ESPN Insider Dave Cameron wrote on Sunday that the Tigers should be considered World Series favorites. They've remade their roster a bit, especially in the infield, but they still have two-time AL MVP Miguel Cabrera, Cy Young winner Max Scherzer ... oh, yeah, and this guy named Justin Verlander. Remember him?
After going a combined 41-13 with a 2.54 ERA in 2011 and 2012, Verlander "slipped" to 13-12 with a 3.46 ERA last year. While he made 34 starts, his innings pitched dropped from an average of 245 in those two peak seasons to 218.1, his fewest since 2008. He didn't throw a complete game, and much was made of the drop in velocity on his fastball. He averaged 93.3 mph on his heater in 2013, down from 94.8 mph in his Cy Young and MVP season of 2011.
Verlander had surgery in early January in his core muscle area and will make his spring training debut on Tuesday. That would put him in line to start Opening Day if he goes every fifth day. Verlander has said he hopes to relearn his 2012 delivery and forget what happened in 2013. "I threw like this for a year," he told the Detroit Free Press. "My body wants to fall back into that naturally. The adjustments are to [get back] to the way I threw before last year. ... The way I was throwing last year might have had something to do with an injury being there without my knowing. And that's why I had to change my mechanics a little bit. Even if I don't feel it, my brain still knows it's there."
The good news is that even as Verlander battled those mechanical issues, his strikeout rate didn't decline that much, from 25.8 percent in 2011 and 25 percent in 2012 to 23.5 percent last year. He allowed more hits thanks in part to a high BABIP -- .316 (compared to .236 in 2011). So it's easy to suggest he was at least a little unlucky on balls in play. With the improved defense in the Tigers' infield, Verlander's hit rate has a good chance of dropping back to his 2012 level (.273 BABIP).
While we haven't seen him yet this spring, he seems likely to improve upon last year's 3.46 ERA. ZiPS projects 3.07, while Steamer has him at 3.51. I'm going to set the over/under at 3.00.