It says something that Justin Verlander is only 30 years old and already has his name littered across this top-10 franchise leaderboard. The feat is especially impressive considering Verlander is one of the few pitchers on that list with fewer than 2000 career innings, and there is no guarantee he will reach that mark in 2014 either. Because of this, Verlander is already one of the first pitchers to appear on our countdown and will likely be considered the greatest pitcher in Tigers history when his career is over.
Justin Brooks Verlander was born on February 20th, 1983 in Goochland, Virginia. He starred at Old Dominion University for three years, rewriting the school's strikeout record books in the process. The Tigers selected Verlander with the second overall pick in the 2004 draft over "safer bets" like Philip Humber, Jeff Niemann, and Jered Weaver. Verlander only spent one year in the minors, dominating the competition at the Advanced-A and Double-A levels.
Verlander made his major league debut on July 4th, 2005 as a spot starter in the second game of a doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians. He allowed four runs in 5 1/3 innings against the Cleveland Indians, a 6-0 Tigers loss. Verlander made another spot start that July, allowing five runs in six innings against the Minnesota Twins.
As we all know, the 2006 season marked a total 180 for the franchise. Jim Leyland took over as manager, changed the clubhouse culture for the better, and the team won 95 games. At the center of this was Verlander, who went 17-9 with a 3.63 ERA in 186 innings. He took home the Rookie of the Year award in lopsided fashion, earning 26 of 28 first place votes. He seemed to wear down towards the end of the season, however, and his shaky playoff starts that year still leave some questioning whether he can win in the postseason.
Top Tigers countdown #10: Hal Newhouser
Rounding out the top 10 is the first pitcher of our countdown, Hall of Fame left-hander Hal Newhouser.
Over the course of the next four seasons, Verlander racked up high strikeout totals but struggled to go deep into games at times. He was still very successful -- aside from a 11-17, 4.84 ERA campaign in 2008 -- and topped 200 innings in every season. In 2009, he led the league in wins, innings pitched, and strikeouts but finished a distant third to Zack Greinke's 2.19 ERA in the Cy Young voting.
One thing that had plagued Verlander over the course of his first five full seasons is that he often got off to slow starts. April was a particularly troublesome month for Verlander, but he would quickly turn things around in May. Heading into 2011, Verlander changed his preseason routine slightly in order to better prepare for April. It helped, but he still ended the month with a 2-3 record and 3.64 ERA.
After that, Verlander was untouchable. He went 22-2 with a 2.15 ERA the rest of the way, winning 11 consecutive starts at one point. He ended the year with a 24-5 record, 2.40 ERA, and 250 strikeouts in 251 innings to win the pitching triple crown. He also took home the Cy Young award in a unanimous vote and won the Most Valuable Player award, the first of three consecutive (and counting) for the Tigers franchise. Verlander is the fourth pitcher in Tigers history to win an MVP, following in the footsteps of Hal Newhouser, Denny McLain, and Willie Hernandez.
While a lackluster 2013 has temporarily taken his "best pitcher in baseball" title away, Verlander is always a threat to turn in a dominant performance. He seemingly came out of nowhere to shut down the Oakland A's and Boston Red Sox in this year's postseason, winning a decisive Game 5 in Oakland for the second year in a row. After a playoff win against the New York Yankees in 2012, TBS reporter Craig Sager said of the night: "Not the typical Justin Verlander outing." Verlander allowed three hits in 8 1/3 innings.
Even with his recent postseason success, the most amazing thing about Verlander might be his ability to turn any single start into a special moment. He already has two no-hitters to his name and has taken half a dozen more into the later innings. The term "Must See JV" used in our comment threads illustrates how special he is: watch every start, or you might miss something amazing.