Justin Verlander is a pitcher with all of the right tools, but does he have what it takes to get the job done when everything is on the line?
Throughout his career with the Detroit Tigers, Verlander has been lights-out during the regular season.
Since his debut in 2005, he has racked up 1,343 strikeouts and has a record of 116-62. His career 3.45 ERA is more representative of his early years than the past two.
In 2011, the Cy Young and MVP led the league in wins (24), ERA (2.40), starts (34), innings pitched (251), strikeouts (250) and WHIP (0.920).
His 2012 All-Star performance, on the other hand, left much to be desired. The National League batted around against Verlander, scoring five runs in the first inning.
However, this is not the first time that Verlander has struggled in the spotlight.
All-Star struggle is nothing new to Verlander
Verlander made his first trip to the Midsummer Classic in 2007 and the results weren’t much better than in 2012. He pitched one inning, giving up two hits and one run after facing five batters.
It’s not terrible, but he is capable of being much better.
In three appearances at five All-Star Games, Verlander has surrendered eight hits to a total of 19 batters faced, with just four strikeouts. That isn’t saying much for the pitcher who led Major League Baseball in strikeouts two of the last three seasons and is on pace to do the same in 2012.
In an All-Star situation, when he is only expected to throw one or two innings, perhaps Verlander doesn’t have time to get settled in. It’s possible he could benefit from a couple of simulated innings immediately before the game to help him “get his groove back.”
None of this, however, explains the next issue.
Verlander’s postseason record is dismal
Given his performance in the regular season, most teams would kill to have Verlander at the top of their playoff rotation.
A look at his postseason performance tells a different story. He has a 3-3 record over eight career games with a 5.57 ERA.
Verlander touts a 1.172 in regular season play, and 1.548 WHIP in the postseason. His H/9 (7.8 vs. 9.6), HR/9 (0.8 vs. 1.5) and BB/9 (2.7 vs 4.3) are all considerably higher in postseason play.
So, why does Justin Verlander struggle in these situations?
One might think this is simply due to pressure. But with two no-hitters, 19 complete games and six shutouts under his belt, Verlander has shown his ability to perform under pressure.
More specifically, perhaps the problem is the pressure of pitching in the national spotlight. There are few stages quite like the MLB All-Star Game and postseason. All eyes are on the starting pitcher, not just in Detroit, but around the world.
It’s possible that Verlander understands how much is expected of him, and puts too much pressure on himself to put on a good show.
A pitcher who has 60 consecutive six-inning starts is expected to perform very well.
Regardless of the reason, if Verlander wants to one day be remembered as the great pitcher that he is, he’s going to have to perform under pressure.
His situation is very similar to LeBron James' prior to winning his first championship in June. It was argued ad nauseum that James couldn’t close. In 2012, he proved he could.
Now it’s Verlander’s turn.