For Verlander, this is 40: A shot at 300 wins

February 20th, 2023

We know the numbers with by now. Everybody does. He has won three Cy Young Awards -- including last season, 11 years after his first. He has two World Series titles and one Most Valuable Player Award and 3,198 career strikeouts and counting. Now comes another big number for him today:

Verlander turns 40.

He turns 40 with 244 victories in the books already, which means he is 56 wins from one of the game’s enduring magic numbers: 300. If he gets there, he might be the last one to do it for a long time, and maybe forever, in baseball.

If he stays healthy, I believe he’s going to do it. I believe Verlander, now with the Mets, back with his old Tigers teammate Max Scherzer (who has three Cy Young Awards of his own) is staying strong in his career the way he still can stay strong in his starts, as dominant in the late innings as he is in the early ones. It's why I also believe that his 40th birthday is going to be nothing more than a speed bump, as he now gets the biggest possible stage for his talent in New York with the Mets.

The other day, Verlander was throwing a side session in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and Buck Showalter, his new manager, was there to watch him. Buck described the experience this way:

“I walked away thinking, ‘Oh, that’s why.’”

Verlander first showed himself as one of the great right-handers of his time pitching for Jim Leyland in Detroit. In 2011, he won both the AL Cy Young Award and MVP. Then he went to Houston, and when the Astros were down 3-2 in the 2017 AL Championship Series against the Yankees, Verlander pitched seven shutout innings and struck out eight and the Yankees never recovered.

Last season, Verlander finally checked the last box in his career and won a World Series game. He wasn’t great the night of Game 5. But he was good enough. And the Astros beat the Phillies to win their second World Series in six seasons.

Verlander has been an ace of his sport for a long time. Now he and Scherzer give Showalter and the Mets a pair of aces. And as he turns 40, he gets New York, and this tremendous chance to get to 300. If he can pitch the way he pitched last season after coming back from Tommy John surgery at this stage of his career, Justin Verlander can go the distance one more time, all the way to 300.

Verlander makes you remember the old Reggie Jackson line when he signed as a free agent with the Yankees, when he said he didn’t need New York City to make him a star, adding, “I’m bringing my star with me.” It is a little like that now that Verlander reunites with Scherzer. Three Cy Youngs pairing up with three Cy Youngs -- even though their combined age will be 78, with Scherzer turning 39 in July.

When Verlander signed with the Mets, Leyland called Showalter and said, “You got yourself a horse. Just hitch him up and watch him go.”

Then Leyland added: “You’re gonna love it.”

This is what Verlander said in November after it was announced that he’d won another Cy Young:

“I’ve just really tried to enjoy this ride. Just be very present and appreciate every moment, because it was almost taken away from me. When you're young and things go your way, you just don't understand what it takes to make things go your way.”

Now we see what he does after the age of 40. Phil Niekro won 121 games starting with his age-40 season, throwing knuckleballs. Greg Maddux won 70 starting with his age-40 season, but Maddux was a master of spin and working the corners and all that jazz. Warren Spahn won 75 games after 40, Nolan Ryan won 71 and Randy Johnson won 73. Roger Clemens won 61. There is no reason why Justin Verlander, still a power pitcher, can’t be one of those guys, coming off a post-Tommy John Cy Young Award at the age of 39.

When you add it all up, there isn’t much question that Verlander has been the best starting pitcher of his time, and one of the very best of all time. All this time after his Major League debut -- on the 4th of July, it will be 18 years since he made that debut with the Tigers -- he makes his way to New York, back to a rotation that has Scherzer in it.

At the age of 39, in his last season with the Astros, he was 18-4 with a 1.75 ERA. He pitched for a Texas team like a Texan named Ryan when he was 40 and beyond.

Now he comes to the Mets and takes dead aim at 300. Why wouldn’t we think he can make it? He’s Justin Verlander. He gets better as he goes.