The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
Justin Verlander has found the 'fountain of youth'

At 36 years old, most major-league pitchers have begun looking toward retirement, as they start to lose velocity and battle nagging injuries that have resulted from logging many innings in their career.  Pitching into their mid-30s usually means they’ve been taking the mound for up to 15 seasons, while most major-league pitchers don’t last more than a handful of years.

However, Justin Verlander is one of those 36-year-olds who doesn’t appear to be thinking about his retirement any time soon.  He was never better than when he pitched his third career no-hitter on September 1.  He’s the only major leaguer in history to hurl a no-hitter, while also striking out 14 and allowing one baserunner.

There are only five other starters 36 years of age or older in the majors this year.  CC Sabathia, Adam Wainwright, and Rich Hill are older than Verlander, but each of them are on the down side of their careers.  On the other hand, Verlander seems to have found the proverbial fountain of youth and is getting better with age.  That’s saying a lot, considering the auspicious start of his major-league career.

During his first eight seasons with the Detroit Tigers, Velander emerged on a Hall of Fame path that included the AL Rookie of the Year award in his first full season in 2006.  He followed that with a rare combination of the American League MVP and Cy Young Award honors in 2011, when he finished the season with pitching’s Triple Crown, as the leader in wins, ERA, and strikeouts.  He finished among the top seven of the Cy Young Award in four other seasons during that timeframe.  As a power pitcher, he was used to logging 200-plus strikeouts each year.  He took pride in the fact that he could still deliver 97 and 98-mph fastballs as he went into the late innings of his outings.

By the end of the 2014 season though, Verlander had lost the zip on his fastball, averaging less than 93 miles per hour.  His ERA ballooned to 4.54, almost two full points over his 2012 number.  He recorded less than 200 strikeouts for the first time in six seasons.  At age 31, it looked like his career was declining, his arm flamed out from all the power-pitching that had defined his career to that point.

After missing a dozen starts in 2015 due to a lateral tear and for the first time in his career failing to pick up double-digit wins, he rebounded in 2016 with the Tigers.  He finished as runner-up for the Cy Young Award.

With the Houston Astros running away with their division in 2017, they surprised the baseball world by making a deal for Verlander for the last month of the season.  He had sterling performances in his five starts in September, wowing everyone with a 1.01 ERA and 0.647 WHIP.  He defeated the Boston Red Sox twice and the New York Yankees twice in the playoffs leading up to the World Series.  He gave up only five hits in his two starts against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Series, although he took the loss in Game 6.

The 2018 season was evidence that he was back and stronger than ever.  He led the American League in starts (34), strikeouts (career-high 290), and WHIP (0.902).  He finished second in the voting for the Cy Young Award for the third time in his career.  Currently he’s favored to win the award in 2019.

However, as good as Verlander has been, he’s not immune to the home run spree that has consumed the majors.  Over half of his earned runs allowed this season have come from home runs.  But with a league-leading 2.52 ERA, the home runs haven’t affected his overall effectiveness.  And while a pitcher’s wins aren’t considered a relevant stat anymore, he also happens to lead the league with 18.

The Astros are one of the more advanced teams in the big leagues in the deployment of technology and analytics.  Verlander has embraced their use, re-engineered his pitching approach, and consequently has attained another peak in his career.  It’s a peak that could extend for a while.  He’s healthy and back to 97 mph fastballs and a renewed changeup that he had practically abandoned when he was struggling a few years ago.  In fact, Verlander is talking about pitching into his forties.

That’s entirely possible.  Two of baseball’s legendary flame-throwers apparently also drank from the fountain of youth.  Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan pitched until age 46, while seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens finished his career at age 44.

Verlander’s no-hitter put him the conversation as one of the elite pitchers in history.  Only six pitchers have thrown three or more no-hitters in their careers, including Nolan Ryan (7), Sandy Koufax (4), Cy Young (3), Bob Feller (3), and Larry Corcoran (3), a less familiar name from the 1880s.

He just may have more performances like that in his toolkit.  With the way he is currently pitching, age doesn’t seem like it’s going to be a factor.

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