The age-defying Justin Verlander continues to climb the ranks of the all-time greats.
After a game in which the 36-year-old Justin Verlander set a career high with 15 strikeouts, it’s fair to wonder where the Astros ace sits on all-time leaderboards. It’s also fair to wonder just how far he can climb up those boards to further cement his future spot in Cooperstown.
There are several notable Hall of Fame pitchers who Verlander may well pass on those leaderboards. With good health and continued success, he could wind up being considered as one of the greatest all-time hurlers.
Where He Sits Now
Since strikeouts are more du jour than ever, we’ll start there. Verlander’s 2,831 career strikeouts place him 20th all time, having recently passed Hall of Famers Cy Young and Mike Mussina. He will likely take over 19th place from Mickey Lolich in his next start, and should pass Jim Bunning for 18th place sometime before the end of July. He is second among active pitchers, trailing CC Sabathia.
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Verlander’s 67.2 career WAR (wins above replacement) is 37th all-time among pitchers and most among active pitchers. He’s currently ahead of Hall of Famers John Smoltz, Roy Halladay and Bob Feller. He could soon pass big names such as Jim Palmer and Don Sutton.
While pitching wins aren’t what they used to be, it’s worth noting nonetheless. With 213 wins, Verlander is tied with Smoltz for 92nd all time, though he is moving up with every win. He could crack the Top 75 this season, passing the likes of Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez.
How High Can He Go?
This largely depends on how long he continues to pitch. At age 36, Verlander looks better than ever, so he could presumably be effective well into his forties. For the purposes of this exercise, I’ll assume he pitches another five healthy, effective seasons after this, though I wouldn’t bet against him to go longer.
The strikeout total is where it’s most interesting. He likely won’t move beyond 18th place this year, but next year could be big. Verlander could look to move as high as 12th, passing names like Bob Gibson, Pedro Martinez and Fergie Jenkins. The following year, he could crack the top 10 by passing Phil Niekro and Greg Maddux.
Beyond that, it is conceivable that he could end up in the top five all-time. Bert Blyleven is currently fifth with 3,701 strikeouts. With a few more healthy years, Verlander could get there, though moving any higher would require him pitching well into his mid-forties. Steve Carlton is fourth all-time with 4,136.
Incredibly, Verlander is not yet half way to reaching Nolan Ryan‘s record of 5,714 strikeouts. I think it’s safe to say that one is unattainable.
In the win column, he could pass Jim Bunning and Whitey Ford next season, and the following year pass the likes of Juan Marichal and Bob Gibson to crack the top 50. Getting to that magical 300-win mark, however, would also require him pitching well into his mid-forties.
Verlander could move into the top 30 in pitching WAR this season, and could pass Tom Glavine next year. He could definitely end up in the top 20 when all is said and done and may even reach the top 15, but getting in the top 10 would be quite difficult.
In the end, the Astros ace is undoubtedly going to end up in the Hall of Fame. It’ll be fun to see how high he climbs on these boards and how difficult a decision it will be when he has to decide whether to have a Tigers or an Astros cap on his plaque in Cooperstown.
***Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference***