I figured he'd be pretty good this year, but this is ridiculous.
Justin Verlander will never be better than in 2011 when he won the MVP. That's not a slight against him, but that was truly one of the greatest individual seasons of the modern age. He won the Triple Crown as a pitcher and took home the MVP, pitching a ridiculous 251 innings that year. But outside of that incredible 2011 season, you can argue that Justin Verlander, at age 39, is better than he's ever been. Yesterday, in a start against a Mariners team that finished the first half of the season by winning 14 games in a row, Verlander went out and shoved again. The game's defining moment came in the bottom of the seventh inning when the Mariners had multiple runners in scoring position, and Verlander did what he's done hundreds of times. He emptied the tank and threw heaters in the upper 90s. In the 7th inning, Verlander threw 16 pitches at 97 MPH or above. He topped out at 99 MPH. He's 39 years old and coming off of Tommy John Surgery. How? HOW?!
What JV is doing right now defies all logic, but his career arc goes so much deeper than what he's been doing in 2022. In 2017, Justin Verlander and Sonny Gray were the two best pitchers who were likely to be dealt at the deadline, and some people believed that Gray, given his age, was a better option than Verlander. The general belief in baseball was that Verlander would go somewhere, pitch well for a few years, then call it quits. He was already a first-ballot Hall of Famer with nothing left to prove. But five years later, JV has three more All-Star appearances, one more no-hitter, and one more Cy Young that he's added to his résumé. His ERA since joining the Astros is over an entire run lower than it was in the 12 years he was with the Tigers organization. So again, I ask, "How?".
The simplest answer is that Justin Verlander is the anomaly of anomalies. This kind of longevity should not be sustainable, yet it is with him. And while you have to give Verlander a majority of the credit for taking care of his body and continuing to dominate, I also believe you have to tip your cap to the organization he plays for.
I love JV, but I have a hard time believing that he'd be putting up Cy Young numbers if he was still in Detroit. The Houston Astros are a smarter organization than most in major league baseball. When Verlander won MVP in Detroit in 2011, the Tigers had no analytics department. Verlander got to Houston, went into their video room, and fixed his slider seemingly overnight. Those kinds of resources weren't there in Detroit. Verlander played for some highly talented teams during his time in Detroit, but none of those teams were ever particularly athletic. Every so often, he'd have an excellent defender to help him out like Curtis Granderson or Austin Jackson, but generally speaking, the defenses behind him were pitiful. That has not been the case in Houston. And I don't mean to turn this into a Detroit Tigers bash fest. I do enough of that. I could easily mention that Verlander got traded away for three players with a cumulative career WAR of 0.1, but I'm not going to do that.
It makes me sad as someone who is such a huge fan of starting pitching, but there will never be another pitcher like Justin Verlander. We live in the age of the five-inning start. We live in an era where starting pictures get pulled when they have perfect games going. The age of the 200+ inning starter is slowly dying out. And then you have Justin Verlander, who at the age of 39, is showing no signs of slowing down. You have to appreciate the greatness.