By: Dan Hasty
Look, things are bad. Really bad. In June, Justin Verlander is 0-3 with a 9.16 ERA. Two years straight, JV has struggled after a strong April. At this rate, Verlander’s on pace for his first losing season since 2008. In the Tigers 11–8 Monday loss to Kansas City, JV held the Royals scoreless until the fifth inning. That’s important to remember as you read this.
Even amongst his struggles last season, Verlander once again became “Must See JV” when the team needed him most. In the 2013 playoffs, JV established that when the chips are down, he’s the guy you want on the mound, posting a 0.39 ERA with a 0.57 WHIP in 31 playoff innings.
It’s time to figure out how the Tigers can get the most out of their investment. Right now; the best return isn’t coming from him as a starter, and may never be again. If you want to salvage what’s left of JV’s talent, there’s one option the Tigers must consider.
Move Justin Verlander to the bullpen, and make him the closer for the rest of the season.
Before you stop reading, here’s why it makes too much sense:
1) JV + Adrealine — Over the past two years, Verlander’s best work as a Tiger has been in pressure situations. He thrives off adrenaline, as evidenced by the fact that he’s given up just eight runs in seven postseason starts since 2012. Putting Verlander in constant pressure spots with a rested arm might be exactly what he needs to light the competitive fire.
2) Joe Nathan — He’s been awful. Entering play Tuesday, Nathan held a 6.57 ERA, and hasn’t recorded a Save since May. There’s no reason to trust Nathan, or think that at 39 years old, he’ll find the secret to turning things around.
3) Save the Arm — Since 2011, no one has thrown more pitches than JV. Pitchers aren’t built to throw as much as Verlander has over the past four seasons, where he’s ranked 1st, 1st, 2nd, and 1st in pitches thrown. All of that’s now catching up to him. That being said, in all three of his June losses, Verlander didn’t allow a run until the 4th inning at the earliest, indicating that his arm may be able to give you something of quality over a short period of time. Making him a reliever reduces his pitch count, which is exactly what he needs. He’s no longer built for 100 pitches a night. It’s the exact reason pitchers that can’t be starters become relievers.
Justin Verlander wants to throw hard, and he can still do that, but not with the same consistency he had in his prime. As a reliever, it’s much easier to throw 97–98 mph when you know you’re only going to throw around 20 pitches.
At this point, options are dwindling, and he’s not worth anything as a starting pitcher. Bring up Robbie Ray to be your fifth starter, and make Verlander your closer. You’ll be shocked how well it works out.
Now the only question left is, would JV bring himself to do it? If you want to lengthen his career, he should.