Sports

How is Justin Verlander still doing this?

Justin Verlander
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Justin Verlander served notice to those sleeping on the Houston Astros and their 39-year-old ace: He’s all the way back.

The righty came 5 batters shy of matching Angels’ rookie Reid Detmers in throwing a no-hitter on Tuesday night in a 5-0 win over the Twins, which would have matched the feat accomplished by Fernando Valenzuela and Dave Stewart, who both threw no-hitters on July 29, 1990.

Verlander had missed virtually two entire years after having Tommy John surgery, making just one start in 2020 and none in 2021.

The Astros ace has thrown three no-hitters, and a fourth would tie him with Sandy Koufax for second on the all-time list (Nolan Ryan tossed seven, including one when he was 44 years old).

“Unfortunately I’ve been here many times before and had it happen,” Verlander said after the game. “I’ve had a few heartbreaking ones in the ninth inning. This one I think it’s just one of those you appreciate that it was a good outing and gave us a chance to win, and we did that.”

Verlander has been a no-doubt Hall of Famer for several years, but it’s still worth noting how impressive his career has been in the era of 12-man bullpens and starting pitchers not expected to go more than four innings most of the time. Verlander needed just 89 pitches to go 8 innings, and hit 96 mph on the radar gun. On the year, he’s 4-1 with a 1.55 ERA, 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 struck out 250 while walking 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 missing two years probably ruined his chance of hitting the elite 300-win club. He’d be sitting pretty if he had 20-25 more wins right now.

But don’t rule it out. Randy Johnson won 79 games after his age 38 season, Roger Clemons won 74. Proving that it’s not just modern-day pitchers who may or may not have had the advantage of modern-day …ahem, advances in medicine, Warren Spahn won 103 after turning 39, and that was more than 60 years ago.

Verlander has 73.2 (bbref) WAR, just behind contemporary Clayton Kershaw, who has 73.3. Both are in the top 30 all time. That, if anything, understates the place in history for these two who dominated their generation (I’d rate Kershaw ahead of Verlander, with Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom right behind). Kershaw is also enjoying a renaissance year. Both are enjoying the modern deadball era, as MLB’s on-base percentage sits at .301, which would be lower than any season since 1968, the so-called Year of the Pitcher.

It’s often difficult to compare pitchers from different generations, as conditions in the game change dramatically decade to decade. It’d be difficult for Verlander or Kershaw to surpass the levels reached by Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson in the 1990-2009 era, but those four guys are all comfortably within the top 10 pitching careers of all time. But you’d take Kershaw or Verlander pretty easily over the next group of recent Hall of Famers, like Mike Mussina, Roy Halladay, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine. And who knows, it looks like both are at peak performance.

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