What career milestones are within reach for Houston Astros starter, Justin Verlander?
Following a disappointing finish in the ’21 World Series, the Houston Astros received reason for hope: Justin Verlander—inactive over the last season due to recovery from Tommy John surgery—shall return to pitch for the Astros.
While surgeries involving the ulnar collateral ligament are never a sure thing, there remains a chance the former 2019 AL Cy Young winner may reach his former level of domination. From all accounts, he can still reach 97 miles-per-hour with his fastball following his surgery. Let’s take a look at where the eight-time All-Star ranks in seven key milestones.
1) Innings pitched
Verlander ranks 140th in MLB history in innings pitched, needing only 12 more frames to reach 3,000 on his illustrious career. The only active player ahead of him happens to be Zack Greinke, who has hurled 3,110. In effect, for Verlander to hold the distinction of being the active player with the most innings pitched, the 2011 AL MVP would need to leapfrog Greinke, who has tossed 122 more innings.
2) Earned Run Average
Verlander’s career ERA of 3.32 only ranks him 323rd in MLB history, which might sound pedestrian. But of all active pitchers who have thrown at least 2,500 innings, only Max Scherzer has maintained a lower ERA than Verlander.
By maintaining a low career ERA, Verlander can increase his hall of fame candidacy by proving to be one of the very best during his era at keeping a low ERA over a very large amount of innings pitched.
One of Verlander’s most noticeable achievements is that he has proven himself to be an all-time great in strikeouts. The 38-year-old veteran sits 19th in MLB history in punch-outs, having fanned 3,013 batters, only seven less than the only other active player with more punch outs, Max Scherzer. If Verlander strikes out 65 more batters, he will pass hall of famer, John Smoltz.
4) Wins above replacement (WAR)
Verlander ranks 30th all-time in wins above replacement with a 72.2 rating, followed ever so closely by southpaw, Clayton Kershaw. If Verlander could increase by two more wins above replacement before his career concludes, he could overtake hall of famer, Tom Glavine, whose performance in this statistic has proven slightly more effective.
Today’s era of baseball with relief pitchers entering games nearly every outing regardless of the quality of a starter’s performance remains drastically different from how baseball was played just decades ago. Consequently, as starters are pulled earlier and earlier, Verlander ranks just 684th in career shutouts with nine.
In the event he were to pitch six more zero-run games, he would rank in the top 400 in MLB history and could catch the active pitcher with the most shutouts, Clayton Kershaw, who has 15 on his resume.
6) Walks and hits per inning pitched (WHIP)
Walks and hits per inning pitched (WHIP) provides a statistic that represents a pitcher’s effectiveness in keeping batters from reaching base. Verlander currently ranks 55th best all-time in WHIP with a 1.13. Currently, of all active pitchers with at least 2,000 innings pitched, Verlander trails three other players.
Should Verlander lower his WHIP to below 1.12, he could catch hall of famer, Tom Seaver; and on the chance he finishes his career with at least a 1.106 WHIP, he could tie one of the most effective left-handed pitchers of all-time, Sandy Koufax.
It used to be 500 home runs, 3,000 hits for batters, or 300 wins for pitchers, and a player unofficially punched a ticket to the hall of fame in the eyes of voters. However, as baseball has evolved, particularly with starting pitchers coming out of games more frequently at the discretion of managers—and relievers relinquishing the leads that starters contributed to—it remains arguably harder than ever for starting pitchers to accumulate wins.
Of all active pitchers, Verlander leads the pack with 226 career victories, ranking him the 70th winningest pitcher in MLB history. On the rare event that Verlander were to win 20 games during 2022, he would still not quite crack the top 50, but would pass hall of fame hurlers such as Whitey Ford, 236, and Juan Marichal, 243.
Should Verlander average 12 victories over the next four seasons, he could reach 274 wins and rank 32nd in MLB history at age 42. Then with 26 wins remaining to reach 300, he might be able to achieve that goal before age 44.
But that, of course, is putting the cart ahead of the horse following a UCL surgery, as well as how durable and dominant he might still be able to prove himself as a pitcher in the most talented baseball league in the world. Nevertheless, from a holistic accomplishment perspective, Verlander most likely will not need 300 wins to punch a ticket to Cooperstown.