The Detroit Tigers will probably have a long off season, thinking about the games that got away. Two of them happened in Atlanta (of all places) in the final weekend when the Tiger offense whimpered like kitty cats.
But while some of the Tigers wilted under pressure, injuries hampered the roster, and the manager and front office had some serious brain farts, there were two people who have nothing to second-guess over the winter.
Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander are the two highest-paid Tigers ever. Combined the two will eventually cart away more than half a billion dollars of Mike Ilitch’s money. In 2016 they earned their money, both players showing why they rate among baseball’s elite.
In the final week of the season, Miggy hit a blistering .565 (13 hits in 23 at-bats) with four home runs and 13 RBIs in six games. He either scored or drive in 80 percent of the Tigers runs in the last week of the 2016 season.
Verlander started two games in the final week with the stakes high, and he showed why at 33 he’s still one of the most overpowering pitchers in the game. JV pitched 14 2/3 innings, allowed 10 hits, only two walks, and struck out 20 batters. He surrendered one measly run in those two starts, on a sacrifice fly in the first inning on Sunday in Atlanta. Unfortunately, it was enough for him to lose the game, 1-0. With that loss, the season was over. But it wasn’t Verlander’s fault.
Want more proof that the Detroit ace was clutch in 2016? In his last 16 starts (dating back to July 15th), Verlander spun a 1.96 ERA in 110 1/3 innings. He had 15 quality starts in those 16 games, and he struck out 134 batters while walking only 24. His WHIP (walks plus hits per nine innings) was 0.86, the best in baseball. Opposing batters hit just .180 against Verlander in the second half of the season.
The year Verlander returned to a level that was near his 2011-12 peak. The righthander had 27 quality starts in 34 outings and led the American League in innings, strikeouts, WHIP, and fewest hits per nine innings. He was second in the AL in ERA. He won “only” 16 games because his teammates inexplicably went cold for him, scoring zero or one run in eight of his starts. if he’d had the run support that say Rick Porcello of the Red Sox enjoyed, Verlander could have won 22-24 games.
Cabrera is 32 years old and still one of the 2-3 most dangerous hitters in baseball. Every season it seems some “experts” predict Miggy’s legs will finally go out from under him, that his bat speed will slow, that somehow he’ll become mortal. Well, Miggy is not mortal, folks. He’s still up there with the others in baseball’s pantheon of gods and kings, he’s still the smartest hitter in the game, The King of Clutch, The Zeus of The Opposite Field.
After he spent the all-star break representing the Tigers in the midsummer classic, Cabrera came back recharged. At that point the Tigers were listless, floating on the outer edges of being in contention for a wild card spot. But Miggy made his customary second-half push, hitting .346 after the break with 20 home runs and 55 RBIs in 70 games. Cabrera’s second-half OPS of 1.057 was the third-highest in baseball. It was higher than Mike Trout, higher than Josh Donaldson, higher than David Ortiz, three players who have challenged Miggy for MVP honors in recent seasons. Cabrera reached base in 62 of his 70 games after the all-star break, and he reached base in all but two games after September 1st.
At times you’ll hear a nut complain that Cabrera and Verlander are overpaid. Don’t ever listen to those people. Just step back from them, give them space, and keep sharp objects out of their reach.
There’s nothing wrong with Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander. The two of them earned every penny of their salaries in 2016. If they hadn’t, the season would have been much, much less interesting and enjoyable.