Justin Verlander has pitched eight full seasons for the Detroit Tigers. A workhorse, he has made at least 30 starts in every season and exceeded 200 innings for seven consecutive years. An ace, he has double-digit wins in every season. A Cy Young award winner, he has over 200 strikeouts five years in a row. The Most Valuable Player in 2011, he has already racked up 137 wins. These are fantastic numbers, and he is only 30 years old.
Verlander "struggled" in 2013, which means that among American League starting pitchers he was only fourth in innings pitched, eighth in strikeouts per nine innings (K/9), and ninth in FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching). Justin pitched better than the ace of many teams, in a season where he was not at his best. Verlander regained his dominant form in time for the postseason: 23 innings, 1 run, 10 hits, 31 strikeouts, and 3 walks. Verlander already has 15 postseason starts in his career!
But how does Verlander rank historically against the best Tigers' pitchers?
George Mullin led the staff in the first decade of the 20th century. His 3394 innings are first on the team leaderboard, and 209 career wins are second. He started six World Series games and won three as the Tigers lost in 1907 and 1908 to the Cubs, and lost in 1909 to the Pirates.
Hooks Dauss took over the role of ace from Mullin and spent his entire 15 year career in Detroit. He accumulated 223 career wins which is the team record, and finished second in games pitched. He also set the team record with 182 losses, and never saw a World Series.
Tommy Bridges pitched for sixteen seasons, all with Detroit. He led the team to a World Series win over the Cubs in 1935, and made a brief appearance in the 1945 World Series win. He has strong credentials to rank high on the all-time list: second in bWAR (Baseball Reference's Wins Above Replacement), third in shutouts, fourth in strikeouts, and sixth in starts, innings, and wins.
Dizzy Trout's best season was 1944 with 33 complete games, 27 wins, 14 losses, 7 shutouts, 352 innings pitched, and a WHIP of 1.13. He was aided by the absence of many of the best hitters due to World War II. Batters were sacrificing power for contact as he only allowed 9 home runs. Times were certainly different, as he struck out less than four per nine innings yet finished second in the MVP balloting. Trout saved his arm by pitching to contact, and the contact was usually weak. Nevertheless he never again totaled within 100 innings of his 1944 peak. Trout finished with 45 bWAR in Detroit, fourth all-time. Verlander should surpass him in 2014.
Hal Newhouser's 1945 and 1946 seasons exceeded Verlander's best season of 2011 as measured by bWAR. Prince Hal pitched for 15 years in Detroit and dominated for six years when he totaled 136 wins, or an average of 23 victories a season. In the 1945 postseason, Newhouser started three games and won two as the Tigers won the World Series over the Cubs. His career bWAR of 59 is first and 200 wins are fourth on the team leaderboard.
Denny McLain's time in Detroit was only six seasons, but consecutive Cy Young awards in 1968 and 1969 were a strong career peak. He ranks first on the leaderboard in WHIP and second in winning percentage. He also recorded a victory in the 1968 World Series win over St. Louis.
Mickey Lolich famously recorded the other three victories in the '68 Series. He pitched for Detroit from 1963 to 1975 and started 459 games, first on the all-time list. He ranks third in wins and bWAR. Drew Smyly take note: fellow Tigers' southpaw Lolich pitched out of the bullpen for 26 games in his first two seasons.
Jack Morris's career numbers receive frequent attention during discussions of his case for the Hall of Fame. The numbers look ugly compared to the best Hall of Fame pitchers, especially those from an era of low offense. They look good compared to other pitches from the 1980s. But on the Tigers' historic leader boards he is second in starts and strikeouts, fifth in wins, and sixth in bWAR. Morris ranks first only in wild pitches.
We should not fail to acknowledge other important contributors:
Bill Donovan: 3rd in complete games, 4th in ERA, 7th in WHIP, 8th in wins
Harry Coveleski: 1st in ERA, 2nd in WHIP, 7th in winning percentage
Schoolboy Rowe: 5th in winning percentage
Jim Bunning: 6th in strikeouts, 7th in Win Probability Added (WPA)
Don Mossi : 1st in walks per nine innings
Earl Wilson: 4th in WHIP
John Hiller: 1st in games, 2nd in hits per nine innings, 3rd in K/9, 3rd in WPA
Mark Fidrych: 2nd best single-season bWAR
Aurelio Lopez: 4th in winning percentage, 3rd in hits per nine innings
Max Scherzer: 1st in winning percentage and K/9
Justin Verlander currently ranks 2nd in K/9, 3rd in winning percentage, 5th in bWAR and strikeouts, 6th in WHIP, and 9th in wins. He is first in some esoteric statistics such as Base-Out Runs Saved, WPA, Context Neutral Wins, and Base-Out Wins Saved. I place Verlander as the fourth best pitcher in Tigers' history after Newhouser, Bridges, and Lolich.
Adjusted for playing era, Justin Verlander is the most dominant Tigers pitcher ever. His rate statistics bear this out. Barring a trade or major injury, he will continue to climb the leader boards for wins, bWAR, starts, and strikeouts and have a convincing case for the top spot in Tigers' history. A Tigers' World Series win during his tenure would seal the deal.