This last weekend, Justin Verlander showed flashes of his younger self when he took a shutout into the ninth inning against the Astros at Comerica Park. JV surrendered two runs that frame but his teammates came through with an exciting comeback walkoff victory to give the righthander the win.
The victory was Verlander’s 11th of the season. In July, we saw vintage Verlander: 4-0 with a 1.69 ERA in six starts. The former Most Valuable Player and Cy Young winner allowed only 26 hits in 42+ innings, striking out 48 batters while allowing just 12 walks in July.
The stellar job last month has vaulted the Detroit ace into the running for AL pitching honors once again. In 2011 he took away the aforementioned hardware, and in 2012 he was a close runnerup in Cy Young voting. Verlander also received Cy Young votes in 2006, 2007, 2009 (when he was third) and in 2010. In ’06 he won AL Rookie of the Year honors. The mantel at Verlander’s pad is nearing capacity.
Verlander ranls third in the AL in wins, and is in the top five in the loop in WAR, hits per nine, walks+hits per nine, and he leads in games started, innings, and strikeouts (tied with Chris Archer of Tampa Bay). Thus far in his standout career, Verlander has paced the league in most categories multiple times: wins (twice), win percentage (twice), ERA (once), starts (three times), complete games (once), innings (three times), and K’s (three times).
True, injuries made the 2014 season a rough one for JV, but it now seems that the big righty was correct when he predicted he would bounce back to his old form, or at least near it. In the second half last season and again over much of ’16, Verlander has been the ace of the club.
The 11 wins this far in 2016 give Verlander 168 for his career, good for seventh on the Detroit franchise list. It now appears that Verlander will likely become the fourth Tiger hurler to get to 200 wins. Given the fact that he is under contract for the next three seasons (and possibly a fourth option year), Verlander has a good chance of challenging the franchise mark for wins, which stands at 223 by George “Hooks” Dauss. If he can stay healthy, Verlander would need to average 13 wins per season over the length of his contract (and win four more games this year) to break the team mark, which has stood for 90 years.
Four more wins this year would also assure Verlander 15 wins for the eighth time. Only three others have done that for Detroit. Elite company indeed.
Here’s a look at the eleven pitchers who have at least five seasons of 15 or more wins for the Detroit Tigers:
Jack Morris, 10 seasons
Only the strike-shortened 1981 season stopped Morris from having ten 15-win seasons in a row. That year, Morris still won 14 games and finished third in AL Cy Young voting. Morris twice won 20 games for the Tigers, and he won 198 in all for Detroit before leaving via free agency after the 1990 season.
Morris and Verlander are the only two pitchers on this list to have thrown no-hitters for the Tigers. Morris tossed his in 1984, while Verlander has a pair of no-hitters: one in 2007 and the other in 2011.
George Mullin, nine seasons
It was easier to win games back in Mullins’ day, when teams had three or four-man rotations and starters pitched complete games almost every time out. From 1903-1911, “Wabash George” posted nine straight seasons of between 17 and 29 victories. He slipped to only 12 wins in 1912, the Tigers’ first season at Navin Field. When he got off to a rocky start the following year, the 32-year old righthander was sold to the Washington Senators. Mullin won 209 games for Detroit and another three in the postseason.
Mickey Lolich, eight seasons
The popular lefthander racked up his eight 15-win seasons over an 11-year stretch from 1964 to 1974. Three times he barely missed 15 victories, in 1966, 1967, and 1970 when he notched 14. His shocking trade to the Mets after the ’75 season ended his Detroit career with 207 wins, otherwise Mick probably would have passed Dauss for the franchise mark of 223.
Justin Verlander, seven seasons
In his rookie campaign in ’06, Verlander became the first rookie pitcher to have ten wins before the end of June in more than 40 years. He won 17 games that year and had at least 15 in six of his first seven seasons, joining Mullin as the only Tigers to do that. He’s won 15 once, 17 twice, 18 twice, 19 once, and 24 once.
Hal Newhouser, seven seasons
Newhouser was a pitching prodigy, making his debut with Detroit when he was 18 years old. But it took him several years to harness his stuff. By 1944 he had it straightened out. Boy did he have it straightened out. He won 80 games in three seasons and lost only 27 while posting a 1.99 ERA from 1944-46. he had seven straight 15-win seasons before a sore elbow slowed him down at the age of 29. Prince Hal never recovered and he won his final game for the Tigers when he was just 31 years old. Still, he did enough in his peak years to earn a Hall of Fame selection. He’s the only starting pitcher in the Hall of Fame who spent the majority of his career in a Tiger uniform.
Hooks Dauss, seven seasons
How do you get a great nickname like “Hooks?” You throw a great breaking ball, which Dauss did. He went 11 straight years with 200 or more innings pitched and completed 245 games in all. He spent all 15 seasons of his career with Detroit, from 1912 to 1926, serving as a teammate of Ty Cobb longer than any other man. dauss won 20 games three times and 19 twice. He lost a lot of games too — 182 in fact — the most by any Detroit hurler. Ask fifty fans who holds the Detroit record for career wins and maybe one would be able to name Hooks Dauss. He quit the game at the age of 36 due to an irregular heartbeat and later became a detective in St. Louis.
Bill Donovan, six seasons
If you haven’t heard about Dauss, you’ve also probably don’t know much about Bill Donovan. He was a strong righthanded pitcher who pitched for Detroit in the first decade of the 20th century. He only won as many as ten games for the Tigers seven times, but in six of them he was between 16 and 25 wins. He notched 25 for the Tigs in 1907 when the team captured its first pennant. He was disappointing in the postseason though, going 1-4 in three World Series for Detroit. Donovan was dubbed “Wild Bill” for two reasons: as a young hurler he had a terrible time controlling his fastball and his temper.
Denny McLain, five seasons
You all know this fella. He was like a comet blazing across the sky: a few amazing, brilliant, intensely bright seasons before burning up and crashing into the sun.
If you wanted to assemble an all-time Detroit starting rotation made up of guys who had brief-but-great peak careers, you could do it. There would be Denny of course, then Mark Fidrych, Schoolboy Rowe, Ed Summers, and you could toss in Max Scherzer (who didn’t get hurt, but only had a few great Detroit seasons before he was jettisoned).
Frank Lary, five seasons
In many ways the forgotten man in the ranks of Detroit pitchers, Lary is mostly remembered for his mastery over the Yankees. As a result, he was called “The Yankee Killer.” Like Newhouser, Lary developed elbow problems around the age of 30, and subsequently won only 11 games after the age of 32 and was done. But in his prime, over a seven-year stretch from 1955-61, the righthander averaged 17 wins per season and received MVP votes three times.
Tommy Bridges, five seasons
During the 1930s, he got damn close to throwing a no-hitter several times, that’s one thing you should know about little Tommy Bridges. The other is that almost every time a writer talks about him, they put the word “little” in front of his name. He was only 5’10 and 155 pounds, so the descriptor fit. He spent 16 seasons with Detroit, starting in 1930 when the team was pretty woeful and trying to build into a contender, and lasting until after World War II when he was used as a spare arm out of the bullpen. Bridges, who won 194 games in a Detroit uniform, is the only pitcher to appear in four World Series for the Tigers.
Earl Whitehill, five seasons
Whitehill had the misfortune of pitching for Detroit when they were a pretty mediocre team much of the time. He debuted in 1923 and was one of the only hurlers who benefited from playing under manager Ty Cobb. The great Detroit legend was notoriously hard on pitchers and more than once he failed to recognize talent on the mound. But when Cobb saw the 23-year old Whitehill as a rookie in 1923, he ordered his coaches to stay away from the lefthander. Earl took the ball every third or fourth day and did a steady job, winning 133 games for the Tigers in ten seasons. He usually won between 13 and 17 games, but never any more. When he was traded to Washington he won 22 games and helped lead them to the World Series in 1933, and with a good-hitting team behind him, Whitehill had career years in a Senator uniform. Eventually he logged 218 wins in a 17-year career where was usually good, but rarely great.