Dave Niehaus: 1935-2010

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Sad news out of the Pacific Northwest tonight.

According to Kirby Arnold of the Everett Herald, longtime Mariners broadcaster Dave Niehaus passed away from a heart attack this afternoon at the age of 75.

Niehaus was awarded the job of play-by-play announcer before Seattle’s inaugural season in 1977 and remained in that role through the 2010 season.  He was inducted into the Hall of Fame as 2008’s Ford C. Frick Award recipient and hearts are undoubtedly saddened this evening across the state of Washington.

Niehaus began his broadcasting career in 1957 on the Armed Forces Network.  He was serving in the military and had just graduated from Indiana University.

He broke into baseball in 1969 as Dick Enberg’s partner on the California Angels’ broadcast and eventually began contributing on calls for the Los Angeles Rams and UCLA Bruins.  In 1977, the Mariners wisely recruited Niehaus and made him the voice of the new franchise.  He became the epitome of a fixture, calling nearly every Mariners game that has ever been played.

The M’s haven’t experienced a whole lot of winning seasons, so Niehaus’ calls aren’t broadcast regularly in highlight clips and on baseball documentaries.  But he was an immensely talented announcer and he helped educate one of baseball’s most intelligent fan bases for the last 33 years.

Video-gamers in the 90s might also recognize his voice from Nintendo 64’s Ken Griffey Jr. Slugfest.

When the Mariners beat the Yankees in the franchise’s first ALDS appearance back in 1995, Niehaus shared in the joy:

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If you wanted to call someone “Mr. Mariner,” it would probably be Niehaus.  He will be missed.

Justin Verlander changed his mechanics to prolong his career

Justin Verlander mechanics
Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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Last week, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reported that Astros starter and reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander changed his mechanics in order to prolong his career. Specifically, Verlander lowered his release point from 7’2″ to 6’5″.

As Brooks Baseball shows, Verlander drastically altered his release point after being traded to the Astros from the Tigers on August 31, 2017. The change resulted in a huge bump in his strikeout rate. Verlander’s strikeout rate ranged between 16% and 27.4% with the Tigers, mostly settling in the 23-25% range. With The Tigers through the first five months of 2017, Verlander struck out 24.1% of batters. In the final month with the Astros, he struck out 35.8% of batters. He then maintained that rate over the entire 2018 and ’19 seasons with respective rates of 34.8% and 35.4%. Just as impressively, the release point also resulted in fewer walks. His walk rate ranged from 5.9% to 9.9% with the Tigers but was 4.4% and 5.0% the last two seasons with the Astros.

Verlander finished a runner-up in 2018 AL Cy Young Award balloting to Blake Snell before edging out teammate Gerrit Cole for the award last season. Despite the immense success, Verlander described his mechanics as unsustainable. Per The Athletic’s Jake Kaplan, Verlander said, “I changed a lot of stuff that some people would think was unnecessary. But I thought it was necessary, especially if I want to play eight, 10 more years.”

Verlander is 37 years old, so 10 more seasons would put him into Jamie Moyer territory. Moyer, who consistently ranked among baseball’s softest-tossing pitchers, pitched 25 seasons in the majors from 1986-2012.  He threw 111 2/3 innings with the Phillies in 2010 at the age of 47 and 53 2/3 innings with the Rockies in 2012 at 49. But aside from Moyer and, more recently, Bartolo Colon, it’s exceedingly rare for pitchers to extend their careers into their 40’s, let alone their mid- and late-40’s.

The Astros have Verlander under contract through 2021. The right-hander will have earned close to $300 million. He’s won a World Series, a Rookie of the Year Award, an MVP Award, two Cy Youngs, and has been an eight-time All-Star. Verlander could retire after 2021 and would almost certainly be a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2027. That he continues to tweak his mechanics in order to pitch for another decade speaks to his highly competitive nature.