Can Justin Verlander's Success Continue Into 2016?

Detroit's highly-paid star will look to continue his hot finish of 2015 into this year. Will he be able to?

The man wearing Justin Verlander's uniform at the end of last season looked nothing like the one that had inhabited it for most of 2014 and parts of last year.

I mean, look at this guyLook at that breaking stuff. And hey, is that a mid-to-high 90s fastball I see there? Why, yes it is! There was even a near no-hitter against the Los Angeles Angels, broken up with one out in the ninth inning last August.

Yes, friends, it certainly appears as if our old friend, unhittable Justin Verlander, is back. And that's great news for the Detroit Tigers as they try to overtake the world champion Kansas City Royals and promising Cleveland Indians in the American League Central.

And it also, once again, makes Verlander a very fantasy relevant player for 2016.

Going into last year, Verlander was coming off a subpar 2014 in which he went 15-12 with a 4.54 ERA, 3.74 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) in 206 innings of work. His strikeouts per nine (K/9) plummeted from 8.95 in 2013 to 6.95 in '14, and his fastball velocity was down from 94.3 miles per hour in 2012 to 92.3 miles per hour in '14. 

Verlander then missed the team's first 61 games due to a triceps strain and didn’t make his first start until June 13. Upon returning, it took him a while to find his footing. Here are his splits in his first six starts after returning from the disabled list, and then in the rest of his starts after that. 

1st 6 starts25346.626.135.823.18
Final 15 starts321032.802.818.301.83

Quite a difference, eh?

His final numbers for 2015 were much improved over '14. He went 5-8 with a 3.38 and 3.49 FIP in 133 1/3 innings, tallying 7.63 K/9 and 2.16 BB/9. And as you can see from the chart above, those numbers were even better once you take out those first six starts. 

And in the second half, hitters batted a mere .216/.259/.327 against him.

By the end of the season, he was averaging about 93 miles per hour on his fastball and would hump it up in the 94-95 range when he needed it. But perhaps the biggest key was Verlander's realization that he no longer had the stuff to ignore scouting reports and blow hitters away.

He specifically mentioned using more advanced sabermetrics to analyze hitters' tendencies.

“Looking into hitters and scouting reports and just getting more of a blueprint with what I want to do," Verlander said at the end of last year. "There are some stats you can look at and just kind of help you through some certain situations, whether it be pitch selection or location or whatever it may be. Obviously you still have to trust your instincts and go with what your gut tells you, but it’s kind of like gambling, where you can select better pitches.”

Steamer is projecting he will go 12-10 in 2016 with a 3.81 ERA and 4.10 FIP in 195.0 innings this year, tallying 161 strikeouts in 31 starts, and an fWAR of 2.3. 

So as you prepare to rank your starting pitchers ahead of MLB year-long fantasy drafts this year, consider Verlander as a potential buy-low candidate.