This is must-click link material: a story by Brandon Sneed at Bleacher Report about the Justin Verlander Renaissance.
You know the basics: Cy Young/MVP-winning pitcher who began to break down in 2013, who soon became more famous for who his girlfriend was than his pitching and who, somehow, got back to Cy Young form by 2016 and last year helped lead the Houston Astros to the World Series title.
This story is about the “somehow.” Turns out that that girlfriend, Kate Upton, played a huge, huge part in the Renaissance. Not just as some sort of cliche moral support device — though she certainly provided that in spades — but in helping him find a doctor who, in turn, helped figure out what was truly wrong with Verlander and helped him rebuild his health and his delivery to get back to his old elite level. The Tigers did not comment about how Upton and Verlander’s new doctor could help him figure it out when they could not, but I suppose that’s all rather academic.
A good read for a couple of reasons. First, because it covers an elite ballplayer’s comeback, and those stories are always good. But second, because of a reason Lindsey Adler of The Athletic noted a little bit ago:
Hunter Pence was thought to be on his way to retirement after a lackluster 2018 season with the Giants. As he entered his mid-30’s, Pence spent a considerable amount of time on the injured list, playing in 389 out of 648 possible regular season games with the Giants from 2015-18.
Pence, however, kept his career going, inking a minor league deal with the Rangers in February. He performed very well in spring training, earning a spot on the Opening Day roster. Pence hasn’t stopped hitting.
Entering Monday night’s game against the Mariners, Pence was batting .299/.358/.619 with eight home runs and 28 RBI in 109 plate appearances, mostly as a DH. Statcast agrees that Pence has been mashing the ball. He has an average exit velocity of 93.3 MPH this season, which would obliterate his marks in each of the previous four seasons since Statcast became a thing. His career average exit velocity is 89.8 MPH. He has “barreled” the ball 10.4 percent of the time, well above his 6.2 percent average.
What Pence did to a baseball in the seventh inning of Monday’s game, then, shouldn’t come as a surprise.
That’s No. 9 on the year for Pence. Statcast measured it at 449 feet and 108.3 MPH off the bat. Not only is Pence not retired, he may be a lucrative trade chip for the Rangers leading up to the trade deadline at the end of July.