Justin Verlander's Obviously A Freak ... But Is He The Greatest Freak?

DETROIT, MI: Justin Verlander #35 of the Detroit Tigers watches a two-run home run by Nelson Cruz #17 of the Texas Rangers in the eighth inning of Game Five of the American League Championship Series at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Nobody's been more consistent than Justin Verlander, and nobody ratchets up his fastball from the first inning to the eighth like Verlander. But is he the best pitcher, or merely the freakiest?

Justin Verlander is a freak.

Pitchers are freaks, generally speaking. You take two guys who look exactly alike -- say, both 6'1" and 180 pounds, no apparent difference in their arms or legs or feet or hands or ears or rears -- and yet somehow one of them can throw a baseball 90 miles an hour, the other just 70 miles an hour.

But Justin Verlander is really a freak. As SI.com's Joe Lemire writes, Verlander a) has sported the fastest average fastball (95.4 m.p.h.) since 2009, b) has an amazing string of performances in which he lasted at least six innings, and -- perhaps most freakish of all -- Verlander starts his games throwing hard, and ends them throwing really hard.

Lemire:

Verlander says there's no trick -- "not that I know of" -- to doing so. "It's just the way I've always been," he said. "For as long as I can remember."

Sure enough Verlander capped his six-inning performance against the Yankees -- his 47th straight start of at least that length, 34 more than the next longest active streak -- with a 98-mph pitch to Eric Chavez that was his fastest of the game.

That performance was similar to his start in Kansas City on April 16 in which Verlander's first fastball went 91 mph while his only four 100-mph pitches that night were his final four fastballs -- pitches Nos. 127, 128, 129 and 131 of his night -- to strike out Alex Gordon to end the game.

It's a trend worth watching both on Wednesday, when Verlander takes the hill at home against the Royals, and the rest of the season.

Verlander did throw his usual 100-some pitches, Wednesday against the Royals -- 128 in eight innings, to be precise -- and he did save some of his best heat for last, striking out Eric Hosmer with 100-mile-an-hour heat to end the eighth and strand a runner on third base.

He wound up with a no-decision -- he's just 2-1 this season after six starts, despite a 2.38 ERA -- which just proves how difficult winning can be.

During Verlander's fourth inning of work, the Tiger broadcasters got into a discussion of workhorse pitchers

Mario Impemba: Of the guys we just showed on the screen, taking Verlander out of the equation, who would you pick for a must-win situation.

Rod Allen: I would probably go Halladay.

Mario: I would probably agree.

That's a lot of qualifiers there, fellas. You're taking Verlander out of the question and then you would probably take Halladay?

Here were the guys they showed on the screen:

Justin Verlander
Roy Halladay
CC Sabathia
Jered Weaver
Felix Hernandez

With those guys, we got some basic statistics for 2010-2012: wins and losses, ERAs, strikeouts per nine innings, and Cy Young Awards (including pre-2010 honors for Halladay and Sabathia). Here are some other statistics:

Wins Above Replacement
1. Roy Halladay (16)
2. Justin Verlander (15)
3. Cliff Lee (15)
4. CC Sabathia (13)
5. Felix Hernandez (13)
6. Jered Weaver (13)

xFIP
1. Roy Halladay (2.83)
2. Cliff Lee (2.84)
3. Cole Hamels (3.10)
4. Zack Greinke (3.13)
5. Felix Hernandez (3.16)
..........
10. Justin Verlander (3.31)

Strikeouts / Walks
1. Cliff Lee (7.1)
2. Roy Halladay (6.2)
3. Dan Haren (4.8)
4. Jered Weaver (4.0)
5. Cole Hamels (4.0)
6. Zack Greinke (3.8)
7. Justin Verlander (3.7)

You might notice something about those seven pitchers ... Verlander's the only one of them who's spent each of these last three seasons (including 2012) in the American League. Which obviously makes a difference, though not enough of a difference to close the gap between him and the top three guys on the list.

So, and not leaving Verlander aside, who would you pick for a must-win game? It's really, really close. Verlander's exceptionally durable, of course. But that's less important if you've got a great bullpen, and anyway he's averaged fewer innings per start than Halladay and Felix Hernandez. Just slightly fewer, but he doesn't have a durability edge over those guys. A fastball edge, yes. But not a single-game durability edge.

Oh, and 2010-2012 isn't enough for you? If we include 2009, Halladay and Verlander are still virtually tied. At least in terms of WAR.

Now I know why Mario and Rod left Verlander aside; otherwise it's too hard.

Actually, they probably left Verlander aside because they didn't want to suggest that their guy wasn't actually No. 1. Because it's hard to make the case that he definitely is. It's also hard to make the case that he's definitely not.

I'm going with Verlander, though. Because Verlander's been pitching in the American League, and Halladay has not been pitching in the National League's best division (leaving aside the Phillies).

But it's oh so close. Please vote in the poll, and make your case in the comments. I'm willing to have my mind changed, or even (and ideally) blown.

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