Since his rookie year in 2006 Justin Verlander consistently ranked among the American League's elite tier of starting pitchers. He came to the majors throwing 100 mph with a knee-buckling curve, which he rode to all the way to Rookie of the Year honors and a seventh place finish in the Cy Young voting. In his prime, which consisted of a four year stretch from 2009-2012, Verlander led the league in wins twice, ERA once, strikeouts three times, innings pitched three times, WHIP once, and ERA+ twice. During this run he recorded Cy Young finishes of 11th, third, second, and first.
The year he won that Cy Young award (2011) was Verlander's absolute peak. It's one of the best individual seasons I've ever seen from a starter not named Clayton Kershaw or Pedro Martinez. Verlander won the pitching triple crown, finishing the year 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts in 251 innings. What was most impressive about him during this time was his ability to still reach upper 90s on the radar gun as late as the 8th and 9th innings of his starts. This was also the year he threw his second career no-hitter. It happened to be one of those rare instances where a pitcher actually deserved the MVP, which he indeed won - the first time a pitcher won the award since 1992.
At his best Verlander was (and perhaps still is) everything you want in an ace. He goes deep into games, can get a strikeout when he needs one, and has had success on baseball's biggest stage: the playoffs. This is what the Houston Astros need right now. Since the All-Star break they are just 20-24 and their rotation ERA (4.89) ranks 19th in the majors. Former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel is healthy again, but Lance McCullers still isn't. Verlander has a 2.31 ERA in his past 11 starts, which ranks 5th in the majors during this span. He gives Houston some much needed rotation stability.
A couple of months ago the Astros looked like the perfect team. But before acquiring Kate Upton's fiancee they appeared pretty vulnerable after not doing anything noteworthy this past trade deadline. Houston's front office spoke openly about not wanting to go "all in" on 2017. They wanted sustained success for years to come with their young core. However, it appears they've had a change of heart. Windows to win can come and go faster than we ever expect them to. The Astros were great without Verlander, but they had a massive hole at the front end of their rotation.
The team can now use the 34-year-old to matchup with Corey Kluber or Chris Sale in the playoffs. In 16 post-season starts throughout his career Verlander has a 3.39 ERA with 112 strikeouts in 98 1/3 innings pitched. Plus he has the confidence only a man engaged to Kate Upton could ever fathom. He's signed through 2019 so Houston made the trade with an eye towards the next two years in addition to now. Still, this move was primarily done to win sooner rather than later. It was made to win this October. The Astros are one of eight franchises to never win the World Series. With Verlander now on board 2017 might be the best chance they've ever had.