Under-appreciating Justin Verlander

I'd like to start off by describing myself as a baseball fan. Growing up in British Columbia, most of the games I caught on TV a few years back were Seattle Mariners' games. I wasn't sure exactly which year I started watching baseball, but it was probably late in 2006 or sometime in 2007, since I remember Ben Broussard and Kenji Johjima. Back then, although there was a class-A summer league team in Vancouver, I never really wanted to go watch a game, and just caught bits and parts of a few M's games each week on television. Fast forward to 2010, and I really took the next step, watching about two complete games and at least a few innings of every Blue Jays' game. This was also the time I got addicted to Baseball Mogul, and bought MLB 09: The Show for my PS2; video games really get you familiar with the players, and therefore make you more motivated to watch games and follow the team in real life.

Today, I'm a diehard Blue Jays' fan that's loving the moves Anthopoulos is making, but I am not very well educated about the other 29 MLB teams. About all I know about the Detroit Tigers are that they play in the AL Central and made the playoffs this year, backed by a season which saw Justin Verlander win the AL pitching Triple Crown and Alex Avila break into the league as a very good rookie catcher. I've always knew from video games and the odd news stories that Verlander was a good pitcher, but I never really thought about him in the class of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Tim Lincecum, Ubaldo Jimenez, or Felix Hernandez. I had grouped him into the "second tier" along with guys like Matt Cain, David Price, and Shaun Marcum.

Even after his mind-boggling 24-5 season which saw him lower his walk rate to a career-low while maintaining his strikeout rate of a batter per inning, it didn't really change my impression on him. Not even after seeing that Fangraphs has him accumulating almost 22 WAR over the last three seasons while keeping his FIP south of 3.00 for three years running. Not after reading blogs that told me his average fastball velocity was the highest among starters, and right up there with the relievers too. Not after seeing that he has been a workhorse ever since his rookie year, making at least 30 starts each year and averaging more than 200 innings each season. But one has happened that will make me finally think of him as a true ace when he makes his 200th career start in 2012.

It was a display of domination from Verlander, who fired one triple-digit fastball after another while dropping in curveballs on the corners.

That is an excerpt from the recap I read last night after Verlander's dominant Game 3 start to push New York to the brink of elimination.

Starting in the third inning, Verlander retired 13 of 15 batters, seven by strikeout, four on called third strikes. He dropped a curveball on Nick Swisher to end the fourth inning, and it sparked a flurry of them. Brett Gardner saw a 98-mph fastball, then an 84-mph bender to finish off a 10-pitch fifth that might rank among the best postseason innings for a pitcher in a long time.

Once Curtis Granderson came up in the sixth, Verlander pulled a reverse, just missing with a curve out of the strike zone before pumping a 99-mph heater past him on his way to stranding Derek Jeter after a leadoff single.

I really can't think of another pitcher who can let it go in the high-90's, let alone hit triple digits, and then paint the corner with a mid-80's curve. That is like a video-game combination; talk about changing speeds and changing location

Verlander went to 120 pitches, including five straight triple-digit fastballs to Alex Rodriguez, to carry the lead to the ninth. His 11 strikeouts were the most by a Tigers pitcher in the postseason since Joe Coleman in the 1972 ALCS. His 15 pitches at 100 mph or better is believed to be a career high.

Tigers' fans, you guys are VERY lucky to have a pitcher of Verlander's caliber playing for your team. As good as Ricky Romero has been, and he has come a long way, I would kill to have Justin Verlander pitching on the other side of Lake Erie. As a Blue Jays' fan, I am definitely rooting for your team to go beat the Yankees.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of the <em>Bless You Boys</em> writing staff.

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