Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Is Justin Verlander the Best Pitcher in Baseball?

Justin Verlander fever is rampant after he pitched more than seven innings of no-hit ball for the third time this season, he's completed the no-no once this season, yesterday. His 12-6 curveball was biting and freezing batters who could only watch as it dropped into the zone for a strike, his fastball was overpowering and his change-up kept hitters guessing all night. At times it seemed unfair for Indians hitters to have to face the dominating rightie, nothing they did was working and Verlander held them hit less through 7 1/3 innings before surrendering a liner to centerfield by Orlando Cabrera.

After the game, Verlander was asked how he prepared for the game and his response was of the variety that makes him out to be Curt Schilling. He said that he studied the Indians line up and saw that they had stacked it with left handers, so he knew that he would have to have confidence in his secondary pitches. And that he did, the Indians were helpless against him.

While Verlander was unable to complete his second no-hitter of the year he was able to take a no-hit bid into the 8th inning for the third time this season. After his no-hitter in May of this season, Verlander was asked how many he wanted to get during his career and his answer was impressive; 7.

Seven may seem like an arbitrary number to some but to most seven career no-hitters is the mark of Nolan Ryan. Ryan tossed seven gems in his career, but the perfect game eluded him. By Verlander saying that he wants to reach the same level as Ryan he is setting himself up as the heir-apparent, which is music to Tigers fans ears.

With the kind of stuff that Verlander is featuring right now, it is obvious that he will at least get one more no-hitter to his name; he's just too good not to, but the final total remains to be seen. In an interview with ESPN's Baseball Tonight Verlander said that he thinks that he is only getting better as the season goes on, a scary thought for those in the American League.

The question now becomes; is Justin Verlander the best pitcher in baseball? The short answer; no. But he is quite close. The top pitchers in the league right now are Roy Halladay, Jered Weaver, Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee and Justin Verlander. Verlander is superior to all of those pitchers, save one, Halladay. Last season Halladay threw two no-hitters; one being a perfect game, the other in the National League Division Series. 

Halladay is better than Verlander, for now. The former is 34 years old whereas Verlander is 28, if Verlander is this good now, just imagine what he will be like in his prime. As he said himself, he only thinks that he is improving and with a new friend in former-Tigers ace Jack Morris he has plenty of experience to draw on as the seasons go on.

Currently, Verlander has a 0.88 WHIP, which is the lowest in the entire league. A pitcher's WHIP is more indicative of their abilities than their ERA. A pitcher with a low WHIP is not allowing runners to reach base with much frequency, keeping his runs against low and securing wins regularly. According to the ESPN Cy Young Predictor, Verlander is currently in second place behind Weaver for the American League Cy Young with a probability percentage of 84.7%.

While he may not be the best pitcher in baseball right now, wait a few years and he will be. Keep your eyes and ears open for Verlander's name to be mentioned with the greats in no time.

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