Hall order: Verlander's goal Cooperstown

May 26th, 2017

PHOENIX -- Tigers right-hander is one of the best and the brightest of this generation's starting pitchers. He still "likes" the win as a statistic, is aiming at eventual induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and thinks he has a shot at 300 wins to ensure his election.

"It's not going to happen much anymore, but I still have a chance," Verlander said in a recent interview with MLB.com. "I wouldn't have thought that a couple of years ago because of injuries. I'm healthy now, feel good and think I can make a run at it."

Verlander is 34 and he's sitting on 177 wins after blowing a 3-0 lead in a 7-6 loss to the Astros on Thursday night. He will have to pitch until he's 44 and average about 12 wins a season to get to 300. Improbable, but not impossible.

"I think I can pitch until I'm 44," he said matter of factly.

Regarding the injuries, Verlander has had right shoulder and abdominal problems, the latter leading to core surgery prior to the 2014 season. In '15, a triceps injury kept him out until June and limited him to five wins and 20 starts, the low-water marks of his first 12 big league seasons. Otherwise, he's averaged a tad higher than 15 wins in every other healthy season.

At that pace, Verlander could reach 300 by the time he's 42, thus ensuring his place in Cooperstown. Hall enshrinement is important to him.

"Sure, I've thought about it. That's been my dream since I was a little kid," Verlander said. "You want to be great, you want to be great for a long time. There's no better way to quantify that than to be in the Hall of Fame. I know there's still work to be done, but voters are going to have to go less with the traditional numbers, specifically wins. Wins are going to be a tough one because of the way the game has changed."

When told that 31 of the past 33 starting pitchers voted into the Hall by eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America had won 300, Verlander added: "Wins are going to be less valued moving forward, but I don't totally agree with that. I like wins. I like winning. That's what my job is when I go out there: It's to win a ballgame."

There's a huge discussion in the sabermetric community about the value of wins as a measure of success for a starting pitcher. There's no doubt that the deeper a starter gets into a game, the better chance his team has of winning -- and thus, of being credited with that win. A starter who throws 100 pitches and comes out after six innings is susceptible to all kinds of variables when multiple relievers have to hold and ultimately save the win.

Verlander has thrown 2,400 innings -- 251 alone in 2011, the year he won the American League Cy Young Award and the AL pitching Triple Crown with a 24-5 record, a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts. His WHIP that year was 0.92, and his K/9 rate was 9.0.

Even last year, fully recovered from the injuries, Verlander tossed 227 2/3 innings, winning 16 games with a 3.04 ERA. His 2,225 strikeouts are 53rd all time and second most among active pitchers behind , who at 44, has 2,399. At his age, Verlander regularly throws fastballs in the mid-90s.

Verlander is proud of his durability and ability to pitch deep into games. He has thrown two no-hitters.

"I'm one of the few guys who do that now," he said. "I take a lot of pride in staying out there as long as I can. I pitch to the score. I pitch to the score a lot and try to get as deep as I can. If I don't pitch deep into a game, I don't feel like I'm doing my job."

Pitching to the score may explain Verlander's performance so far this year. In 10 starts, he has already thrown 61 innings, which over 34 starts plays out to about 210 innings. In an uncharacteristic start to the season, his usually impeccable control has been off. He leads the league with 29 walks and his WHIP is 1.41. Last season, it was 1.00.

Pitching in the AL is another variable and should be considered by Hall of Fame voters, Verlander says.

"The difference is dramatic," he said. "Because of the DH, the lineups are much deeper. It's at least worth a run more. The lineups in the American League, built around a guy who usually can't play defensively, is one of the center pieces. When we go to a National League park, is going to get maybe one at-bat. It hamstrings you."

Using that yardstick, Mike Mussina, who pitched his entire 18-year career for the Yankees and Orioles in the tough AL East, had 270 wins. Earlier this year, 51.8 percent of voters had him on their Hall of Fame ballots.

"He should be in," Verlander said.

Mussina isn't. Not yet. He has six more years of eligibility and needs 75 percent to get in. If he does make it, Mussina could be the last starter for a while.

Verlander recognizes it may be tough sledding for the best starters of his generation. Aside for himself, Zack Greinke has 161 wins, Cole Hamels and have 138, and -- 10 years into his career and at 29 -- has just 133. Regardless, if you're among the best in a 10-year period, that should have an impact.

"I like the decade thing," Verlander said. "If you're the best player or one of the best of your time, you should be in."

Verlander is not a big fan of WAR, wins against a fictitious replacement player.

"You have two different systems and two different WARs. What the heck is that?" he asked.

So what's a traditional voter to do?

"You're looking at the writing on the wall before you even get there," Verlander said. "Even the guys you're saying should be surefire Hall of Famers, like Kershaw -- when he's done, his numbers and mine are not going to stack up the way you do your voting."

It's an ongoing deliberation. Meanwhile, Verlander will try to get as close to 300 wins as he can.