It's October and we're in the middle of a World Series run, so admittedly, looking back at the big picture as to how we got here is not exactly front of mind, especially given the way the Astros sacked up and came back to beat the Yankees in seven games just a few days ago. That said, occasionally thoughts will cross my mind (or, in this case, my Twitter timeline), and it's worth analyzing "Yeah, exactly how DID that happen?"
I'll credit this topic to my colleague (and 2017 Houston Press "Best Play by Play Announcer" winner) Jeremy Branham, who tweeted this out in the wee hours after Verlander's dominant Game 6 performance...
How did Verlander clear waivers?— Jeremy Branham (@JeremyBranham) October 21, 2017
It was one of those tweets that made me think, "Yeah, how exactly did THAT happen?" We all know Verlander's contract, which has two years still remaining at $28 million annually, is one of the most expensive in all of team sports, but his performance for the Astros is worth probably $40 to $50 million per year. Obviously, he wasn't doing these types of things when the Tigers decided to put him on revocable waivers, or else a) they'd have kept him off waivers altogether, or b) some other team would have gladly paid the freight.
But it happened and Verlander DID clear waivers, meaning none of the 29 other teams wanted him under his current deal. (To be fair, that includes the Astros, who it must be noted are getting him at the reduced rate of $20 million per season the next two years, thanks to some cash thrown in by the Tigers.) So I examined things, using the baseball-reference.com game logs, and here are the statistical forensics of the situation:
1. In the month leading up to the non-waiver trade deadline (July 31), Verlander was pedestrian.
For the month of July, Verlander looked a lot more like the pitcher searching for answers back in 2014, when his ERA for the season was 4.54, than the tour de force that he's been since donning an Astros uni. Here are the righthander's numbers for the month of July:
Team W-L: 1-5
K/9 IP: 8.66
Opp OPS: .734
HR Allowed: 5
So aside from giving up a few fewer dingers, statistically, Verlander, in the most recent month before being placed on (and clearing) revocable waivers on August 4, was basically Mike Fiers. But then he cleared waivers, and something magical happened...August happened.
2. Jeff Luhnow's appetite for a deal before the (more stringent, must-clear-waivers) August 31 deadline was whetted by an elite August from Verlander.
It is known that the Astros had conversations about Verlander leading up to the July 31 deadline, but nothing materialized. That said, after he cleared waivers in early August, it's almost like Verlander was a salesman, putting his wares on the glass and asking Luhnow, "What do ya think, fella?" Check out the improvement:
Team W-L: 4-2
K/9 IP: 10.71
Opp OPS: .572
HR Allowed: 8
Oddly enough, he gave up more home runs per inning in that stretch, but given that he only allowed 11 earned runs, the eight home runs were about the only way teams could score on him. Nobody was stringing hits together. If the Astros were getting August Verlander for the remainder of the contract, THAT would be more than worth it at $20 million per season. However, he took it up a notch once he donned the orange and blue...
3. Verlander's September was better than even Luhnow could have dreamed.
Verlander was so good in September, it's almost as if the missing ingredient in his life had been oppressive humidity! Check out the September numbers, which would make 1998 Randy Johnson jealous:
Team W-L: 5-0
K/9 IP: 11.38
Opp OPS: .464
HR Allowed: 4
Verlander gave up four earned runs in September, and they were literally on four solo home runs. He was a demigod. And then came the postseason, in which...
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4. Miraculously, Verlander has kept his game at THAT level in October, against the best competition.
Once you remove his one relief appearance in the Boston series, an ill-advised, quasi-panic move by A.J. Hinch, the only thing you can do is read in awe the numbers in his three starts...
Team W-L: 3-0
K/9 IP: 9.82
Opp OPS: .591
HR Allwd: 0
And he got better with every start — two earned runs in six innings in his first start (against Boston), one earned run in nine innings in his second (versus New York), and then seven shutout innings in his last start (against New York). More important, for a general manager who was criticized by his own players in early August, Jeff Luhnow has been vindicated — Justin Verlander has saved the Astros season.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.