They call it a deadline for a reason, you know.
No matter. Twenty minutes into September, the world learned that the Tigers had traded Justin Verlander to the Astros before the clock struck midnight, convincing their franchise player to sign off on the deal at the last possible minute.
And for Verlander’s Fantasy owners, it was well worth the wait.
The defending AL Cy Young runner-up (note: he was robbed) has already regained much of the value he lost over the first three months, when he compiled a 4.47 ERA and 1.45 WHIP while recording a modest 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings.
Over his last 11 starts, he has a 2.31 ERA and 0.96 WHIP, averaging 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings.
The turnaround wasn’t the biggest surprise. He was still topping out at 98 mph more starts than not, so it’s not like his 34 years of age were catching up to him. Plus, we’ve seen him endure lengthy cold stretches in the past. There was all of 2014, for instance, and even just last year, he had a 4.30 ERA through 16 starts before becoming the game’s best pitcher in the second half. He seems like one who, particularly in this latter stage of his career, suffers from frequent mechanical lapses, but we know he’s capable of rebounding from them, too.
And he clearly has this time.
The way he described it after his last start — a six-inning, nine-strikeout gem at Colorado, of all places — he made a “drastic adjustment” to his slider that coincides with his turnaround.
“The same slider I was throwing last year this year was a lot harder, 91, 92 [mph],” Verlander told MLB.com. “I don’t know whether it’s baseballs or what. A little too firm. It wasn’t doing much. I revamped it, went back to a more traditional slider, and since then it’s been 85, 86, 88 when I really kind of hump up, but it’s been great. I think speed variance gives me some ground balls and also more tendency to swing and miss.”
The data backs up those words exactly. Not only has his slider been slower, but it has also gotten more whiffs. Say what you want about his consistency, but the guy knows what he’s doing.
And so do the Astros, going out and acquiring the one thing their otherwise championship-caliber roster lacked: a true and durable ace. Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers have looked the part at times, but clearly they’ve come up short in the durability department. And while the Astros did have to surrender some nice prospects in Franklin Perez, Daz Cameron and Jake Rogers, they didn’t give up the very best their farm system had to offer.
Notice I mentioned McCullers? Yeah, he’s still in play for the Astros. In fact, prior to this deal, he was in line to return from a DL stint for a back injury Wednesday, which would have already made for a predicament. Provided they wanted the 23-year-old to take a regular turn, the Astros would have had to bump Mike Fiers from the rotation. Either that or go six-man. Now with Verlander on board, someone else’s job is in jeopardy, though a doubleheader next Saturday ensures the Astros won’t go with a strict five-man rotation the rest of the way.
If you own Collin McHugh, Charlie Morton or maybe even Brad Peacock, you’ll want to begin stockpiling pitching depth in preparation for the worst. But if you own Verlander, you can just sit back and watch the wins pile up. With the lowly Tigers, he had managed to go 5-3 during his terrific 11-start stretch. With the Astros’ supporting cast, he might have more like eight or nine wins during that same time.
It’s why he’s moving up my starting pitcher rankings with this trade, going from barely inside the top 20 to just inside the top 12. Yes, Verlander is once again a Fantasy ace.