Justin Verlander: “I’m A Stuff Guy”
Physical limitations and biomechanical disconnections are intimately interwoven. Let me tell you a story about one of the greatest pitchers of our generation. A Flame throwing righty who sat in the high 90s and touched 101 mph, Justin Verlander was named Rookie of The Year in 2006. In 2011, he set the standard for reliability. Through his 34 starts, Verlander never lasted less than six innings and Finished the season First in wins (24-‐5), ERA (2.40), WHIP (0.920), strikeouts (250), innings (251.0) and WAR (8.4). For his efforts he became one of only 10 pitchers in MLB history to win the Cy Young and MVP awards in the same season. But, in 2015 Verlander missed a portion of the season due to injury and his velocity dropped significantly. Upon referral from Coach Ron Wolforth, three days before spring training broke in 2016, Justin checked in at the Florida Baseball Ranch®.
One of the first things he said to me during the session was “I’ve got a problem. In my start today, I was sitting at 88-‐91. That’s not going to get it done. I’m a stuff guy. I’ve always had great stuff. I’m not the type that will be ok learning to pitch in the low 90s. I need to get my velocity back.”
“Justin,” I said, I need you to understand the what your asking to us to do is usually an off-season kind of thing. Trying to make these changes during the season might be a recipe for disaster.”
“Don’t worry.” He replied. “I’m a competitor. I’ve always been great at compartmentalizing. When I’m pitching, I’ll just compete. I’ll work on this stuff between outings.” With a clear picture we got to work.
During the physical evaluation, it became evident that his hip and thoracic mobility had significantly eroded over the years. As a result, during his first move, he was shifting the weight toward the ball of his foot, directing him toward the on deck circle on his arm side. Justin has retroverted hips (oriented outward and reward on his pelvis). His body loves external hip rotation, but it’s not a fan of internal rotation. As he gradually began to land further across his body, the lack of hip internal rotation prevented him from clearing his hip. To compensate, he was to lifting his back leg and vaulting over his front leg. This limited in the contribution he was getting from his lower half and was exposing his arm to unattenuated stress. His velocity had regressed, and he was experiencing a nagging pain in the front of his shoulder.
We showed Justin a series of corrective mobility exercises and some lower half throwing drills and advised him to perform them on a daily basis. Over the next few weeks, JV sent us video to review, and it was clear he was already beginning to move better. Unfortunately, his results weren’t reflecting the improvement.
To say he was off to a slow start (0-‐5 with a 12 ERA) would be an understatement. I must admit that I was horrified. Thankfully, things began to change. With improved mobility and more efficient recruitment of his lower half, his velocity and effectiveness returned. He was able to run his fastball up to 99 mph again and finished as the runner-up in the AL Cy Young voting. In my humble opinion he should have won it. But, more importantly, he made it through the entire season with no pain. When asked about the secret to his resurgence, Verlander, reported, “I really dedicated myself to improving my mobility this season.” Justin returned to the Ranch in 2017, this time the day before his first pre-‐season outing. We were all thrilled to see him throwing without pain and with velocity back up to 95+ mph.
Since his trade to the Houston Astros JV has experienced what has been arguably the greatest resurrection of a career in the history of Major League Baseball. Under the guidance of long time Ranch Guy and Astros pitching coach, Brent Strom, he won a World Series and has continually reinvented himself. As of this writing, he’s having yet another Cy Young caliber season that has included his third career no-hitter and has solidified his stock as a sure-fire first ballot hall of fame.
Congratulations to our friend, Justin Verlander. It has been a pleasure to watch you forge your legacy.