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Justin Verlander has made 173 regular season starts, pitched in the World Series and appeared in a pair of All-Star Games. Yet he has never felt as sharp as he did yesterday, when he no-hit the Blue Jays.
“I will say this is probably the best I’ve felt on a mound in my professional career so far,” he said this morning.
That includes his 2007 no-hitter and the 15 other times he has fanned ten-plus batters in a single game. Verlander, the American League leader with 55 strikeouts, pitched to contact yesterday and finished the game with four strikeouts.
“That was my game plan from the start,” he said. “It was to get contact. I wanted to get balls in play. Especially once I realized my curveball wasn’t that great.”
The result: an efficient outing for the Tigers’ ace, who finished the day with a season-low 108 pitches. His fastball reached triple digits repeatedly and remained his go-to pitch. Early in the contest, Verlander concluded that his curve was mediocre and that his slider was better than usual, so he adjusted his game plan with catcher Alex Avila and decided to throw more sliders.
“I commented to Alex after the second or third inning, ‘it’s pretty good, right?’ He said ‘Yeah, it’s nasty. Keep throwing it 82-83 [mph]. It’s got a lot of bite to it.’ So I went with what he said and just kept throwing it,” Verlander explained.
Avila caught Armando Galarraga’s near-perfect game last summer, so he has danced with history before. He says guiding Verlander’s 100 mph fastball through nine no-hit frames may have looked harder than it was.
“Yesterday was just amazing,” Avila said. “It’s an easy day for a catcher and especially to do it on a turf field is pretty impressive also. For a ball not to get through is pretty amazing.”
Nolan Ryan (7), Sandy Koufax (4), Bob Feller (3) and Cy Young (3) are the only pitchers with three or more no-hitters since 1900. Now that Verlander has two no-hitters, he has his sights set on making more history. The right-hander jokes that he intends to match Ryan’s record of seven no-hitters, but he’s serious about his ambition and intends to continue building his resume. At 28, he believes he’s entering his prime.
“I really feel like I’m coming into myself as a pitcher,” he said. “And I definitely think there will be more opportunities. I think things have to go in your favor to throw a no-hitter. Things just have to work out right. I feel as long as I continue to mature as a pitcher and grow the way I think I am, there’ll definitely be some opportunities there. Whether it goes in my favor or not, I don’t know.”
Verlander started the no-hit bid slowly and methodically and says he impressed himself with his in-game approach. He stayed calm with help from his backstop, who says nerves weren’t an issue at all for the battery.
“No, no,” Avila said. “When your pitcher is that good, it makes it easy to call the pitches, because you know he’s going to make his pitches. It makes for one easy day for me.”
If anyone was nervous, it was Verlander’s family. They followed the perfect game bid and eventual no-hitter without being able to see what was happening.
“They were following on their phones, which had to be the most nerve-wracking thing. Can you imagine sitting there in the 8th inning, looking at a perfect game, 3-2 count, a bunch of foul balls,” Verlander said, alluding to his face-off with J.P. Arencibia, the Blue Jays’ lone baserunner.
If Verlander has it his way, Saturday won’t be the last time his flirtations with history make his fans, friends and family squirm.
Photo courtesy Icon SMI.
Now that six years have passed since the 2004 draft, let's take a look at a few of the choices teams made between prospects at the same position to get a sense of who came out ahead in the great pick-by-pick spin of fate.
- Justin Verlander (Tigers) vs. Phil Humber (Mets) vs. Jeff Niemann (Rays): Here we have a textbook study in the perils of pitching prospects. In Verlander, the second overall pick, the Tigers got a true ace. He has posted three top-seven finishes in the Cy Young voting already, and struck out an incredible 269 batters in 240 innings last year. Picking third, the Mets got an ace as well, sort of: Humber was eventually traded in the deal that landed them Johan Santana. Needless to say, Humber has not been an ace himself, pitching to an ERA over 5.00 at Triple-A for a second straight year in 2010. Niemann, meanwhile, has profiled somewhere in-between, though his 2010 so far suggests he may be fulfilling the promise of his status as fourth overall pick. He's pitching to a 2.83 ERA in 2010, though the strikeout rate (just 5.8 per nine innings) suggests that ERA will likely rise. Overall winner here? Everyone except the Twins.
- Billy Butler (Royals) vs. Josh Fields (White Sox): Well, it certainly appears the Royals got the better of this battle of third basemen. Butler, picked 14th, didn't stick at third, but he is finally getting some attention as a legitimately excellent bat, putting up a .341/.396/.494 line in 2010 so far. Meanwhile, Fields, picked 18th, has struggled to remain on the field, and is actually now property of the Royals as well, coming over this winter in the deal for Mark Teahen. But he will miss most, if not all, of the 2010 season after having hip surgery in April. Fields, 28 in December, has had some impressive Triple-A seasons, so he may eventually fulfill his promise. Butler, however, is clearly here to stay. Overall winner? The Royals. Almost makes up for Alex Gordon!
- Glen Perkins (Twins) vs. Phil Hughes (Yankees): Lost in the many months of Johan Santana trade talks back in 2007-2008, which centered around whether the Yankees would deal Phil Hughes, was the realization that the Twins could have drafted Hughes themselves. Instead, at pick 22, Minnesota took Glen Perkins, a college product out of University of Minnesota. The outlook isn't brilliant for Perkins at this point, with a 7.76 ERA in Triple-A, though his strikeout rate is at least relatively strong. Meanwhile, Phil Hughes has become one of the best pitchers in the American League, with a fantastic 74 strikeouts and 22 walks in 75.1 innings in support of his 3.11 ERA. Hughes won't be 24 until later this month. And among those who won't be celebrating his birthday? The Twins.
Let's start this Friday off with some links…
- Jon Paul Morosi of FoxSports.com feels that Neal Huntington's rebuilding plan has yet to yield results.
- Olney tweets that rival executives feel that both Oswalt and Lance Berkman would have trade value, but only if Houston was willing to eat a lot of money and accept secondary prospects in return. Yesterday we learned that Berkman would be willing to waive his no-trade clause.
- SI.com's Melissa Segura hears that MLB will announce a pilot program that will allow international amateurs to register before the July 2nd signing period begins, which should streamline age investigations and signings (link goes to Twitter).
- Meanwhile, MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez chatted with MLB's Dominican office consultant Sandy Alderson about what he hopes to achieve regarding how he hopes to improve the international market.
- ESPN's Enrique Rojas tweets that the Cubs have called up top shortstop prospect Starlin Castro. The 20-year-old was rated as the 16th best prospect in the game by Baseball America prior to the season, and was hitting .376/.421/.569 in 121 Double-A plate appearances. Chicago has already pushed his free agency back a year, but he can still qualify as a Super Two after 2012.
- Richard Justice of The Houston Chronicle mentions that the Astros have only $44MM in salary commitments for next season, most of which is tied up in Roy Oswalt and Carlos Lee. I respectfully disagree that Oswalt's $16MM salary "can easily be traded." How many teams have that much room in their budget?
- ESPN's Buster Olney tweets that Carl Crawford has put himself in a pretty good position going into free agency. The Rays' left fielder is hitting .343/.408/.571, but is only 7-for-11 in stolen base opportunities, and there's still 83% of the season left the play.
- ESPN's Keith Law and Jason Churchill go back and redo the 2004 draft. Both see Justin Verlander and Dustin Pedroia going 1-2 in a redraft.
Let's look at the richest contracts by service time, in terms of guaranteed money…
- The most regrettable deals were signed very early in the player's career, Young and Carmona. Might be a lesson in using up those pre-arbitration years before taking the plunge.
- The largest contract signed by a position player with less than one year of service time after Braun's deal is Evan Longoria's, which will pay him just $17.5MM over six years. Is Braun overpaid, or is Longoria underpaid? I think the answer is clear.
- Sabathia's four year, $9.5MM deal nearly tripled Roy Halladay's three year, $3.7MM deal with Toronto, which was the previous record for a pitcher with less an a year of service time.
- One only of the above contracts has expired.
Thanks to Cot's Baseball Contracts for the info.
Full Story | Comments | Categories: Albert Pujols | Alex Rodriguez | Arizona Diamondbacks | C.C. Sabathia | Chicago White Sox | Chris B. Young | Cleveland Indians | Derek Jeter | Detroit Tigers | Fausto Carmona | Hanley Ramirez | Jake Peavy | Justin Verlander | Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim | Miami Marlins | Miguel Cabrera | Milwaukee Brewers | New York Yankees | Ryan Braun | San Francisco Giants | Scott Kazmir | St. Louis Cardinals | Tim Lincecum | Yovani Gallardo
Once the Tigers traded Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson for four pre-arbitration eligible players, the thought was that owner Mike Ilitch was trimming payroll after the recession hit Detroit especially hard. However, he then approved a massive extension for ace Justin Verlander as well as the signing of Johnny Damon, and now his team's Opening Day payroll is expected to be somewhere around $130MM, up from $115MM last year.
Lynn Henning of The Detroit News wrote about the payroll savings GM Dave Dombrowski will enjoy after the season, which are pretty significant. Here's a look at the money the Tigers have coming off the books after the 2010 season…
- Jeremy Bonderman, $12.5MM salary in 2010
- Dontrelle Willis, $12MM
- Nate Robertson, $10MM
- Johnny Damon, $8MM
- Brandon Inge, $6.6MM
- Gerald Laird, $3.95MM
- Bobby Seay, $2.475MM
- Adam Everett, $1.5MM
That's $57.025MM in savings right there, and the team would be wise to avoid letting Magglio Ordonez reach the 540 plate appearances needed for his $15MM option to vest.
Ilitch isn't shy about spending big on the free agent market, and he'll have the money available to add a big bat to complement Miguel Cabrera (Jayson Werth, Aramis Ramirez if he declines his option?) as well as another elite starter to a rotation that already includes Verlander, Rick Porcello, and Max Scherzer (Josh Beckett, Cliff Lee?) after the season. Keep in mind that I was just throwing some names out there off our 2011 free agents list, and that the Tigers have not been linked to any of those players in any rumors we've seen.
The Tigers are already in a position to compete in the AL Central, and once they shed some dead money after the season, they'll have a chance to jump ahead of the pack if they spend wisely.
Full Story | Comments | Categories: Adam Everett | Aramis Ramirez | Bobby Seay | Brandon Inge | Brandon Laird | Cliff Lee | Detroit Tigers | Dontrelle Willis | Jeremy Bonderman | Johnny Damon | Josh Beckett | Justin Verlander | Magglio Ordonez | Max Scherzer | Miguel Cabrera | Nate Robertson | Rick Porcello
Some links for Friday night…
- MLB.com's Steve Gilbert tweets that the Diamondbacks and Edwin Jackson have made no progress towards reaching an agreement to avoid arbitration. A hearing is set for February 17th.
- Chuck Finder of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette passes along a report from the independent St. Paul Saints that says that the Pirates have signed 25-year-old outfielder Anthony Norman to a minor league deal.
- Several executives told Morosi that they expect Jermaine Dye to sign with an AL club, though no one's sure which one.
- WEEI.com's Alex Speier says that Jon Lester's contract is one of the biggest bargains in baseball when you look at the deals Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander just received. Lester signed a five-year deal last March that guaranteed him at least $30MM.
- Bill Shaikin of The Los Angeles Times wonders if 2010 could be the final year of Manny Ramirez's career. If so, he has a chance to be just the eighth player in history to retire with a career OPS over 1.000.
- ESPN's Keith Law says that the Orlando Hudson signing is a major upgrade for the Twins, likely enough to make them preseason favorites in the AL Central.
- Meanwhile, Law thinks it's too risky for the Diamondbacks to give Mark Reynolds a multi-year contract right now. The two-sides have been discussing such a deal recently.
- Jon Paul Morosi of FoxSports.com says the Mets are more likely to sign a pitcher rather than another catcher this month.
- Susan Slusser of The San Francisco Chronicle has some quotes from Travis Buck regarding his standing with the A's following all of their outfield additions, and adds that the team has found some interest in Dana Eveland and Gregorio Petit, both of whom were recently designated for assignment.
Full Story | Comments | Categories: Arizona Diamondbacks | Boston Red Sox | Detroit Tigers | Edwin Jackson | Felix Hernandez | Jermaine Dye | Jon Lester | Justin Verlander | Los Angeles Dodgers | Manny Ramirez | Mark Reynolds | Minnesota Twins | New York Mets | Oakland Athletics | Orlando Hudson | Pittsburgh Pirates | Seattle Mariners | Transactions | Travis Buck
ESPN.com's Buster Olney points out that Orlando Hudson would likely benefit from hitting in front of Joe Mauer. Those hitting before Mauer saw lots of fastballs last year and Hudson hits the heater well. Here are Olney's rumors:
- An AL scout calls the Justin Verlander deal a "solid sign for the club." An NL GM calls Verlander a "top-of-the-rotation type, long term." An NL scout says it's a "great signing" for the Tigers if the righty stays healthy.
- Despite concerns about Russell Branyan's back, one current coach says the slugger looks good in workouts.
- Some within the industry believe Erik Bedard could miss months of the upcoming season. The lefty is close to signing with the Mariners.
The Tigers signed Justin Verlander to a five-year contract worth $80MM today, buying out the righthander's two remaining arbitration years plus three years of free agency. MLB.com's Jason Beck says Verlander will get a $500K signing bonus, $6.75MM in '10, $12.75MM in '11, and $20MM per each free agent season. The Tigers get a discount on the arbitration years, as is customary.
Felix Hernandez's five-year contract with Seattle was used as a comparison for this deal, though Verlander will pocket an extra $2MM and won't reach free agency until age 32. You could make the case that Hernandez deserved the larger contract, though that point is certainly debatable.
Verlander, 27 later this month, led the American League in starts (35), innings (240), batters faced (982), strikeouts (269), and wins (19) in 2009, earning him a third place finish in the Cy Young voting. He also has a no-hitter, a Rookie of the Year Award, and World Series experience to his credit.
The second overall pick in the 2004 draft had reportedly been seeking a sixth guaranteed year, but it obviously wasn't a deal breaker. He will earn $6.75MM in 2010, $12.75MM in 2011, then $20MM each year from 2012 to 2014. The deal also includes a $500K bonus.
The Tigers agreed to a five-year, $80MM deal with ace Justin Verlander yesterday – $2MM more than Felix Hernandez received upon signing in January. The deal buys out Verlander's final two arbitration years and three free agent seasons. Reactions from around the web:
- ESPN's Buster Olney compares Verlander to Dwight Gooden, and says the Tigers "are right to commit an enormous contract to a guy who won't be 27 for another couple of weeks, and who has established a nice base for what might turn out to be a Hall of Fame career." Interestingly, Baseball-Reference lists Wade Miller and Hernandez as Verlander's top two comparables.
- Joel Sherman of the New York Post notes the rarity of under-30 aces reaching the free agent market.
- Zack Greinke will be 29 when he's eligible for free agency after the 2012 season, writes Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star. More so than Verlander, Greinke and Hernandez are positioned to enter free agency in their prime if they choose.
- MLB.com's Jason Beck says the Tigers are one of three teams now on track to have two players earning more than $20MM at the same time. ESPN's Rob Neyer points out that the Tigers "will shed an immense amount of payroll obligations over the next couple of years."
- Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports still feels that Verlander "has accomplished more than Hernandez in the major leagues." I still disagree, but they're close and the contracts are virtually a wash.
The Tigers are "increasingly optimistic" about signing Justin Verlander to a long-term deal, reports Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports. Felix Hernandez's five-year, $78MM deal is being used for comparison, but Morosi feels Verlander might be aiming to top that with either a larger guarantee or a sixth year. What's more, Morosi feels Verlander is justified in asking for more money than Felix.
Morosi appears to be using the simplistic arbitration hearing-type stats to make his case – wins, All-Star appearances, and even no-hitters. But this is not a hearing decided by three baseball rubes. Consider:
- Hernandez is almost three years younger than Verlander.
- Hernandez has a better career ERA, ERA+, and FIP.
- They're similar (Hernandez being slightly better) in career innings, strikeout rate, walk rate, and home run rate.
- Regarding Verlander's seven extra career wins in six fewer starts, look at run support. Verlander has received 5.2 runs scored per start, Felix 4.3.