Career Profile: Justin Verlander
Following his weekend no-hitter, this seems like a good time for a profile of Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander.
Justin Verlander was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the first round of the 2004 draft, second-overall, from Old Dominion. His track record in college was interesting: he had an amazing freshman season (1.91 ERA, 137/43 K/BB in 113 innings) and remained effective as a sophomore (2.40 ERA in 116 innings), but had some command issues in his junior season (3.49 ERA in 106 innings, 151/43 K/BB, 20 wild pitches).
His raw stuff was terrific, with a 94-99 MPH fastball and a wicked curve, but he wasn't considered a fully refined product when drafted, needing work with his command, mechanics, and changeup. Still, he had the upside of a number one starter and had the very high draft position. I gave him a Grade B+ in the 2005 book and rated him number 34 on my top 50 pitching prospect list, which sounds a bit low, but he hadn't pitched professionally yet, and there were some concerns about the mechanical issue and his heavy college workload.
Verlander began 2005 with High-A Lakeland in the Florida State League, going 9-2, 1.67 in 13 starts with a 104/19 K/BB in 86 innings. Promoted to Double-A Erie, he was even better with a 0.28 ERA and a 32/7 K/BB with just 11 hits allowed in 33 innings. He made two starts for the Tigers at the end of the year, losing both, but overall his season was outstanding. He had a combined 1.29 ERA with a 136/26 K/BB in 119 minor league innings. Verlander ironed out the mechanical flaws he showed in college, continued throwing 94-99 MPH, and improved his changeup. I rated him as a Grade A and the top pitching prospect in baseball entering 2006.
Verlander had a strong rookie season, winning Rookie of the Year, going 17-9, 3.63 with a 124/60 K/BB in 186 innings. You know the rest of his story since then. Aside from a rough 2008 caused by command wobbles, (4.84 ERA, 11-17, 163/87 K/BB, 93 ERA+), he's been durable, consistent, and often dominating, throwing two no-hitters. Currently, he has a career record of 86-55, .610, with a 3.77 ERA, 118 ERA+, 1020/371 K/BB in 1121 innings, 1025 hits allowed, 3.60 FIP, 3.93, xFIP, 26.4 WAR. Even his less-effective 2008 still resulted in a solid 3.4 WAR.
Most Similar Pitchers to Verlander through age 27: Josh Beckett, Kevin Millwood, Jack McDowell, Andy Pettitte, Barry Zito, Dennis Martinez, Pat Hentgen, Kevin Appier, Ray Culp, and Roy Halladay.
What does the future hold? Verlander's velocity is remaining steady, even a bit higher than it was earlier in his career. He's actually been using the fastball less (from 61.8% in 2007 to as low as 46.3% so far this year), incorporating more curveballs and changeups and the occasional slider. Given the quality of his stuff, I don't think we've actually seen the best yet from him.