Each year, as Justin Verlander has gotten older, the questions about how effective he can be as a starter have grown.
Last year, he answered those questions by having one of the best seasons of his career — a season where he finished second in the Cy Young voting (even garnering the most first-place votes for the award).
However, it is spring training again, which means those questions are back. It seems it doesn’t matter how last season went because Verlander has reached the age (34) where those concerns will likely always remain.
But what will be a sign that he is poised for another strong season?
It will be his control. What has made Verlander such a dominant pitcher is his control. He is regularly among the league leaders in WHIP (walks + hits per innings pitched).
Verlander currently ranks 46th on the all-time strikeout/walk ratio list at 3.14 and among current pitchers, only Felix Hernandez, Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels have better ratios while having 2,000 career strikeouts.
Verlander, as well as Hernandez, Greinke and Clayton Kershaw have a chance to reach 3,000 strikeouts. They also could end up part of a pretty exclusive club of 3,000 strikeout pitchers who walked fewer than 1,000 hitters.
Curt Schilling had 3,116 strikeouts and a stunning 711 walks (is his Twitter account all that is keeping him out of the Hall of Fame?). Pedro Martinez was equally as masterful in that regard with 3,154 strikeouts and 760 walks. Greg Maddux had 3,371 strikeouts and remained just in the club with 999 walks, as did his No. 31-wearing counterpart at Wrigley Field, Fergie Jenkins, who had 3,192 K’s and 997 walks.
That is all. The club has four members. It’s amazing that four active pitchers have a real shot at joining that group, including Verlander.
Verlander enters the 2017 season with 2,197 strikeouts and 699 walks. if he continues to surrender walks at a rate of 2.3 per nine innings (as he has over his last two seasons), and he pitches 1,000 more innings, the righty would have 750 walks after his age 38 year. JV would only have to average 7.3 K’s per nine innings over his next 1,000 innings (a figure well below his career average) to get to 3,000 strikeouts.
When those questions about Verlander creep into your head during the early part of the season in regards to his effectiveness, health, age, etc., simply take a look at his walks and his WHIP. Those will be the most important numbers for the Detroit ace.
Last year, Verlander struck out an American League leading 254 and walked just 57, which helped his WHIP to a league-leading 1.001.
It was such a remarkable season for someone who regularly has remarkable seasons, so of course, the odds are that Verlander will not be quite as good as he was last year.
But his control will let you know early on in the season whether he is in control.