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Getting to know Justin Verlander

The reigning American League Cy Young winner brings a winning pedigree to Queens.

World Series - Houston Astros v Philadelphia Phillies - Game Five Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After losing Jacob deGrom to the Texas Rangers, the Mets had to make a quick and decisive pivot. They needed a pitcher with a considerable track record of success, who could be consistently healthy, and who could pair with Max Scherzer at the top of the Mets rotation for a devastating one-two pitching punch. And in the end, that road led to one name: Justin Verlander.

Verlander signed to a two-year, $86.66 million deal, with a vesting option for a third year. He slots right into the deGrom spot, and a two-time Cy Young winner gets replaced by a three-time Cy Young winner. There are some spots of Verlander’s profile that could be cause for concern, but the man who just won the American League Cy Young after being out due to Tommy John surgery also has several signs of being able to continue a path of dominance through New York to the Hall of Fame.

Verlander’s long professional baseball career began when he was drafted second overall in the 2004 MLB draft, one slot ahead of the also-interested Mets—who ended up pivoting to Philip Humber. He made his debut for the Tigers system in 2005, and by July of that same year he made his Major League debut. He only made two starts that year, posting an uninspiring 7.15 ERA, giving up nine earned runs in 11.1 innings pitched, but that kind of performance would become an outlier in his career.

In 13 seasons with Detroit, Verlander threw 2,511 innings for a 3.49 ERA, racking up 2,373 strikeouts with a 123 ERA+, 1.191 WHIP, and accumulating 56.6 bWAR. Maybe the best season of his career came in Detroit, when in 2011 he won the Triple Crown of pitching, the American League Cy Young, and the American League MVP, which made him the second pitcher to ever win the Cy Young, MVP, and Rookie of the Year (which he won in 2006) after Don Newcombe. He also threw a no-hitter that season (the second of three in his career) and took three others, including one that was a perfect game, into the late innings before being broken up.

In 2017, the Tigers traded Verlander to the Houston Astros, who were in the midst of their championship push. At that point Verlander was in his age 34 season, and the typical logic for pitchers, especially as of late, was that he would probably start taking a bit of a downturn, and while remaining a good pitcher, might not keep up to his usual performance level. But somehow, Verlander got better in Houston.

In four-and-change seasons with the Astros, Verlander threw 652 innings with a 2.26 ERA, with 825 strikeouts, a 187 ERA+, a 0.833 WHIP, and accumulating 21.6 bWAR. He won two World Series, threw a no-hitter in 2019, and won two Cy Young Awards, one unanimously in 2022. His 2022 season was one for the ages, where at age 39 he threw 175 innings, with a major league leading 1.75 ERA, 185 strikeouts, a 220 ERA+ and a 0.829 WHIP (both of which also led the majors), and accumulated 5.9 bWAR. All after getting Tommy John surgery and missing most of the COVID shortened 2020 season and all of 2021.

Verlander appears to be of a very special class of pitchers. He has proven himself able to reinvent himself as he ages, and to continue to play to an incredibly high level at a point in many other players careers where they begin to show the effects of their age, if not hang it up entirely. He also is incredibly durable, only making less than 30 starts twice in his career, and one of those was the Tommy John season (which was a shortened season anyway) and he wasn’t placed on the injured list for the first 10 years of his career. He’s incredibly durable and he’s as good as he’s ever been.

Verlander’s presence in the rotation brings additional pedigree to a team with championship aspirations. Three Cy Youngs, an MVP, 9 All Star appearances, and a winning mentality are added to a team that didn’t quite get over the hump last year. He may be older than most, and pairing two older aces could be cause for concern, but at least on Verlander’s end, he seems to be transforming himself quite nicely with age, not missing a step and not only maintaining greatness, but improving his ability as he goes along.