Which of Justin Verlander's pitches is the nastiest?
Tigers starter Justin Verlander, who turned 31 on Thursday, will soon kick off his ninth full big league season with the Tigers. He's won 137 games, a Rookie of the Year Award, a Cy Young and an MVP - and earned a reputation as one of the league's most durable and dominant hurlers along the way. Let's take a closer look at how the magic happens.
Verlander has four pitches he throws with regularity -- a fastball, curveball, changeup and slider. Here's a breakdown, with some help from MLB players, scouts, beat writers and, of course, GIFs:
The fastball is where it all begins for Verlander. Even before he reached the Majors, the right-hander's top-end velocity and his ability to maintain it deep into games set him apart from other prospects:
First-round pick Justin Verlander's arm strength is well-known. Another highly-rated prospect from the same conference, Justin Orenduff, told MLB.com earlier this year he played long toss with Verlander and watched him throw from foul line to foul line without a bounce.
Verlander's velocity reportedly tops out at 99 mph, and he said he's been clocked as high as 101 mph. That made him the hardest throwing college prospect in the draft Pitching is key for Tigers --
June 7, 2004 --
Jason Beck / MLB.com
Verlander's curve really isn't even fair. By the time a hitter can react to the velocity drop from his fastball, the hook is already falling off the table:
"When [the curveball's] working like that, there's not much you can do with it as a hitter," [Catcher Alex Avila] said. "Today was, I thought, the best it's been. It showed on how much we used it today, because it was probably one of his best pitches today.
"He throws his curveball up there at 80. Normally, when a pitcher throws his breaking ball at 80, it's more like a slider. It doesn't break that much. It's not that big. So it's definitely tough to hit, especially when he can come with a fastball at 98." Verlander's variety his biggest weapon
-- June 15, 2011 -- Jason Beck / MLB.com
Of course, when you throw your fastball in the high 90s, a good change up can absolutely devastate opposing hitters -- and Verlander's does just that:
Verlander is so good right now that he has three different pitches that are among the best in baseball, and at times, he simply seems to be toying with hitters.
One time, he's pumping 97-mph gas in on a hitter's hands, and just when the guy convinces himself he has to speed everything up to look for the fastball, just when he's tensed and ready for power, Verlander mixes in an 86-mph changeup that makes him look silly. Even while not at his best, Verlander dominates
-- October 17, 2012 -- Richard Justice / MLB.com
Verlander admits his slider is his fourth pitch, but even a fourth pitch can be unhittable when thrown in the right sequence. Over the years, the right-hander has improved not only the pitch itself, but his judgment of when to unleash it:
"I mean, he just pitches," said J.P. Arencibia, the only Toronto hitter to reach base against Verlander his last trip here. "He's got, obviously, four pitches he can throw at any time, so you've got to respect it. Whenever he wants, he can climb up to 97. If he wants to throw a slider at 90, he can throw a slider at 90. Then he'll throw you a fastball at 97." Verlander dominates Jays over seven shutout frames
-- July 5, 2013 -- Jason Beck / MLB.com
You've heard what the players, scouts and beat writers think -- but what about you? Which of Verlander's pitches do you think is the most devastating? Let us know in the comments, or leave us a video response below:
Dakota Gardner has worked as an editor and a writer for MLB.com's Cut4 since 2013. He's also one of the hosts of the Cut4Cast.