Let’s take time on this fine Monday morning to review Justin Verlander‘s terrific 2018 season.
The Astros won a franchise-best 103 games in 2018. For a team to reach a high win total like 103 wins, a lot of things have to go right during the season. Right-handed starting pitcher Justin Verlander was a key reason why.
Pitching numbers: 214 IP, 2.52 ERA, 2.78 FIP, 34.8% K%, 4.4% BB%, 6.8 fWAR
Out of all qualified starting pitchers this season, Verlander was consistently one of the best in the game. His 2.52 ERA was the fifth-lowest for qualified starters. The 6.8 fWAR was third only to Jacob deGrom of the Mets (8.8 fWAR) and Max Scherzer of the Nationals (7.2 fWAR). He struck out the most batters of his career — 290 — while doing a superb job limiting walks. The Astros’ ace has a legit Cy Young case this year. While there were numerous reasons why Houston won a lot of games in 2018, Verlander was paramount to the success. He was irreplaceable.
Verlander’s career renaissance, if I can call it that, has been linked to his willingness to embrace the information provided by the Astros’ front office. Between spin rates, a tweak here or there, and an increased usage of his slider, the age-35 pitcher has taken advantage of the information. For example, here is Verlander’s average spin rate since Statcast started tracking it in 2015:
2015 – 2419 RPM
2016 – 2532 RPM
2017 – 2550 RPM
2018 – 2662 RPM
There is no question that Verlander is continuously searching for a new advantage in today’s baseball. It is one reason why his late career resurgence atop the leaderboards is so fascinating.
Regular season grade: A+
Unfortunately for the Astros and Verlander, the postseason didn’t end on the same high note as the year before. Houston’s ace did limit the Indians to only two hits, two runs, and two walks with seven strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings during his lone start in the ALDS. However, he did experience more trouble against the Red Sox during the ALCS. In 12 total innings, Verlander gave up six runs on nine hits while issuing six walks.
To his credit, he wasn’t exactly too far off his game in the ALCS. The Astros did win in Game 1, which Verlander started. But the last game of the series, Game 5, came with no room for error. Of the four runs he allowed in Game 5, one was a solo home run to J.D. Martinez that occurred following a questionable no-strike three call. The other was a three-run homer from the bat of Rafael Devers, which was helped by the Crawford Boxes. Live by the Crawford Boxes, die by the Crawford Boxes.
Postseason grade: B
Overall, Verlander had a great 2018 season, despite the disappointing end. He is under contract for one more season in 2019, so the Astros hope to make another run with him onboard. Of course, he could stay in Houston if he so desires. We’ll see what happens next year.