Verlander, Greinke a rare pair of aces
Just before Wednesday’s Trade Deadline, and a little less than two years after the Astros spurred a championship run by acquiring Justin Verlander from Detroit, the club once again dealt for one of the best pitchers of a generation.
Zack Greinke is now a member of the American League West leaders, joining a rotation that already boasted Gerrit Cole and Verlander, who will start Sunday against Seattle. That gives Houston a starting trio with a strong argument as the game’s best, but while Cole deserves plenty of notice as an elite starter, it’s the new pairing of Greinke and Verlander in particular that is so rare.
Here are the active leaders in pitching WAR, according to Baseball Reference, through Friday’s action:
- Verlander (HOU): 68.5
- Greinke (HOU): 65.1
- Clayton Kershaw (LAD): 64.5
- CC Sabathia (NYY): 62.5
- Cole Hamels (CHC): 58.8
Verlander ranks 31st on the all-time list. Greinke is tied for 44th with Bob Feller. And now they are in the same rotation.
It’s not just that the Astros have two likely future Hall of Famers. It’s that they have them at a time when both pitchers are both so highly accomplished already (60+ WAR, Cy Young Awards), and still highly effective.
Verlander found new life with the Astros, and the 36-year-old has posted a 2.48 ERA in 62 starts since joining the organization. It remains to be seen whether Houston’s pitching factory can boost Greinke, but the 35-year-old has been doing just fine, with a 3.12 ERA in 88 starts with the D-backs since 2017. Over that period, Verlander and Greinke rank first and second, respectively, in innings; fourth and sixth in pitching WAR; and seventh and ninth in park-adjusted ERA+.
It’s not the first time either pitcher has worked with an illustrious rotation-mate. Greinke joined forces with Kershaw in Los Angeles from 2013-15, and Verlander was at one point in ‘14 on a staff with Max Scherzer and David Price in Detroit. But none of those combos had quite the same confluence of career and present-day value, at the time. The same could be said of other current duos, such as Hamels and Jon Lester of the Cubs, or Price and Chris Sale of the Red Sox.
While there simply isn’t much precedent for a pitching pair the caliber of Greinke-Verlander, here is a look at 10 notable comps from years past, beginning with the most recent.
Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt, 2011 Phillies
There was great hype around this group, which also included a young Cole Hamels. Halladay arrived from Toronto in 2010 at the height of his powers and immediately won his second Cy Young Award. Oswalt arrived that summer after a great run in Houston and was excellent down the stretch. Philly then added another recent Cy Young winner in Lee, who was coming off a dominant season. The group had a great regular season but was upset by St. Louis in a thrilling NL Division Series.
Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez, 2005-07 Mets
When Martinez joined Glavine in New York, both were well on their way to being first-ballot Hall of Famers. While no longer quite at their peaks, they gave the 2005 Mets well over 400 innings of stellar work. Alas, the club finished 83-79.
Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina, 2005-06 Yankees
The Big Unit was 41 but coming off an incredible six-year run with the D-backs. Traded to the Bronx, he joined a team full of accomplished stars, including pitchers Kevin Brown and Mussina, now a freshly minted Hall of Famer. Moose had been with the Yankees since 2001 and successfully navigated the transition to New York. Things didn’t go quite as smoothly for Johnson, who was traded back to Arizona two years later.
Roger Clemens and friends, Yankees
Clemens already owned a sensational resume (five Cy Young Awards) when Toronto traded him to New York before the 1999 season. At different points over the next several years, he teamed with Cy Young winner and perfect game thrower David Cone; Mussina, who was fresh off a nearly 50-WAR tenure in Baltimore; and Andy Pettitte, who moved with him to Houston and then back to New York again.
Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling, 2004 Red Sox
They only overlapped for one season, but what a season it was. Martinez was nearing the end of one of the best stretches by a starting pitcher in baseball history when Schilling arrived via trade in November 2003, after a fantastic four-year stint in Arizona. Right away, the two helped the Red Sox break their infamous championship drought.
Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, 2000-03 D-backs
It’s not as if Johnson and Schilling weren’t stars before their time in the desert, but they reached new heights there together, despite both being in their mid-30s. Johnson took NL Cy Young honors in each of Schilling’s four D-backs seasons, and Schilling was the runner-up twice. The pair also combined to pitch the club to a championship in ‘01.
Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz, 1993-2002 Braves
When Maddux left Chicago for Atlanta, these three were still relatively early in their careers, although Glavine and Maddux already owned Cy Young Awards, and Smoltz had starred in the postseason. Glavine was the first to leave when he signed with the Mets after the 2002 season, capping a decade of combined individual and team excellence. By that point, the trio had a total of nearly 200 career WAR.
Nolan Ryan and Don Sutton, 1981-82 Astros
When Sutton joined Ryan in Houston going into 1981, he was a four-time All-Star with 51 career WAR, while Ryan was a five-time All-Star with 45 WAR. The pairing didn’t last long together -- less than two full seasons before Sutton was traded to Milwaukee -- but both went on to play well into their 40s and make the Hall of Fame.
Fergie Jenkins and Gaylord Perry, 1975 and ‘80 Rangers
Perry, who earlier in his career pitched alongside Juan Marichal in San Francisco, joined another future Hall of Famer in Texas when he was traded from Cleveland in June 1975. Both pitchers already had won Cy Young Awards that decade, while combining for about 110 career WAR to that point. However, the duo lasted just a half-season before Jenkins was traded -- then reunited briefly in Texas in 1980.
Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax, 1956-66 Dodgers
One of the most famous one-two punches in baseball history, they were teammates in Brooklyn and then Los Angeles for most of their careers. When arm problems forced Koufax into an early retirement after the 1966 season, he and Drysdale had combined for more than 100 WAR, four Cy Young Awards and an MVP, and had worked together to win five NL pennants and three championships.