Justin Verlander to undergo Tommy John surgery
The 37-year-old will miss the 2021 season, arriving at a crossroads in his long and storied career.
On Instagram earlier today, Astros starter Justin Verlander announced that he will be undergoing Tommy John surgery. Verlander was shut down shortly after his Opening Day start against the Mariners on July 24 with a forearm strain. He was adamant that he would be able to return at some point during the season, but it was not to be. Verlander indicated that his injury worsened pitching in a simulated game recently.
Verlander will not pitch next season, which would have been his last under contract with the Astros. Thus, he will be 39 and a free agent coming off of major surgery going into the 2022 season. It is reasonable to think Verlander’s career is, sadly, finished.
Verlander had his eye on a long career, telling MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart in July that he lowered his release point to increase his durability. In fact, the right-hander said he wanted to pitch until he was 45 or even older.
Last season, Verlander won his second career Cy Young Award, giving him four major awards along with the 2006 AL Rookie of the Year and the 2011 AL Cy Young and MVP Awards. He led the majors in wins with 21, in innings with 223, and in WHIP with an 0.803 mark. He also put up a 2.58 ERA with 300 strikeouts and 40 walks. Verlander’s 2019 was just one of nine in the 2000’s with 300 strikeouts, an impressive feat in the age of the bullpen. He clearly had plenty of gas in the tank and if anyone was going to pitch well into his mid-40’s, it was going to be Verlander.
Now it may be time to think about Verlander’s Hall of Fame case and putting his career in historical context. He has won 226 games against 129 losses in his career spanning 2,988 innings. He owns a 3.33 ERA with 3,013 strikeouts. Verlander is one of 18 members of the hallowed 3,000 strikeout club. He is the active leader in wins and has the seventh-best ERA since he debuted in 2005 (min. 1,500 innings). Verlander is an eight-time All-Star, won a championship in 2017 (though it is tainted), won the pitching Triple Crown in 2011, and won an ERA title in 2011. Verlander has also authored three no-hitters, one of six pitchers all-time with three or more no-hitters, joining Nolan Ryan (seven), Sandy Koufax (four), Bob Feller, Cy Young, and Larry Corcoran (three each).
Verlander was just as good, and arguably better in the postseason against tougher competition on average and in much more meaningful situations. Across 187 2/3 playoff innings spanning 30 starts and one relief appearance, he posted a 3.40 ERA, fanning 205 batters against 60 walks.
There are 56 Hall of Fame starting pitchers who started at least 75% of their games and racked up at least 1,500 innings. Verlander’s 129 adjusted ERA (also known as ERA+) would be tied for 17th-best with Amos Rusie, a Dead Ball Era pitcher. Among those who also pitched in the Live Ball Era (1920 onward), Verlander’s ERA+ would be ninth-best, ahead of Pete Alexander (128), Tom Seaver (127), and Bob Gibson (127).
If Verlander never throws another pitch, he’s a surefire Hall of Famer. He is not quite inner-circle with the likes of Pedro Martínez and Randy Johnson, but there are few pitchers in baseball history who have been better than Verlander. He will get in on the first ballot, though likely not unanimously — not that that really matters.
Verlander says he is not going to let this setback slow down his career, but as we saw with his intent to rehab his arm injury earlier this season, players often don’t get a say about that. We could be looking forward to Verlander’s Hall of Fame induction speech in 2027. But he could surprise us all and resume his career in 2022, adding yet more stats to an already well-padded résumé.