When Jacob deGrom signed with the Texas Rangers, Mets fans were, understandably, disappointed. Not only was deGrom, when healthy, among the best pitchers of his generation, but a home grown star who it seemed nearly impossible to imagine in another team’s uniform. It seemed like there were very few options on the free agent market that could theoretically come close to replacing what deGrom offered the Mets on the field.
Thankfully, they signed the one who has not only the best chance at matching deGrom in 2023, but possibly exceeding his success as well. Enter Justin Verlander.
Verlander’s resume will come as no surprise to even the most casual baseball fan of the past 15 years, but there are a few pieces that are worth noting when discussing skepticism of signing a soon-to-be 40 year old pitcher.
Verlander missed all but one game in the 2020 and 2021 seasons due to Tommy John surgery. While you never want a pitcher to go under the knife, Verlander is now pitching with a relatively ‘young’ elbow, and should hypothetically be less of a risk than a pitcher of his age that had Tommy John further in his past.
In his first year back after surgery, Verlander won the Cy Young award, his third. Additionally, 2022 was only the second full season of his career where he did not make 30 starts, and that should be attributed to caution due to both his surgically repaired arm and his age.
In addition, if you consult the Statcast numbers, Verlander, after not pitching for two seasons, did not have any real change in his stuff in 2022. If anything, certain parts of his game appeared more effective and refined, including his weak contact rate and his expectant home run rate both over-performing his career norms.
Despite his success, Verlander is still going to turn 40 later this month, and is still an injury risk at the top of the Mets’ already old rotation. But in comparing Verlander to deGrom, in terms of injury risk, Verlander seems like a much safer bet, despite the five year age difference. And with Verlander and Max Scherzer’s age being known quantities, the team can, theoretically, manage their workloads in such a way to minimize fatigue and, hopefully, injury risk. The fact that Verlander and Scherzer are currently 12th and 13th on the all-time strikeout list will also make for a very fun, competitive season from two current and former teammates who now call Queens home.
Justin Verlander is a no-doubt, first ballot Hall of Fame pitcher who has opted to spend the (likely) end of his career pitching for the Mets. Verlander gets what Steve Cohen and his front office are trying to do in Queens, and he wanted to be a part of it. While the sting of deGrom’s departure may never fully go away, the enthusiasm and career that Verlander brings with him is about the only remedy that can even come close to doing so.
When Verlander takes the hill for the Mets this year, fans get to watch a generational talent continue an historic career. They get to see a guy who has no need to accomplish anything else in this sport. Verlander has tens of millions of dollars, three Cy Young awards, two World Series rings, and a ticket punched for Cooperstown. He is one of the premiere success stories in 21st century baseball.
And yet, he feels there’s more to do. And he wants to do it for the Mets. This is going to be fun.