Detroit Tigers Justin Verlander Is on Track for a Hall of Fame Career

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Detroit Tigers Justin Verlander Is on Track for a Hall of Fame Career
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If Justin Verlander can ever figure out how to pitch in the month of April, he might flirt with 30 wins every year, not 20.

Verlander, the AL Cy Young and MVP winner for 2011, went to Lakeland last February on a mission.

He wanted very much to slay his personal dragon that is April. His first months of his seasons have been warts on an otherwise brilliant (so far) career.

Verlander, prior to 2011, had been a tortoise in April. The fact that he’s turned hare the rest of the season has been comforting, but you were always left to wonder: how good of a season might he have had, if he didn’t wait till May to get going?

Even 2011, his year of years, had some of that slow startness to it, albeit not tortoise-like. More like Victor Martinez-type slow.

Verlander’s ERA in April was 3.64. On most teams that would make you the No. 2 starter—at least.

But this is Justin Verlander we’re talking about. The kid who can bring you to your feet in the first inning and keep you there, as you look over at the left field scoreboard and see a string of zeroes to the right of the team the Tigers are playing that day.

And I mean ALL the way to the right, if you get my drift.

Baseball and numbers are like peanut butter and jelly; separate, they’re good, but combined they create a tasty treat.

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So here are some more numbers.

Verlander’s season ERA was 2.40, which means that his April mark of 3.64 was a full 1.24 run higher, or about 50 percent.

His record in April was 2-3. After that, he went on a 22-2 run. His ERA from May on was 2.15.

Verlander made six starts in April, gaining a decision in five of them. Had he won all six, he would have been just two wins away from becoming the first 30-game winner since Denny McLain in 1968.

Crazy talk? How do you figure?

Verlander had winning streaks of seven and 12 games in 2011. JV winning six in a row isn’t exactly a pie-in-the-sky type of thought.

That’s the bottom line: if Verlander went 6-0 in April, he’d have won 28 games. Math is till math.

And this is the ERA of the five-man rotation, by the way. McLain won his 31 games pitching every fourth day for the ’68 Tigers. On a couple occasions, Denny took the hill on just two days' rest.

The five-man rotation inevitably will provide an extra day's rest, due to off days. In 2011, Verlander pitched on five days’ rest instead of his usual four on 11 occasions. That’s about a third of his 34 starts.

Could Verlander ever win 30 games in a season?

It’s not likely—but it is possible.

Yes, 34 or 35 starts (the average for a No. 1 starter) doesn’t leave much margin for error—or for no decisions. The good news is that Verlander doesn’t really need a margin for error.

His 22-2 mark after April proves that.

Verlander’s 29 decisions in 2011 were the most in his still young career. His 251 innings eclipsed his previous high by 11 innings.

The numbers continue to be staggering the more you look at them.

Aside from a 2008 season (17 losses) that is looking more and more like an anomaly, Verlander has never lost more than nine games in a season. In 2007 he lost six; in 2011, he lost five.

In six big league seasons, Verlander has won the Rookie of the Year Award; pitched in a World Series; pitched in two LDS series and two LCS series; thrown two no-hitters; come close to at least two more; won a Cy Young Award and won an MVP Award.

He’s 28 years old.

Could Justin Verlander end up being the greatest pitcher in Detroit Tigers history?

Hey, is he already?

I’m a grizzled, cranky old coot most of the time. I’m not one to anoint anyone after six paltry seasons. I still think Oscar Robertson was better than Michael Jordan, just to show you.

But sometimes a player comes along who just gives off a vibe that he’s only going to get better—or at the very least, not let up.

Justin Verlander strikes me as that kind of player.

It’s almost mind-numbing to look at Verlander’s numbers so far and then imagine the damage he can do by the time he’s 35 years old.

He has 107 wins now. By 35 he could have nearly 250.

He has 1,215 strikeouts now. By 35 he could have over 2,800.

He has two no-hitters now. By 35 he could threaten Nolan Ryan’s record of seven no-nos.

How many more Cy Youngs will he win? And now that he’s captured the MVP, who’s to say that he can’t do it again in the near future?

Barring the unthinkable—a major health issue—I’d say that Justin Verlander is on track to a place in Cooperstown.

Kind of makes all the debate about whether a pitcher should win an MVP Award rather silly, doesn’t it?

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