Justin Verlander: Hall of Famer?

If you tune into the World Series tonight, chances are pretty good that you’ll be able to watch at least one future Hall of Famer — and likely, even, that you’ll see several.

Of the participants in this year’s Series, Clayton Kershaw is already a lock. Both Carlos Beltran and Chase Utley are in the twilight of their careers but have strong cases for inclusion without doing any more work. Among younger players, Jose Altuve is already off to a great start, and early-20-somethings Carlos Correa and Corey Seager have certainly made their mark.

Meanwhile, there’s one player expected to appear in tonight’s game who occupies an in-between category. On the one hand, he hasn’t yet established unassailable Hall of Fame credentials and is past his peak. On the other, he seems poised to compile a few more reasonably productive years. Justin Verlander has a decent case for the Hall right now, but the next few seasons will determine how persuasive his case ultimately is.

Verlander has just 188 wins, which is important to part of the electorate. Surely, he’ll add to that total in the coming years, but wins are unlikely to be a big part of any Hall of Fame argument for the 34-year-old. Similarly, Verlander’s 3.46 ERA and nearly matching 3.47 FIP don’t seem all that great, either. It makes him look, at first glance, a lot more like David Cone and Dwight Gooden than Hall of Famers of the last half-century. The only recent Hall of Fame starting pitcher with an ERA close to Verlander’s career mark is Tom Glavine, and he reached the magical 300-win threshold. Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling have had a lot of trouble earning the requisite votes with similarly high ERAs. However, looking solely at ERA and FIP doesn’t account for the run-scoring environment.

Verlander has recorded a FIP- of 82 and an ERA- of 81 in 2,545 regular-season innings, meaning he’s been roughly 20% better than average over the course of his career. Pitching like that in one season makes a pitcher an ace for a year; doing it for an entire career should make him a Hall of Famer.

Here’s a list of pitchers since 1947 who’ve made it to 3,000 innings with an ERA and FIP both 15% better than average: Bert Blyleven, Kevin Brown, Roger Clemens, Bob Gibson, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Mussina, Gaylord Perry, Schilling, Tom Seaver, and John Smoltz. Given his performance to date, Verlander looks likely to join that group. That said, there’s no guarantee: CC Sabathia looked like he’d qualify for such a list up through 2012, but then he endured a few down seasons. Felix Hernandez also appeared en route to satisfying both criteria, but he hasn’t been good in several seasons.

As for how Verlander compares to Hall of Famers by WAR right now, “pretty well” is the answer. The table below includes Hall of Famers elected by the writers since 1967, as well as Verlander, using my Hall of Fame points system, which incorporates peak value.

Justin Verlander and Hall of Fame Starting Pitchers Since 1967
WAR HOF Points HOF Rating HOF Rating Rank Cy Young
Randy Johnson 110.6 99 104.8 4 5x
Greg Maddux 116.7 90 103.4 5 4x
Bert Blyleven 102.9 76 89.5 6 No
Nolan Ryan 106.7 68 87.4 7 No
Steve Carlton 96.5 75 85.8 9 4x
Gaylord Perry 100.1 65 82.6 12 2x
Tom Seaver 92.4 69 80.7 13 3x
Pedro Martinez 84.3 72 78.2 14 3x
Bob Gibson 82.3 67 74.7 15 2x, 1968 MVP
Fergie Jenkins 80.1 61 70.6 18 1971
Don Sutton 85.5 42 63.8 23 5 top-5 finishes
John Smoltz 79.6 47 63.3 24 1996
Robin Roberts 74.7 51 62.9 25 5x Top-10 MVP
Phil Niekro 78.1 44 61.1 26 No
Warren Spahn 74.8 42 58.4 29 1957, 3x Runner-up
Juan Marichal 61.2 42 51.6 39 No
Sandy Koufax 54.5 46 50.3 42 3x, 1963 MVP
Justin Verlander 56.9 43 50.0 45 2011 Cy Young, MVP
Tom Glavine 66.9 30 48.5 46 2x
Don Drysdale 59.3 37 48.2 47 1962
Jim Palmer 56.6 33 44.8 54 3x
Whitey Ford 54.9 28 41.5 74 1961
Early Wynn 58.6 24 41.3 75 1959
Red Ruffing 56.1 19 37.6 100 Pre-Cy Young
Catfish Hunter 37.2 15 26.1 199 1974
Bob Lemon 32.3 15 23.7 249 3x Top-5 MVP

Verlander fits comfortably between the middle and bottom third of this group. Right now, he’s a little below the average and median of the players included here, which is around 63. With a solid finish to his career, he could move up that list a little, though he would have to finish very strongly to get into the top half.

Failing to reach the top half doesn’t reduce a player’s Hall of Fame chances entirely. Every pitcher up there made it to the Hall of Fame, and every one made it through BBWAA voting (which traditionally has higher standards than the Veteran’s Committee). Being slightly below the average of those group is hardly going to drag the Hall of Fame down. The problem isn’t necessarily Verlander’s place on this list; it’s the other players who aren’t on it.

Here, for example, are the 10 players above and the 10 players below Verlander by HOF rating. Hall of Famers are highlighted in orange.

Justin Verlander: Similar Pitchers by Career
Player WAR HOF Points HOF Rating HOF Rating Rank Cy Young
Rick Reuschel 68.2 41 54.6 35 No
Jim Kaat 70.9 37 54.0 36 No
Hal Newhouser 60.7 47 53.9 37 2x MVP
Rube Waddell 60.0 47 53.5 38 Pre-Cy Young
Eddie Plank 67.8 37 52.4 39 Pre-Cy Young
CC Sabathia 65.3 39 52.2 40 2007
Juan Marichal 61.2 42 51.6 41 No
Bob Feller 62.6 40 51.3 42 Pre-Cy Young
Andy Pettitte 68.9 33 51.0 43 No
Sandy Koufax 54.5 46 50.3 44 3x Cy Young, 1 MVP
Justin Verlander 56.9 43 50.0 45 2011 Cy Young, MVP
Bob Friend 61.1 37 49.1 46 No
Paul Derringer 62.4 35 48.7 47 Pre-Cy Young
Tom Glavine 66.9 30 48.5 48 1991, 1998
Don Drysdale 59.3 37 48.2 49 1962
Eppa Rixey 65.9 30 48.0 50 Pre Cy Young
Dwight Gooden 56.7 39 47.9 51 1985
Jerry Koosman 62.6 30 46.3 52 No
Bobby Mathews 54.2 37 45.6 53 Pre-Cy Young
Ed Walsh 49.2 41 45.1 54 2x MVP runner-up
Jim Palmer 56.6 33 44.8 55 3x Cy Young

Eleven of the 20 names above are in the Hall of Fame with CC Sabathia still active and Andy Pettitte yet to reach the ballot. It makes sense, then, that Verlander already represents a borderline case, with his Cy Young Award and MVP from 2011 potentially pushing him over the top.

Borderline doesn’t really get you into the Hall of Fame anymore, though. The list above starts at number 35. Of the 34 pitchers above this group, 26 are in the Hall of Fame. The only player ranked better than Verlander who has both (a) won a Cy Young Award and (b) reached the Hall of Fame ballot and not been elected is Roger Clemens. One of the pitchers not included in the Hall is Clayton Kershaw. Another is Roy Halladay, who hasn’t yet reached the Hall of Fame ballot.  Tommy John and Mickey Lolich are ranked 30 and 32, and Verlander should pass both with a few more good seasons. Of the other three, Kevin Brown was dismissed off the ballot too soon, and Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling haven’t been elected yet.

That last group of three speak to the difficulties that starting pitchers currently face when trying to get to the Hall of Fame. Maybe you can argue that a lack of awards has held back Mussina and Schilling. Maybe it’s the ballots that have become too full while voters contend with how to handle Steroid Era candidates. Maybe it’s a lack of understanding regarding the Steroid Era and the increased difficulty of pitching during that time. Maybe Schilling’s awful political statements hurt him. In any event, the standard for starting pitchers to make the Hall of Fame is ridiculously high right now.

In 10 years, when Verlander is on the ballot for the first time, the landscape will have changed significantly. Clemens, Mussina, and Schilling will be off the ballot if they aren’t already in the Hall. During the next decade, only Roy Halladay and potentially CC Sabathia are going to have decent arguments for inclusion. The wave featuring Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz will have faded into memory a bit, giving Verlander a very realistic chance at making the Hall of Fame. Perhaps Zack Greinke, Corey Kluber, Chris Sale and Max Scherzer will make his career seem less special than it does now, but Verlander’s career is likely to speak for itself.

Justin Verlander’s case for the Hall of Fame right now is a borderline one. He’s had a career similar to a handful of pitchers who’ve made the Hall of Fame, but he’s also had a similar career to a handful of players who have not. He also has 129 innings of postseason baseball, with a 3.46 FIP and 3.07 ERA, which isn’t going to hurt. With a few more solid years, he’s definitely going to be worthy of making it to Cooperstown. Hopefully the ballot and the standards for voting will have changed enough by then so that all players who are worthy receive the necessary consideration. If so, Verlander will be making a speech in a dozen years or so, maybe talking about the World Series he’s playing in right now.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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Question; Verlander has finished obscenely close to winning the Cy Young twice in addition to his one win. If he had 3 Cy Young awards, but all other stats were the same, would he be a lock? And what does that say about how we should or shouldn’t weight seasonal awards?


Similarly, Curt Schilling not winning Cy young in ’01 or ’02 due to Randy Johnson’s absurd performance penalizes him a lot.
’01: 22-6 256.2 IP ERA-66 FIP-69 fwar 7.2 RA9-WAR 8.9
’02: 23-7 259.1 IP ERA-75 FIP-55 fwar 9.3 RA9-WAR 7.6

For the past decade, the best fwar from a single sesaon is 8.6 for ’09 Greinke.
Going by RA9-WAR, there are only four seasons that outperform Schilling’s 8.9 mark.(’15 Greinke, ’09 Greinke, ’15 Arrieta, ’11 Verlander).