If the Detroit Tigers hope to get over their playoff hump and finally bring home a championship for the first time in 30 years, then they cannot afford to have Justin Verlander experience another mediocre season.
Verlander, the undeniable ace of the Tigers’ pitching staff, saw his production fall in almost every category in 2013 and ended up with the second-worst season of his otherwise stellar career. He pitched 20 fewer innings than the previous year, and 33 less innings than his Cy Young season in 2011. Speaking of that 2011 campaign, in which Verlander was also named the AL MVP, the righty had a remarkable WHIP of 0.92 compared to last year’s 1.31, and he posted a sparkling ERA of 2.40 compared to his most recent mark of 3.46.
However, Verlander’s true value to Detroit is his ability to win ballgames. From 2009-2012, he went an amazing 78-31, making his 2013 mark of 13-12 a definite cause of concern for the Tigers organization. With that in mind, it would be shocking for a pitcher of Verlander’s caliber to have two consecutive seasons in which he struggles to finish above .500.
Also adding to the value of Verlander’s win total is the departure of Doug Fister, who went 32-20 during his two and a half seasons in Detroit, including a 14-9 record last year. With Fister now throwing for the Washington Nationals and out of the Tigers’ rotation, the importance of Verlander finishing 10 games or more over .500 becomes that much more vital for Detroit.
Obviously, an entire season cannot solely rest on one player, especially since the Tigers have other great pitchers in their rotation like Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello. However, if the Tigers are to become an elite, World Series-champion caliber team, then they need the Verlander of 2011 and not of 2013.
Nolan Silbernagel is a Detroit Tigers writer for RantSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter @nsilbernagel