Justin Verlander has left a message for those sleeping on the Houston Astros and their 39-year-old ace: He’s all the way back.
The right-hander was five batters short of matching a no-hitter, Angels-hitter rookie Reid Detmers on July 29, 1990, in Tuesday night’s 5-0 win against the Twins.
Verlander had effectively missed two whole years after Tommy John’s surgery, only making one start in 2020 and none in 2021.
The Astros ace has thrown three no-hitters, and a fourth would put him second on the all-time list with Sandy Koufax (Nolan Ryan threw seven, including one when he was 44).
“Unfortunately, I’ve been here many times and it happened” said Verlander after the game. “I had some heartbreaking ones in the ninth inning. I think it’s just one of those you appreciate that it was a good game and gave us a chance to win and we did that.
Verlander has undoubtedly been a Hall of Famer for several years, but it’s still worth noting how impressive his career was in the era of 12-man bullpens and starting pitchers that weren’t expected to exceed four most of the time back innings. Verlander only needed 89 pitches to walk 8 innings and hit 96 mph on the radar gun. This year he’s 4-1 with a 1.55 ERA and giving up just 20 hits and 6 walks in 40.2 innings with a healthy 36 strikeouts. Somehow he’s gotten more efficient with age. When he won his first Cy Young Award in 2011, he batted 250 while going 57 in 251 innings. When he won his second Cy Young in 2019, it was 300 strikeouts with 42 walks in 223 innings.
Verlander’s career record is 230-130 and is two years off probably ruined his chance to hit the elite club with 300 wins. He would be sitting well if he had 20-25 more wins now.
But don’t rule it out. Randy Johnson won 79 games after his season at age 38, Roger Clemons won 74. Proving that it’s not just modern pitchers who may or may not have the advantage of modern…er, medical advances, Warren Spahn won 103 after 39 years old and that was over 60 years ago.
Verlander has 73.2 (bbref) WAR, just behind contemporary Clayton Kershaw who has 73.3. Both are consistently in the top 30. That, if anything, understates the place in history for these two who dominated their generation (I’d rank Kershaw ahead of Verlander, with Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom right behind). Kershaw is also experiencing a renaissance year. Both are enjoying the modern deadball era as MLB’s baseline percentage is .301, which would be lower than any season since 1968, known as the Year of the Pitcher.
It is often difficult to compare pitchers from different generations as in-game conditions change dramatically from decade to decade. It would be difficult for Verlander or Kershaw to top the levels achieved by Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson in the 1990-2009 era, but these four guys all sit comfortably in the top 10 pitching careers of all time. But you’d pretty easily put Kershaw or Verlander ahead of the next batch of recent Hall of Famers like Mike Mussina, Roy Halladay, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine. And who knows, it looks like they’re both going full steam ahead.