AL WestAnalysis

Justin Verlander: 2022 and Beyond

One day, Justin Verlander will be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. He is a two-time American League Cy Young Award winner (2011, 2019), American League Most Valuable Player (2011), American League Rookie of the Year (2006), nine-time All-Star, World Series champion (2017), and has thrown three no-hitters over the course of his career. Verlander is also one of two players, Don Newcombe being the other, to win Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player, and a Cy Young Award during their career.

Verlander has pitched in 17 different seasons in his career. He has made 480 starts, logged 3,151 innings, and struck out 3,180 batters with a 1.119 WHIP, and a 3.25 ERA since making his big league debut in 2005 for the Detroit Tigers.

This season, Verlander has been impressive – not only in terms of overall performance but in terms of circumstance. He is coming off of Tommy John surgery that made him miss most of the shortened 2020 season, where he made just one start for 6 innings, and the entire 2021 season.

Many pitchers can come back from Tommy John surgery in today’s game and be the same pitcher they were prior to going under the knife. What makes Verlander’s case so much more awe-inspiring is the fact that he is 39 years old coming off of surgery, and has been one of the best pitchers in the big leagues this season.

2022 Season

Prior to the start of 2022, Justin Verlander signed a one-year deal to return to the Houston Astros with a player option for the 2023 season. Even though Verlander made remarks last month regarding the future of his Hall of Fame career, he has said he would like to pitch until he is 45 years old. With the way he is currently pitching, it sure looks like that is possible.

Verlander is in his age 39 season and is in the race to win his third A.L. Cy Young Award. He would be the third oldest player to win the award as Roger Clemens, 42, and Gaylord Perry, 40, were both older when they won.

If his WHIP and ERA hover around where they do right now through the end of the season, they would be the lowest WHIP and ERA ever for a pitcher’s age 39 season.

This is where Verlander currently ranks among A.L. pitchers:

StatisticA.L. Rank
Starts (26)tied for 22nd
Innings Pitched (163.0)17th
ERA (1.82)1st
WHIP (0.840)1st
FIP (2.61)3rd
K/9 (9.22)7th
ERA+ (213)1st

Batters are also hitting .188/.229/.276 against Verlander this year.

One area where Verlander has improved upon this season is the number of home runs he has given up. During his last full season in 2019, where he won the A.L. Cy Young Award, Verlander gave up 36 long balls in 223 innings (1.5 HR/9). This season, in 163 innings, Verlander has only given up 12 home runs (0.7 HR/9), which is the third lowest rate this season in the A.L.

Verlander will clearly be in the A.L. Cy Young finalist conversation as writers across the country begin to vote on the 2022 MLB awards winners. As he looks to win the award for the third time, he will have some good competition.

Dylan Cease, Shane McClanahan, and Alek Manoah are other A.L. pitchers who are likely to receive heavy consideration for the award.

Repertoire Breakdown

Verlander has thrown four pitches this season; a 4-seam fastball, slider, curveball, and changeup. Below is a table recording his usage of those pitches, and how hitters have faired against them:

PitchUsageWhiff RateBASLG
4-seam fastball50.3%17.8%.193.286

Obviously, Verlander’s stuff is still some of the best in the majors. His fastball, though, has been a little different for him this season.

Verlander is not getting nearly the same amount of swings and misses on his fastball that he did before this year. As noted above, his whiff rate on 4-seam fastballs this season is 17.8%, but in 2018 and 2019 he had higher whiff rates on the same pitch. In 2018, the whiff rate on his fastball was 29.2% and in 2019 it was 31.2%.

Hitters making more contact on Verlander’s fastball has not made him less effective. In fact, opposing hitters’ have worse numbers against his fastball this year when compared to recent years.

Here are some numbers on Verlander’s fastball from 2018, 2019, and 2022:

YearAverage VelocityWhiff RateSpin RateBA SLG
201895 MPH29.2%2,619 RPM.213.397
201994.6 MPH31.2%2,576 RPM.225.546
202295 MPH17.8%2,426 RPM.193.286

With Verlander’s fastball not getting by hitters as much as it used to, his slider still remains his best and most used secondary pitch. Here is how it compares to his other full seasons in Houston:

YearAverage VelocityWhiff RateSpin RateBASLG
201886.5 MPH39.1%2,673 RPM.184.335
201987.5 MPH40.2%2,597 RPM.114.210
202287.4 MPH34.6%2,466 RPM.193.267

It is great to see Verlander’s stuff remain the same, especially when it comes to velocity, post-Tommy John Surgery. His success this season has been nothing short of amazing, and he should certainly be able to cash in this winter.

How does Verlander fit into the free agent market this winter?

If Verlander exercises his player option for 2023, he would make $25 million next year. If he declines the option, he will be one of the more coveted free agents this winter.

Alongside Verlander, Jacob DeGrom and Carlos Rodon are other notable starters who have player options for 2023. Both of those guys are likely to decline and hit the free agent market. Outside of those three players, the starting pitching market this winter will surely have some names that should be recognizable to baseball fans.

Chris Sale has a player option for next season, Noah Syndergaard will be a free agent, Adam Wainwright could be available if he doesn’t retire, and if Clayton Kershaw decides to pitch next season, he will also be a free agent.

Other pitchers that will be free to seek a new contract this offseason are Nathan Eovaldi, Corey Kluber, Zack Greinke, Carlos Carrasco, and Tyler Anderson, the latter of which is having a career year for the Dodgers.

Clearly, outside of DeGrom, Verlander would be the best starting pitcher available this winter. How much money he makes will be entirely up to how the market shapes up.

Before the start of 2022, Max Scherzer signed a 3-year, $130 million contract. That deal currently has the highest annual average value of any contract in baseball. Could Verlander look to break that record? It’s possible.

No matter how much money Verlander signs for this offseason, he will surely play for a contender next year. It’s possible he declines his player option with every intention of remaining in Houston as long as they are willing to offer him the contract he wants. If not, there shouldn’t be a shortage of contending teams bidding for the services of the veteran right-hander.

Justin Verlander has shown little to no signs of slowing down as he enters his 40s. He might be having the best year of his career at the age of 39 coming off of Tommy John surgery. To put that into perspective, there are only ten other players who have undergone Tommy John surgery after turning 37.

It is safe to say Justin Verlander is doing something we have never seen before. He is in the midst of an A.L. Cy Young campaign after having major elbow surgery in his late 30s. Having this kind of success should lead to him signing a lucrative contract this offseason and continuing his illustrious career.

No matter how much longer we see Verlander take the bump in the big leagues, one thing is for sure; we will want to tune in and cherish every remaining moment of the future Hall of Famer’s career.

Follow us @Diamond_Digest for more throughout the season!

Featured Photo: Twitter / @Astros

Bailey Digh

I've been writing for Diamond Digest since July 2022. I'm also currently a contributor for Phillies Nation. You can find me on X @bailey_digh.

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