When Astros ace Justin Verlander takes the mound against the Rockies next week, he'll be making his second attempt at earning career win No. 200. When he gets there, he'll join Bartolo Colon and CC Sabathia as the lone active hurlers to win 200 or more games.
Given that we're deep into the era of the five-man rotation (even six on occasion) and given that the game is more bullpen-reliant that it's ever been, it's probably time we start paying a bit more heed to 200 wins. There's really no realistic path toward 300 wins for any pitcher that's active, on the way, or recently born. Maybe the game undergoes massive structural changes at some point in the distant future and makes 300 a viable goal once again. For now and foreseeable future, though, 300 might as well be 400.
So that raises the matter of how we should appraise Verlander's career. As CBSSports HQ MLB analyst Jonah Keri recently remarked, "Guys of the last 20 years and certainly the pitchers of today, you just cannot judge them by whatever Warren Spahn did. It's a totally different game now."
He's right about that. And speaking of modern standards, what about Verlander and the Hall of Fame?
In addition to closing in on those 200 wins, Verlander right now has a career WAR of 61.9. That ties him with Juan Marichal for 50th place on the all-time list among pitchers. According to Jay Jaffe's JAWS system, which evaluates the worthiness of Hall of Fame candidates using their career WAR and their peak-seasons WAR, Verlander right now is a bit shy of the existing standard for pitchers. The average Hall of Fame starting pitcher has a career WAR of 73.4.
If paces hold, Verlander will add about another 1.3 WAR to his 2018 total. So let's say he has 63.2 following this year. He's under contract through next season, and even though he's 35 he has the skills base to continue pitching beyond that point if he wants to (and he's previously indicated that he wants to pitch as long as he can). So where might Verlander end up in terms of WAR and -- so long as we're on the related topic of No. 200 -- wins?
To do this, we'll turn to a Bill James concoction called the Favorite Toy. The Favorite Toy takes inputs like the players age and recent performance trends in order to project a career total for the statistical category in question and also rate of his chances of reaching a given benchmark (we'll projected Verlander's final WAR and win totals for 2018). It's a quick-and-dirty tool, to be sure, but it's sufficient for these purposes. Here's what comes out of the wash ...
- Verlander's projected WAR: 86.0
- Verlander's projected win total: 257
As well, the Favorite Toy gives Verlander a 5.0 percent chance of getting to 300 wins. You can argue this is a fairly bullish forecast, but even granting room for correction, Verlander's going to wind up looking like an easy Hall of Famer. A career WAR of 86 would put up 18th on the all-time list, just behind Pedro Martinez. Those 257 wins would rank 42nd all-time.
Already Verlander, according to James' Hall of Fame Monitor test, is a likely Hall of Famer. Assuming a normal decline, he's going to wind up being a no-brainer first-ballot guy. Given that Verlander this season has struck out a third of the batters he's faced and given that he's still sitting 96 with his fastball, that decline may be a long time coming. It may be too much to say Verlander could retire right now and be a Hall of Famer, but very soon you'll be able to say that.