Better With Age
Beckett Baseball|December 2019
At an age when most players have retired are contemplating it, JUSTIN VERLANDER keeps pitching like he’s a kid again
Mike Payne

In the 2004 MLB Draft, the Detroit Tigers with the second overall pick wondered who they would take with that premium selection. Would it be one of the three Rice right handers – Philip Humber, Jeff Niemann or Wade Townsend – who had taken the college ranks by storm? Would it be another Texas pitcher, La Grange High School righty Homer Bailey? Or perhaps Florida State shortstop Stephen Drew?

It was none of the above. After the San Diego Padres, picking first overall, selected local high school shortstop Matt Bush, the Tigers settled on a college righthander, just not one of the Rice studs.

Detroit went with Old Dominion’s Justin Verlander.

It didn’t take the Padres long to want a do-over.

While Bush had legal and personal issues off the field and spent 39 months in jail on a drunk driving charge before turning his life and career around in 2016 with the Texas Rangers, Verlander made his major league debut just a year after being drafted. In 2006, he opened eyes nationally with a 17-6 mark and 3.63 ERA earning American League Rookie of the Year honors as well as helping the Tigers to a surprise berth in the World Series.

He was on his way.

Oh, the journey hasn’t been without its struggles. He lost a major-league high 17 games in 2008, but then led the majors with 19 wins the very next season and 24 victories in 2011, leading the A.L. in ERA (2.40) while also pacing the majors in games started (34), innings pitched (251) and strikeouts (250). That year he earned both the A.L. Cy Young Award and the league Most Valuable Player Award – a feat accomplished by just 10 pitchers in history.

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