There’s no doubt Justin Verlander was amazing last year. Not for nothing, he won the American League Cy Young award, led the league in wins, starts, innings pitched, hits per nine, and WHIP. But that’s in the books and, now, we must start thinking about the particular 2020 season, which is going to have a 60-game regular campaign.
But what can we expect from the Astros’ ace during the upcoming shortened season?
Based on what he did last year, we can expect greatness from the future Hall of Fame member. In fact, based on what he did in the first 60 games of both 2018 and 2019, we can expect greatness, too. After all, he won 16 of his 26 starts combined with a 1.70 ERA across 174 2⁄3 innings (207 strikeouts).
After undergoing groin surgery in March, Verlander is expected to be at 100 percent when training camp resumes on Wednesday. But still, there are things to consider when it comes to what another season would look like for the 37-year-old righty.
First, his age. JV could certainly benefit from the season length. His arm will appreciate not throwing 200-plus innings for a fourth consecutive year. Since 2016, no hurler has thrown more pitches (14.074) or innings (870 2⁄3) than Verlander. The second on both lists, Max Scherzer, is at 12.939 and 822, respectively.
That means the Astros will have their veteran ace fully recovered, healthy, and rested to go through the entire season without running out of gas. That should be encouraging for everyone who roots for Houston.
Second, home runs. Verlander needs to be careful with this. It’s true that he doesn’t allow too many base runners: his 0.84 WHIP in 471 innings as an Astro confirms that. But it’s also true that he’s allowed 64 four-baggers over the past two seasons.
That could be dangerous. 49 of those 64 dingers have come with bases empty, that is, 75 percent. As long as he keeps his WHIP very low, that won’t be a problem, but that’ll be his challenge.
I’ve got the feeling that he wants to reduce home run numbers. Even though his fastball velocity remains almost the same (94.6 MPH), his four-seamer usage went down from 61.2% in 2018 to 49.9% in 2019, a career-low for him. At the same time, he keeps increasing his slider usage steadily: 21.5% in 2017, 22.3% in 2018, 28.7% in 2019.
Sure, there’s a reason why. After doing some research on Justin, I discovered his fastball is getting crushed. Last year, this pitch resulted in a .551 slugging percentage, a career-worst. The same happened with that delivery’s exit velocity and launch angle: 92.2 MPH and 28º, respectively.
When those two numbers combine each other, you’ll probably have too many opponent extra-base hits. And that’s exactly what happened: Rivals hit 13 doubles, six triples, and 24 home runs against Verlander’s fastball.
But the good thing about this is he’s mixing more than ever. Verlander keeps showing that’s he not a thrower, but a good, smart, quality pitcher. Take a look at the following image regarding his pitch usage in 2019:
Verlander knows where he doesn’t miss. He always keeps the ball down and out for righties, down and in for lefties. Just look:
And you wanna know why Verlander throws everything in that direction? His opponent batting average and slugging percentage are unbelievable:
Yes, Verlander might be in the twilight of his career, like every other 37-year-old. But he still has a lot left in the tank, thanks to his abilities, condition, durable arm, and craftiness. Justin knows how to deal with problems on the bump and there’s no reason to expect anything different from him than a great season that takes the Astros back to the postseason.