There are plenty of good vibes surrounding the Astros in 2018.
The Astros acquired Justin Verlander last year solely for the purpose of winning it all. And win it all the Astros, and Verlander, did.
Alas, that was in 2017. A new season is approaching as the snow and ice thaws. Well, not in Houston. We are just awaiting on the humidity to re…oh, wait, it just came back.
The Verlander acquisition wasn’t necessarily about one season. Heck, Verlander is under contract for two more seasons. Any team, including the Astros, realized this when they inquired with the Detroit Tigers last summer. At the same time, it was really about the 2017 season. But retaining Verlander’s services for the next two seasons is dang nice.
I’ll be brutally honest for minute; if it wasn’t for Verlander, I’m not sure how confident I would’ve been in this starting rotation. The durability issues of Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers and Charlie Morton have been mentioned so many flipping times that it’s about to go to syndication on TBS. Gerrit Cole has ace-like stuff, but his past two seasons were a roller coaster full of injuries and home runs.
If it wasn’t for Verlander, everyone would be clamoring for an expensive free agent pitcher like Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta. And it would’ve made sense. For the record, I’m more in the pro-Darvish camp. There would’ve also been clamoring for Forrest Whitley. I would’ve fought the urge to be one amongst the crowd on that one, but I completely understand the appeal Whitley offers as a young pitcher. Verlander’s capability and experience changed the entire vibe of this pitching staff for me in September. The same thought applies in 2018.
That said, Verlander is a mortal nearing the twilight of his career. A great career. He could still have more great seasons. Or not. I am encouraged by his performances as an Astro in their chase for the title. The adjustments he made to his slider were quite impressive. Verlander has also been able to maintain a healthy dose of high velocity. Here are his last three velocity readings in the World Series in Game 6.
Four-seam Fastball – 96.1 MPH
Four-sean Fastball – 97.1 MPH
Four-seam Fastball – 97.4 MPH
The decline that was starting to show in Detroit appears to have been a momentary blip on the radar. That’s the hope, anyway. Per ZiPS projections, in his age-35 season, Verlander is projected to post a 3.43 ERA, 3.44 FIP and 26.3% strikeout rate in 181 innings. And his comp is David Cone. I’ll gladly take that level of production and the comp if it’s pre-2000 David Cone.
The tools are there to let him continue to be the Justin Verlander that we all know and adore on the pitchers mound. A healthy, efficient Verlander changes the entire vibe of the Astros’ starting rotation. If that vibe holds up all season long in 2018, the Astros have a chance to repeat. And that would be dang nice.
**Statistics and information courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Savant**