Justin Verlander is one of the most accomplished pitchers in the history of Major League Baseball, known for his consistent dominance on the mound and leadership skills on and off the field. In this article, we will delve into his life and career, from his early beginnings to his current state as a seasoned veteran.
Early Life and Amateur Career
Justin Verlander was born on February 20, 1983, in Manakin-Sabot, Virginia. His father, Richard Verlander, was a former minor league baseball player and was instrumental in teaching Justin the fundamentals of pitching. It was a tradition passed on from generation to generation in the Verlander family, as his grandfather Richard Verlander, Sr, and his great-uncles Arthur and Jerry Verlander all enjoyed successful baseball careers in their time.
As a high schooler, Verlander dominated on the varsity baseball squad, going 12-1 with a 0.27 ERA as a senior. He also excelled as a quarterback in football and was recruited to play for Old Dominion University in Virginia.
During his sophomore season at Old Dominion, Verlander had a breakthrough year, going 7-6 with a 2.24 ERA and 139 strikeouts in 105 innings pitched. He was named the Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year and the top Major League draft prospect heading into his junior season.
Professional Career: Minor League Years
The Detroit Tigers selected Verlander with the second overall pick in the 2004 MLB draft, the highest selection ever awarded to a player out of Old Dominion University. Verlander quickly proved himself in the minor leagues, rocketing through the system in just over two seasons.
In his professional debut with the Oneonta Tigers of the New York–Penn League, Verlander struck out 7 in 5 innings without giving up a run. He continued to climb the ladder of minor league affiliates, receiving quick promotions due to his impressive pitching abilities.
In the 2005 season, Verlander was promoted to Double-A Erie and continued to show his excellence on the mound. He won the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year award, going 11-2 with a 1.29 ERA, striking out 139 in 118 innings.
The next year, Verlander received an invitation to the All-Star Futures Game, which showcases the top prospects in the minor leagues. He pitched one inning in the game, striking out three of the four batters he faced.
Professional Career: MLB Career
Verlander made his MLB debut on July 4, 2005, against the Cleveland Indians. Verlander was shaky in his rookie debut, giving up four earned runs over 5 innings, but he would soon find his stride.
In 2006, Verlander was a key member of the Tigers team that made it to the World Series. He finished the season 17-9 with a 3.63 ERA, striking out 124 batters over 186 innings.
The following season, Verlander recorded his first no-hitter in a game against the Milwaukee Brewers, becoming the first Tigers pitcher to throw a no-hitter since Jack Morris’ no-no in 1984. Verlander’s game also marked the first no-hitter thrown at Comerica Park.
However, it was during the 2011 season that Verlander truly made a name for himself. He won the American League Triple Crown, leading the league in wins (24), ERA (2.40), and strikeouts (250). Verlander also won the American League MVP award, which is traditionally reserved for position players. Verlander’s award marked the first time a pitcher had won the AL MVP since Dennis Eckersley in 1992.
In 2012, Verlander posted another sensational season, pitching his way to a 17-8 record with a 2.64 ERA and 239 strikeouts. He led the Tigers to their second consecutive American League championship, but the team ultimately lost to the San Francisco Giants in the World Series.
During the 2013 season, Verlander extended his streak of consecutive seasons with 200 or more strikeouts to five. Despite the team’s failure to advance to the World Series, Verlander finished that season with a 13-12 record and a 3.46 ERA.
Injuries and Late-Career Resurgence
The 2014 and 2015 seasons marked a downturn for Verlander, who struggled with injuries and inconsistency. In 2015, he was limited to just 20 starts due to a triceps injury, finishing with a 5-8 record and a 3.38 ERA.
However, Verlander would bounce back, achieving some of the best statistics of his career. He led the American League in strikeouts in 2016 and 2018, while recording more than 250 strikeouts in both seasons.
He also recorded his third no-hitter, against the Toronto Blue Jays, in 2011. Verlander continued to receive accolades throughout this stretch of his career, earning the American League Cy Young Award, an honor that recognizes the league’s top pitcher, in 2011 and finishing as the runner-up the following year.
In 2019, Verlander achieved a career milestone when he earned his 3,000th career strikeout against the Los Angeles Angels, becoming just the 18th pitcher in MLB history to achieve this feat.
Personal Life and Philanthropy
Off the field, Verlander is actively involved in philanthropic efforts. He founded the Wins for Warriors Foundation, which supports military veterans and their families, in 2016. Additionally, he and his wife, supermodel Kate Upton, are active animal rights advocates, often posting pictures on social media promoting shelter adoptions.
Verlander and Upton also made a substantial pledge to aid those affected by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. They donated $1 million to the disaster relief efforts and personally met with those affected by the storm.
Justin Verlander is without question one of the most successful pitchers in the history of Major League Baseball, achieving lifelong aspirations and establishing a lengthy list of accolades that speak to his skills, dedication and passion for the game.
Verlander’s rise to greatness is the result of a combination of natural ability, dedication to the craft, and the right combination of opportunities and personnel to help him fine-tune his skills throughout his nearly two-decade career. He’s been able to withstand the pressures of media and fans throughout this long process, finding support at home with his philanthropy efforts with his wife and family.
But whatever the reason, Verlander has proven himself time and time again, becoming a staple when it comes to discussions of all-time pitchers in MLB history. Investors betting on baseball cards or using data science to predict performance can be confident in Verlander’s legacy, as he continues to provide reliability and consistency well into his late years in the league.