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Justin Verlander is making his case for Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame

The former Tigers ace is not quite there yet.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Colorado Rockies Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Watching Justin Verlander mowing down hitters in the postseason has become the favorite pastime of Detroit Tigers fans this fall. Viewing one masterpiece after another from a distance is all we have left from a team that has been razed to the ground, with a banner that reads “under construction” across the gates of Comerica Park.

For 13 seasons, Verlander toed the rubber for the Tigers. He won the AL Rookie of the Year Award, the AL Cy Young Award, and even a Most Valuable Player Award, which is something that no pitcher had done since 1992 at the time (Clayton Kershaw has since won one of his own). Verlander is a six-time All-Star, and was the ace of a pitching staff that won four consecutive division titles and two pennants.

Those glory days are gone in Detroit, at least for a while, and so is Verlander. He is now in Houston, where he is leading the Astros in search of their first World Series title. Tigers fans continue to root for him, and for his team to get him the ring that eluded him in Detroit. And we root for him to one day go into the Hall of Fame — as a member of the Tigers, of course.

Not since Al Kaline in 1980 have the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) voted a player into the Hall of Fame as a Detroit Tiger. Before Kaline, you have to go back to 1956, when the BBWAA voted in longtime Tigers first baseman Hank Greenberg. George Kell and Hal Newhouser were voted in by the Veterans’ Committee. Sparky Anderson was voted in as a manager — also by the Veterans’ Committee — wearing a Cincinnati Reds’ hat. Ivan Rodriguez was inducted into the Hall in 2017, but as a member of the Texas Rangers.

Like Kaline, Verlander is one of our own. He was drafted by the Tigers, developed by the Tigers, and he wanted to be a member of the Tigers.

But how close is he? Brandon looked at Verlander’s Hall of Fame credentials at the start of this season, but now we have another year of data to work with.

How does Verlander rank among Hall of Fame pitchers?

  • There are 75 pitchers in the Hall of Fame. The average pitcher (including relievers) has 70.0 rWAR. Verlander has 56.9 WAR, which would put him 48th among Hall of Fame pitchers. WAR is a cumulative statistic, and another 10 WAR in his career would put him 34th, among the top half of all Hall of Famers.
  • Verlander has a career 3.45 ERA, which would rank 66th of 75 Hall of Fame pitchers. However, we know that ERAs have fluctuated over the years. ERA+ measures ERA against the league average. Verlander’s 124 ERA+ would rank 30th among Hall of Famers.
  • Verlander has pitched 2,545 innings, which is more than all but 22 Hall of Fame pitchers. This total is amassed despite the recent trends of teams examining pitch counts, utilizing five man rotations, and rotating multiple relief pitchers into every game. The complete game is all but extinct, yet Verlander has 23 of these gems in his career.
  • Using another metric, Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated created “JAWS,” which uses a player’s career WAR averaged with their seven-year peak WAR to gauge their Hall of Fame credentials. Verlander ranks 74th with a JAWS score of 50.0 among all pitchers in MLB history. This list includes a number of non-Hall of Fame pitchers and several who are still active. If you have a seven-year itch, Verlander may not be your guy, but he still rates better than about 20 Hall of Famers using this metric.

What is the standard for a Hall of Fame Pitcher?

The BBWAA has set a high bar for starting pitchers to be voted into the Hall of Fame in recent years. No starting pitchers were inducted between 2000 and 2010, and just six starters have been inducted since 2011. That group includes Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Bert Blyleven, and the three Atlanta Braves: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz.

Each of these six Hall of Famers had careers that lasted from 18 to 23 seasons, while the average Hall of Fame pitcher played 18 seasons. Smoltz has the lowest WAR of the group at 66.5, which includes several years in the bullpen. The lowest on the list among pure starters is Glavine at 74 WAR. Verlander is within 200 strikeouts of Glavine, and within 25 wins of Smoltz and 31 of Pedro. If these players are the standard, then the bar for induction into the Hall of Fame is very high. Prior to these six pitchers, only three pitchers — Bruce Sutter, Dennis Eckersley, and Goose Gossage, all relievers — were inducted into the Hall this century.

Verlander in the modern era

Since his rookie season in 2006, Verlander ranks first in wins by a large margin. In that time frame, he also ranks first in innings pitched, first in strikeouts, and second in rWAR behind only Clayton Kershaw. Verlander ranks first in the American League in rWAR over this span. He ranks fifth among AL pitchers during that time (min. 1,000 innings) in ERA, and sixth in FIP.

Pitchers are arguably getting better over the years, but it is getting harder and harder for them to rack up traditional stats like wins, innings pitched, or complete games. Baseball had a dead ball era in the years before Babe Ruth, and a pitchers’ era during the 1960s when run totals and ERAs were much lower than today. ERA+ adjusts for this difference.

Verlander’s case for the Hall of Fame is still a work in progress. The best case that can be made for his induction so far is found in comparing him with other starting pitchers during his career. On that scale, he has been nothing short of dominant. Whether he ultimately finds baseball’s holy grail depends largely upon how long he can continue that dominance. He is certainly on the right track.