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It's no secret that Justin Verlander didn't have a very good season in 2014. Despite a strong September, Verlander finished with a middling 15-12 record and a 4.54 ERA, his highest since 2008. He struck out just 17.8 percent of the batters he faced, his lowest percentage since 2006. His declining fastball velocity has been the subject of countless debates as to whether he is still the same pitcher that dominated baseball in 2011 and 2012. While many -- myself included -- have pointed to Verlander's offseason surgery as a reason for his subpar 2014 season, the question remains: what will we see from Justin Verlander in 2015?
In spite of all the unknown surrounding Verlander, he is still their best pitcher, their (multi-)million dollar arm.
It's a bold claim, to be sure. Verlander is coming off a pair of seasons that a casual observer would dismiss as the downturn of his career. Max Scherzer, on the other hand, has turned in back-to-back Cy Young caliber seasons (though he is in no way going to win this year). David Price struggled at times with the Tigers, but is still one of the best pitchers in baseball and just breaking into the prime of his career. Even Anibal Sanchez has accumulated more WAR than Verlander in the past two years.
Side note: Jeeeeeez, what a rotation.
But let's strip away all of the numbers for a moment. Think about where Scherzer would be without his fastball. Where Price would be without his command. Where Sanchez would be without his lethal changeup. Would they succeed? Sure, to some extent. But would they be able to still put up a combined 8.5 WAR over two seasons? Would they be able to shrug off the difficulties of an entire season and carry their team to the finish line in September and the playoffs?
I don't know if they would. Verlander has. And he's still young enough that 2015 could represent a return to form. Maybe not the monster that put the 2011 club on his back for four months -- remember his record after a Tigers loss that season? -- but I don't doubt that we could see ace-caliber Verlander again. And I'm sure it wouldn't surprise any of you either. Is it probable? Who knows. But with a long, cold winter ahead, it doesn't hurt to be optimistic.
Luckily, we are in a position where the subject of our favorite team's best pitcher is a true debate. And a fun one, at that. Remember the Miguel Cabrera vs. Mike Trout MVP discussions? That is small potatoes compared to the gladiator ring that this argument could be. There may be no right answer. But in my mind, Verlander is still The Guy. Hall of Fame caliber arms like his don't come along often, and I think we're going to see a rejuvenated (and angry) Verlander in 2015.
Enough of my opinion, though. Who do you think is the Tigers' best pitcher?