Rookie of the Year, Cy Young, American League pennant, MVP. All that is missing from Justin Verlander's resume is a World Series title. With just one day left until Spring Training, it's only fitting that we focus on the one player that, in my mind, is the most important piece for the Tigers to make a World Series run.
What happened last season?
Oh, you know, just another magnificent season in which he led all of baseball in both innings pitched and strikeouts. He should have walked away with his second consecutive Cy Young award, but it's hard to wow voters when you win seven fewer games than the year before. Other than the lack of W's, however, Verlander's numbers are almost identical to his MVP stats -- so close, in fact, that I'm putting both years in our handy little stats table below. He started one less game in 2012 and pitched 13 fewer innings, had 11 fewer strikeouts, and walked batters a bit more often. Otherwise, he was the same guy that tore the league to shreds in 2011.
What needs to happen in 2013?
If there's one area where Verlander could use some improvement this year, it would have to be his inability to get leadoff hitters out. Opposing players hit .290/.333/.774 with four home runs when leading off the game in 2012. Ten of his 19 home runs allowed on the season were against hitters who were leading off an inning. Other than that, I've got nothing.
In case you need further proof that Verlander is as inhuman as pitchers come, opposing players hit just .130/.206/.148 after 100 pitches thrown. And if you're an opposing team trying to mount a rally against him in the 8th inning? Forget about it. He allowed just one earned run in 16 starts where he pitched into the 8th. Take away his 9th inning meltdown against the Tampa Bay Rays back on April 11th, and his numbers for the final inning are just as ridiculous.
2011/2012 stats and 2013 Bill James projections
All stats via Fangraphs
The part where I try to appreciate how lucky we are to watch this guy pitch every fifth day
As special as 2011 was for Verlander, I expected him to regress slightly in 2012. Clearly, that didn't happen. He even disspelled the "doesn't pitch well in the playoffs" narrative, tossing back-to-back gems against the Oakland A's and New York Yankees. Sure, some hack of a sportswriter will try to make something out of his bad start against the San Francisco Giants in the World Series, but my guess is that it only added more fuel to Verlander's fire for 2013.