Always Adapting: Justin Verlander
Justin Verlander has been one of the most feared pitchers in baseball over the last decade and a half.
After playing all of his major league career for the Detroit Tigers, Verlander was traded to the Houston Astros at the trade deadline in 2017 and helped carry the Astros to the World Series title.
Find out how Verlander, a Maverick Athlete, used all of the technology and data at his disposal in Houston to develop a new pitch in his repertoire, and take his already high-level game up a notch:
The End of an Era in Detroit
As an ace for the Detroit Tigers, Justin Verlander was one of the best pitchers in baseball for the 12 years he wore that Tigers uniform. With a Cy Young and an AL MVP award, he gave all he could to the organization that drafted him second overall in the 2004 draft.
When the Tigers began to struggle during the 2017 season, trading Verlander, previously a cornerstone for the franchise became a reality for Detroit.
In a last minute deal that cleared right before the trade deadline passed, Verlander was shipped to the Houston Astros, a team that had struggled for years, but was gearing up for a legitimate title run– and they needed one more ace to do just that.
Verlander was no sure thing when he got shipped to Houston, though. He was had a 10-8 win-loss record for the Tigers through the 2017 season, posting an undesirable 3.82 ERA during that span.
The Astros and Verlander knew: in order to bring home the World Series, they would need Verlander to get back to the level of play he showed in 2015-2016.
A Match made in Heaven
That’s where Verlander’s Maverick mentality came into play.
Mavericks are inventive, and love to come up with new ideas. Not only that, they look for new perspectives– and try to solve problems by seeking unconventional solutions.
The marriage between Verlander and the Astros, one of the more analytically driven organizations in baseball ended up being just what each side needed.
Take this passage from a Tom Verducci Sports Illustrated article about the Astros acquiring Verlander: “When the Tigers traded Verlander to Houston Aug. 31, another world opened for Verlander. The Astros are one of the most forward-thinking, resourceful teams when it comes to analytics, and Verlander not only embraced it all, he also asked for more.”
Verducci goes onto explain, “In Houston, Verlander found another tool to improve and modernize his game: a super high-speed camera that shows in clear frame-by-frame detail how a baseball leaves a pitcher’s hand on every pitch.”
By using this technology, still not widely recognized or accepted by some traditionally-minded scouts, teams and pitchers– Verlander was able to take his game to a whole different level, with the help of the Astros pitching coach Brent Strom, and manager A.J. Hinch.
One of the keys to Verlander’s resurgent dominance was the development of his change-up and slider pitches.
“I’ve been working on it since I got here,” Verlander said of the changeup to MLB.com. “Strom and I, we’ve been working hard at it. It’s been a goal of mine all year, but I just haven’t really developed it. Sometimes some new or different insight can help. Strom had some good advice for me, and it seems like it’s been helping. Tonight I think it was the best it’s been, so it was a good sign.”
Like fellow Maverick, former number one overall NFL draft pick Jared Goff, this adaptability speaks to Verlander’s Maverick mindset. Willing to take all the new information and coaching in order to reinvent and reform a key pitch, shows Verlander’s comfort in adapting and risk-taking.
This mindset is unique and something you don’t normally see in pitchers with such a successful track record, according to Hinch, “There’s a certain stubbornness that comes with every great pitcher,” Hinch said. “You don’t have success in this league for 13 years without having a certain stubbornness. But he’s a continuous learner, trying to get better, trying to learn or tweak something.
The revitalization of his pitching repertoire corresponded with his resurgent dominance, and in turn– the Astros World Series win.
Verlander basically became unhittable when he landed in Houston, and adding in the work and adaptation to the technological and statistical insights the Astros provided him, it was a match made in heaven for a pitcher who is always looking for the newest ways to stay dominant in a sport where adjustments are key.
“I’m going to play as long as I can,” Verlander said. “I love the game. I’ve always told everyone, I realize how fortunate I am to make a lot of money, but if I wasn’t playing this game at a big league level, I’d be in some backyard playing baseball. I love the game.”
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 9, 2018
“What we didn’t realize is how he would play in our clubhouse. Sometimes you bring in vets, and they stick to themselves, they have their own way of doing things. Justin was surprisingly open and wanting to see how we did things, and see if anything we did could help him,” said Astros’ general manager Jeff Luhnow. “He’s as much part of this team as anybody else… I’m glad that he’s a spokesperson for us.”