Sunday, July 5, 2015

Justin Verlander. A huge bust?

Detroit Tiger fans certainly don't want to hear it, but Justin Verlander is beginning to have the makings of a huge bust -- in two different ways. His pitching performance and what he will cost the Tigers for the next several years regardless. Let's look at his stats. After a horrid 2008 campaign that saw him go 11-17 with an ERA of 4.64, Verlander got on a roll. Check out the next several years.

2009. 19-9. ERA of 3.45. Quite the turnaround.
2010. 18-9. 3.37. Continued excellence.
2011. 24-5. 2.40. He killed it and received the Cy Young award.
2012. 17-8. 2.64. Still outstanding.

In the spring of 2013, the Tigers signed Verlander to a long contract extension. This included Godzilla bucks which made JV the highest paid pitcher in the game. Barring an unlikely trade, he would stay with the Tigers until the year 2020. Total cost to the club? Over $200 million. Along the way, Verlander even got a breakfast cereal named after him. Fastball Flakes. Don't know if they're still around, but yours truly tried it once. While they're probably nutritious, let's just say Tony the Tiger has no worries over competition when it comes to the taste of his product. One remains grrrrrreat!. The other? Pretty much yuck.

But then things began to go downhill.

In 2013, Verlander was a pedestrian 13-12 and his ERA jumped to 3.46.
Just last year, 2014, JV went another mediocre 15-12, but his ERA took another leap to 4.54.
Under the terms of his contract, Verlander was paid $20,000,000 for each of those years. Considering performance versus compensation -- does something seem a bit out of focus with that picture?

The 2015 campaign rolled around and JV had a mysterious arm ailment. Though at first thought to be a minor issue, it would sideline him for the first two months of the season.

After he finally made it back, Verlander has had 4 starts, won ZERO games (lost two), and his ERA is a whopping 6.75. The Toronto Blue Jays lit him up earlier last night. It should be noted that Verlander's salary increased to $28,000,000.

The season is now half over, which means Verlander has made $14 million for basically contributing nothing. Sure, there are those that think JV will make it "all the way back" and let's hope they're right. After all, he's only 32 and should be in the prime of his career.

But the trend of the last few years as cited above cannot be ignored. Verlander has fallen from his once lofty perch as an "ace" to merely being mediocre. If the Tiger hopefuls are wrong and JV continues his slide for whatever reasons, he could well go down as one of the all-time biggest flame-outs/busts in the history of baseball.

Such is the precarious world of signing players to long-term lucrative contracts -- especially pitchers. They seldom work out for the duration. Much more often than not, teams are stuck with a financial albatross around their necks as the player ages and his skills diminish.

But in Verlander's case, the fall seemed to come out of nowhere. Or maybe it had something to do with his love life. After all, one can only imagine how energy-sapping it is to rock and roll with Kate Upton.

Nevertheless, the Tigers are on the hook for Verlander's $28M a year until 2020. Five more years. Even if he never wins another game. And given the way he's been pitching this year so far, it appears the Tigers are going to have to score a lot of runs for JV to chalk up a W. Because the other teams don't seem to have any problem hitting what he has to offer.

Granted, $28M in the insane world of professional sports salaries is hardly a franchise-buster. Owner Mike Ilitch has shrewd financial people to handle such things. They'll find a way to write it off if JV completely bottoms out. And the club will move on to tout their next "superhero". Their local reporters will hype/write about it and the fans will believe it. That's just the way it works. Hope springs eternal, as they say.

But if we are now witnessing the tipping point of a once soaring career going quickly into the dumpster, it would be much easier to argue Justin Verlander's legacy will more closely resemble that of a bust than one of the all-time greats.

The remainder of this season will be telling indeed........

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