disappointing past couple years -- in fact, his current 9.89 K/9 is the second-highest of his career. That's why even with all the long balls, he owns his best ERA (3.21) since 2012 and his best WHIP (1.01) since 2011.
Verlander didn't factor into the decision against the Indians on Saturday despite pitching seven innings of one-hit ball. He walked four and struck out seven. The ace right-hander had some trouble with his control but was otherwise dominant, inducing 16 swinging strikes overall. Verlander was only touched up for a sixth-inning single by Jason Kipnis and bounced back from a five-inning loss against the Orioles in his last trip to the mound. While a complete lack of run support denied him any chance of victory, Verlander now has quality starts in 11 of his last 12 starts. He'll look to secure an eighth season with at least 15 wins when he takes on the Royals next Friday.