We have written a lot about Justin Verlander around these parts lately. No, really. A lot. That is going to happen when one of the most dominant pitchers of a generation suddenly seems to run out of gas.
The bottom line of all that digital ink (if you don't want to click all those links) is that it just might be time to put Verlander out to the Fantasy pasture. Rather than contribute to that redundancy, however, I am here to zig where my peers have zagged and express a bit of optimism about the former Cy Young award winner.
Conveniently, I have the benefit of some hindsight here, as Verlander tossed seven of his finest innings of the season in a no-decision Saturday against Cleveland. He struck out eight batters and allowed just one earned run, while displaying the dominant stuff that made him an MVP-caliber pitcher for years.
Verlander picked up 10 swinging strikes on 100 pitches, an improvement over his swinging-strike rate of nine percent entering the start. In fact, he had induced whiffs on 10 percent or more of his pitches in just four of his starts prior to Saturday's. This might not be a coincidence, as BrooksBaseball.net says his average fastball velocity jumped more than two miles per hour from the season average, to 95.8. That represents his fastest single-start average since September, 2012, per Fangraphs.com.
It might be easy to write this off as a one-start aberration, but Verlander did put in plenty of extra work after his twin seven-run disasters to right some wrongs in his pitching motion. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus and pitching coach Jeff Jones pointed out some specific mechanical flaws that might have been leading to Verlander's struggles. If Saturday's start was any indication, they pinpointed the exact issue.
One start, even a dominant one against one of the most strikeout-averse teams in the league, proves nothing. That much is obvious. If, like my colleague R.J. White, you are convinced this is the end for Verlander, I am not sure I am ready to try and talk you out of it.
Still, I'll take Saturday's start as as more than just a silver lining after Verlander stumbled to a 7.96 ERA in his previous 31 2/3 innings. I am not willing to say Verlander is back to being an ace, or even that he's a sure-fire bet to be an above-average starter from this point on. Still, he looked spry enough Saturday that I am willing to send out some buy-low trade offers for him on the off chance this is the start of something good.
By this time next week, it might be too late.