Every weekday between now and mid-November, we'll be looking closer at a Tigers player. For more information on the series, including a schedule, please check this post out.
In a word, what makes Justin Verlander so valuable: Consistency. May through October, you know what you're going to get from him every game: a bunch of strikeouts, at least six innings and a chance to win the ballgame. (The past few Aprils have also been consistently bad. But we look past that.) That kind of consistency means the Tigers know every fifth day is going to be a game they can win. That's a good start for any team.
He made such great gains after 2008, though, you had to wonder how much of it he could maintain. A rough April was a solid reminder of that, but again he turned it around in May and pitched above average pretty much every month since. The end result was an ERA lower than it was in 2009. So that's pretty good.
If you realize how bad Verlander is in April, the above stats look even better. He finished the first month of the season with 5.53 ERA, 28 hits and 12 walks allowed in 27.2 innings. After that, he took off. May saw him allow 28 hits and 12 walks all over again, but this time he pitched 44.1 innings. The result was a paltry ERA of 2.64, making May the best month of Verlander's season. Everything was going well by the time he entered the All-Star Game, and he only picked it up afterward. During the second half of the season, he struck out a batter per inning and had a 2.89 ERA.
He finished 11th in the American League in ERA and fourth in strikeouts, with 219. That meant Verlander became the first Tigers pitcher since Jack Morris in 1986-87 to have back-to-back 200 strikeout seasons.
Verlander threw four above-average pitches in 2010, making the season his most potent yet. According to Fangraphs, his changeup alone was worth 12.3 runs above average, or 2.24 runs per hundred pitches. The slider, too, was dangerous at 2.31 runs per hundred pitches.
Some stats to be aware of: Verlander's strikeouts per nine innings actually fell slightly from 10.09 to 8.79 per nine innings, while his walks increased from 2.36 to 2.89 per nine. But that should come as no surprise, as he saw huge leaps forward in both stats from 2008 to 2009. The fact he managed to maintain both at a reasonable level is a good sign for Verlander's future.
What 2010 tells us about 2011:
Verlander's indicator statistics above were both solid. The resulting Fielding Independent Pitching statistic was 2.97, or 3.68 xFIP when you normalize his home run rate. I believe the xFIP paints a better picture, because Verlander has consistently allowed a home run about 7 to 8 percent of his fly balls in the past but 5.6 percent this past season.
Long story short: He should strike out batters at about the same rate next year. His ERA will probably be around 3.50 again too. So yes, still an ace. Not that we had any doubt.
I used Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs.com.