For some, 2016 Spring Training marks the start of a brand new Major League Baseball season. For others, this time of year marks the height of the presidential primary elections. While many pontificate over who is best suited to lead the country, The Sports Fan Journal fam decided to take a look at which player, manager, or front office member is the best candidate to lead their team to the top of the baseball mountain.
Justin Verlander is a superstar in most every sense of the word.
He is paid as such, has the requisite endorsements that come with the role, has the proper hardware in his trophy case and even the supermodel girlfriend that comes along with such status as well. At face value, for an outsider that casually observes the game, he should be considered as one of the ‘faces’ of the game.
Yet at the same time, it would not be too far of stretch to say he is also a man that is slightly past his prime as well. However, even that could be too extreme of a take of a man that simply has come back to Earth from the superhuman levels he reached in 2011-12, when he averaged 20 wins, a 2.52 ERA, 244 strikeouts and nearly a no-hitter a year.
But expectations are set where they are when you have reached the heights that Verlander has, as such is the case with Triple Crown, Cy Young and Most Valuable Player winning pitchers carry. The success plan for the Tigers will be inherently attached to him for as long as he dons the uniform and carries the $28 million price tag that he’ll carry through the next four years.
So with that, the importance of Verlander can never be underestimated. A major part of the fall from grace that the Tigers suffered from in their first-to-last 2015 was the decimation of their pitching staff and the fact that there was not a healthy and reliable Verlander there to stop the bleeding. As he battled a triceps injury that sent him to the disabled list for the first time and derailed his effectiveness for the majority of the year, he bottomed out in the decline that he has mired through over the past three years for much of the season, posting career-lows in starts (20), wins (5) and winning percentage (.338).
However, while there were those notable challenges, there was reason to be optimistic as well. There was a twinkle of some vintage JV that re-emerged in the late stages of the year. In August, there was the near no-hitter that he lost in the ninth inning, which would have been his third career no-no. Instead, it became his seventh career complete game shutout and capped a month that proved himself still able to channel the form that earned him his reputation. In August, over five starts, Verlander allowed six earned runs over 36 innings, while averaging a strikeout per inning against only eight walks.
Over the final two months of the season, Verlander worked a 2.49 ERA over his final 83 innings, a magic number that rings out because it is striking close to the same figure he posted in his epic 2011 campaign.
A two-month run is much different than what it takes to keep the pace over the 200+ high-quality innings that the post-Max Scherzer, post-David Price and post-vintage JV provided the Tigers for so long. And while the addition of Jordan Zimmermann will provide some much-needed support, the sink/swim line for Tiger pitching still rests on the shoulders of its long-standing ace.
For the sake of the best welfare of the Tigers, even a slight return to the form that earned him his superstar byline could be one of the most pivotal performances in the entire American League this summer.
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