Earlier in the week I updated what had become an annual blog entry for me around the greatness of Miguel Cabrera, who is undoubtedly already a Hall of Fame lock. It got me thinking around looking in to Justin Verlander’s career and if there is potential to be elected to the Hall of Fame one day. Now, if you would have asked me two years ago, I wouldn’t have written anything, but the way JV reinvented himself this past season, it revitalized hopes that he could be in the Hall someday. Please bare with me as this is a little long, but a case will be made…
Before diving in to statistics and whatnot, there has always been one key milestone for pitchers that essentially ensures that they are Hall of Fame locks, and that’s 300 wins. We must acknowledge that 300 wins is really no longer feasible with today’s 5-man rotations, pitch counts, and bullpen specialist. We must also acknowledge that today’s game has changed where a slightly higher ERA is acceptable compared to the day an age where voters were looking for career ERA’s in the mid-2’s. Hitters are stronger these days; ballparks tend to be smaller, etc.
Here’s the other thing that JV and other pitchers have going against them and it all plays in to what I just wrote, only 6 pitchers have been elected to the Hall in the last seven years (Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Bert Blyleven). Take it back further to 2005 and add just Bruce Sutter and Rich Gossage to that list, making it 8 in the past 12 years. What I think we are seeing is pitchers being scrutinized more highly than hitters.
With this laid out, let’s look at Justin Verlander so far…
To start, for his career, Justin Verlander is 173-106 (.620 W-L%) over a 12-year career. JV has a 3.47 ERA, in 352 starts over 2,339 innings, has given up 2,072 hits, walked just 699, and struck out 2,197. His WHIP currently sits at 1.185, walks per 9 are at 2.7, with K’s per 9 at 8.5, a 4.46 strike out to walk rate and a WAR of 50.5. Verlander has won a Cy Young (should have won another in 2016) in 2011 as well as the MVP, with the last pitcher to do so being Roger Clemens in 1986. JV has finished 2nd twice in Cy Young voting, 3rd another time and appeared 3 more times other than those mentioned. Justin won the Rookie of The Year Award in 2006 and has gone to six All-Star games, while starting one of them.
To go along with the awards, Verlander has lead the league in wins twice, W-L% twice, ERA once, Innings Pitched three times, strike outs four times, and WHIP twice.
In the postseason, Verlnader has been a true warrior (who can forget the 2012 & 2013 Oakland series?) with a 7-5 record in 16 starts, to go along with a 3.39 ERA, 1.088 WHIP, and a K rate of 10.3 per 9. The only tarnish on these stats is Justin’s World Series numbers of 0-3, with a 7.20 ERA and 1.6 WHIP.
When looking at Baseball-References Hall of Fame indicators (See below for definitions), It’s still a mixed bag with Justin having some work to do…
Black Ink: 50 with the average HoF’er at 40
Gray Ink: 156 with the average HoF’er at 185
Hall of Fame Monitor: 118 with the average at 100
Hall of Fame Standards: 37 with the average at 50
JAWS: 97th best pitcher of all-time currently
***Baseball-Reference Hall of Fame Stats simple definitions are: Black-Ink Test (a point system for leading in “important” stat categories), Grey Ink Test (which is the same as Black-Ink, but points for top 10 finishes), Hall of Fame Career Standards (again, points for stats), and Hall of Fame Monitor (similar to Career standards). You can learn more here***
By the way, the average Hall of Fame pitcher has 253 wins, a 2.98 ERA (a lot of early era pitchers pulling this down), has 1,881 strike outs and a WAR of 70. Now looking at the last 19 pitchers to make the Hall removing the closers (except Smoltz & Eck) and had finished their career in the ‘80’s or later and the averages are a bit different with wins coming in at 286, ERA of 3.22, 3,409 strike outs, and an average WAR of 82.4. You do have to remember that pitchers are more scrutinized and these are the elite or the elite guys that are in.
Baseball-Reference also does statistical comparisons to age and overall stats. For age 33 pitchers, Verlander rates closest to Mike Mussina, John Smoltz, and Dwight Gooden. If he didn’t play another game, his stats would match up closest to Roy Oswalt, Zack Greinke, and Felix Hernandez.
Looking back at Verlander’s career stats, his WAR ranks 99th all-time, wins are 178th, strike outs 59h, and adjusted ERA is 92nd.
***Adjusted ERA is ERA + 100*[league ERA/ERA} and helps adjust the players ERA to his ballpark.***
Let’s take a look where JV could end up with 4 key factors for Hall of Fame voters in:
Wins: As mentioned above, 300 wins should no longer be the Hall standard; however JV is one record saying that he’d like to get there. If JV pitched 7 more seasons, which would be through his age 40 season, he would need 127 more wins, which would be an average of 18 wins a season. Verlander has only accomplished this 4 times in his career and I believe an average of 14 wins is more likely which would put JV at 271 wins. Of course this all depends on health, the team around him, etc, but If I believe in this day and age, 271 wins would be very respectable and Hall worthy.
WAR: I believe this will play more in to the discussion by the time Verlander is eligible for Hall of Fame voting and with his average of 4.2 WAR per year (only under this average 4 times in 12 seasons) likely to decrease slightly, we could count on more like 21-25 more WAR over the next theoretical 7 years, he would finish at 71.5-76.5. If so, the low end of the spectrum would put JV above numerous Hall of Famers including Hal Newhouser, Don Drysdale, Bob Feller, John Smoltz, Carl Hubbell, Jim Palmer, and Don Sutton to name a few. Getting in to the 80’s would put him with the pitching elite such as Bob Gibson (81.9), Fergie Jenkins (82.8), Robin Roberts (83.1), and Nolan Ryan (83.8).
ERA: This is one major reason why Jack Morris is left out I believe and JV’s 3.47 would rank 66th out of 76 pitching Hall of Famers. However, looking at more recent inductees this would be better than Tom Glavine (3.54) and Dennis Eckersley (3.50) and just below John Smoltz (3.33) and Randy Johnson (3.29). This will be a tough task as Verlander ages.
Strike Outs: This is where I think JV can make some real noise. Verlander currently is sitting on 2,197 strike outs and averaging 212 per season. Let’s drop this average down as he continues to age to 175 and that would still add another 1,200+ strikeouts, putting him far over the milestone mark of 3,000 with 3,422. Those 3,422 strikeouts would place Justin 10th all-time pushing down Greg Maddux. To give you an idea of what the 3,000 strike out plateau means, there are only 16 pitchers who have more than 3,000 K’s, all but Curt Schilling are in the Hall of Fame. Now if JV average 150 K’s for the next 7 theoretical seasons, he still bypasses the 3,000 mark and still ends up with over 3,200 K’s which would make him 12th.
All-in-all, Justin Verlander has a lot of work to do, needs to stay healthy, and most likely pitch at least another seven years. If he can keep the magic the he found however this past season as he reinvented himself a bit, I truly believe that we’ll see JV in the Hall one day.