By: Will Burchfield

There aren’t many baseball players would could retire today and be assured of a spot in the Hall of Fame.

Miguel Cabrera is on that list. Albert Pujols is, too. There’s a strong case to be made for both Adrian Beltre and Ichiro Suzuki, but after that the candidates get iffy.

Justin Verlander?

“I think he’s close. I don’t think he’s there yet, he’s gonna have to play a few more years,” Brad Ausmus told the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket. “Most Hall of Famers, unless there’s some catastrophic injury that ends their career and they’ve been dominant for eight to 12 years, it takes time to amass the numbers to get in.”

As things stand today, Verlander, 34, has 181 wins, 2,339 strikeouts and a lifetime 3.50 ERA. In the past, Hall of Fame voters have used 300 wins and 3,000 strikeouts as benchmarks when judging starting pitchers.

Verlander will have a hard time reaching 300 victories. He’d have to win about 15 games per year through his age-41 season. 3,000 strikeouts is far more feasible — likely, even — but it’s also a less glamorous achievement.

One thing working in Verlander’s favor is the durability of his arm. His average fastball velocity this season — 95.69 mph, per BrooksBaseball — is the highest its been since 2011 and the fourth highest of his 13-year career. He’ll have to reinvent himself as a pitcher eventually, but that doesn’t appear to be anytime soon.

“I will say this: As hard as he’s still throwing at the age he is, I think if he’s healthy he should get (inducted) at some point,” said Ausmus. “You still have to go through those seasons, put up those wins, continue to get the strikeouts at a reasonable rate and keep your ERA down, but I see no reason why he can’t.”

It’s also worth noting that the Hall of Fame may have to start easing its standards for pitchers. The nature of today’s game works against starters when it comes to stats like wins and strikeouts. (And wins were never a great reference point to begin with.) The BBWA inducted zero pitchers into Cooperstown this year, not because the ballot was sparse but because its candidates were being judged by an outdated criteria.

That will change, and pitchers like Verlander are bound to benefit. As they should.

Let’s not forget: Verlander still has some pretty impressive historical achievements.

He’s one of only 26 pitchers to win the Triple Crown — leading the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts in a single season (2011) — and one of only nine to do so since 1945. He’s one of only 11 pitchers to win the MVP Award and the Cy Young Award in the same season (also 2011). And he’s one of only two pitchers to be named MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year at some point in his career, Don Newcombe being the other.

Finally, Verlander doesn’t figure to have much competition on the ballot among his contemporaries. Felix Hernandez, Max Scherzer and Jon Lester are probably the three best pitchers on the same timetable for induction. Verlander should stack up very well.

The knock on Verlander is his lack of team accomplishments. He’s never won the World Series, and he didn’t pitch particularly well in the two in which the Tigers appeared.

Then again, he’s always been known as a big-game pitcher.

“It happens in all sports, where you find athletes who can rise to an occasion. He’s very good at self-motivating, probably better than most I’ve ever been around,” said Ausmus. “He does have an edge on the vast majority of people in the game of baseball in that department.

“Of course he has great stuff. Talent’s the trump card. It’s tough to be a player at the level he’s at without some type of talent. If you’ve got talent and you’ve got competitiveness, well, usually that’s when you start talking about a guy who could be in the Hall of Fame if he plays long term.”


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