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2014 Fantasy Baseball Outlook: Justin Verlander

 

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Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander had a down year by his standards in 2013 (13-12, 3.46 ERA, 3.1 BB/9), but he has been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball in recent years, with 91 wins a 3.05 ERA over the last five seasons with double-digit wins in eight straight seasons and an ERA below 4.00 in seven of those eight campaigns.

As could be expected, Verlander has also been very durable, starting at least 32 games in every season since 2007 and topping 200 innings pitched in all seven of those seasons. But he injured a core muscle during a workout in December, and subsequent surgery earlier this month has his status for spring training up in the air. Verlander’s streak of Opening Day starts for the Tigers could also be in jeopardy, so should fantasy baseball owners be concerned?

Verlander had a 3.63 ERA through the end of July last season, but some mechanical tweaks yielded better results and he was back to his previous form in September (2.27 ERA, 48:10 K/BB ratio in six starts-39.2 innings) as well as during the postseason (0.39 ERA in three starts). He had a chance to be a potential value pick in fantasy drafts this year based on that late run in the context of his overall results last year, but this abdominal injury has obviously derailed that a bit.

Tigers’ general manager Dave Dombrowski acknowledged on Friday that Verlander may miss the start of the season, but he is reportedly ahead of schedule in his rehab and has been cleared to begin throwing on Monday. Under the initial six-week recovery timetable Verlander was given, that would make him ready to go soon after pitchers and catchers report to spring training on Feb. 20 as long as he avoids any setbacks.

The sensitive nature of abdominal injuries adds risk to owning Verlander that there simply has not been recently, and it’s worth wondering if his career workload (1,772 regular season innings) may start to catch up with him a bit this year. The possibility of a few missed starts in April may turn some owners away and make him a relative value on draft day, assuming some clarity on his status is not given by then, so owners that don’t expect him to fully recapture 2011 (24-5, 2.40 ERA, 251 innings) could be happy with their investment.

Brad Berreman is a Senior Writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24