After winning the AL Rookie of the Year award in 2006 and finishing fifth in the AL Cy Young voting in 2007, Justin Verlander went 11-17 with a 4.84 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP for the Detroit Tigers during their ill-fated 2008 season. His 17 losses led the league.
Verlander rebounded nicely, though, going 78-31 with a 2.95 ERA and 17 complete games from 2009-12 and famously bringing home both the AL Cy Young award and the AL MVP award after his magical 2011 season. In 2013, however, Verlander showed signs of regression, going 13-12 with a 3.46 ERA, but he still managed to average 8.9 K/9. Although that would have been a good year for most other pitchers, it was a down year by Verlander’s standards.
That said, the way that Verlander has pitched thus far in 2014 is making his 2013 numbers look mighty impressive. Last night, Verlander was shelled once again, this time by the Kansas City Royals‘ offense. Verlander finished his night with a line of six innings pitched, 12 hits, seven earned runs, two walks and two strikeouts. He is now 6-7 on the year with a 4.98 ERA and a 1.56 WHIP — the most unsightly numbers he has had since 2008.
It should also be noted that he is now leading the league in earned runs (54) and hits allowed (111). He is only averaging 6.4 K/9 in 2014 as well.
It is still possible that Verlander could regain his Cy Young form and his track record does show that he has the ability to bounce back, but there is a slight problem. When Verlander’s aforementioned turnaround began in 2009, he was 26 years old. He is now 31.
Equally troublesome is the fact that he will be on the Tigers’ payroll through at least 2019. Starting next year, Verlander will be making $28 million annually, according to Baseball Reference. He also has a $22 million vesting option for 2020, which will automatically be triggered if he finishes in the top five in the Cy Young voting in 2019, per multiple reports.
The way that the 31-year-old Verlander has been pitching makes it hard to imagine a 36-year-old Verlander being in the Cy Young conversation five years from now. You never know, though. Perhaps he is still capable of reinventing himself.
Regardless of how you slice it, the Tigers still owe Verlander a truck load of money and he is not getting any younger. If Verlander can’t figure it out and these struggles continue, he could risk going down in history as one of the biggest $100-plus million busts of all time.