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Justin Verlander passes Greg Maddux to enter top 10 of MLB all-time strikeout list

In Sports
May 25, 2024
HOUSTON, TEXAS - MAY 01: Justin Verlander #35 of the Houston Astros pitches in the first inning against the Cleveland Guardians at Minute Maid Park on May 01, 2024 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)
There won’t be many pitchers like Justin Verlander in the future. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

Justin Verlander’s Hall of Fame résumé just got a little shinier.

The Houston Astros ace passed the great Greg Maddux on the MLB all-time strikeout list, entering the top 10 with the 3,372nd punchout of his career. Next on the list: Walter Johnson with 3,509.

Verlander got there with an elevated fastball against Oakland Athletics infielder Abraham Toro, his fourth strikeout in two innings.

The achievement sounds natural for a player as enduring and talented as Verlander, but it’s worth remembering the 41-year-old underwent Tommy John surgery four years ago, with no guarantee he would be as good as before at his age.

Since then, he’s struck out 355 in 371 1/3 innings with a 2.59 ERA for the Astros and New York Mets, winning his third Cy Young Award in 2022.

In the future, Verlander may very well be remembered as one of the last of a certain class of pitchers.

Only two active pitchers are close to Verlander on the all-time strikeout list: Max Scherzer, 12th on the list and right behind him with 3,367, and Clayton Kershaw, who is 21st with 2,944. The next pitchers who are currently on a 40-man roster: Chris Sale, who ranks 60th with 2,259, and Gerrit Cole, 72nd with 2,152.

The next-highest pitcher under Cole’s 33 years of age: 31-year-old Aaron Nola, who ranks 174th with 1,642. The career strikeout leader among pitchers younger than 30 is … Lucas Giolito. At 1,077.

As things currently stand, it’s hard to see any member of the next wave of pitchers accruing enough innings to come close to Verlander on the top 10. Scherzer and Kershaw are both recovering from major injuries but could see a few more seasons upon returning. Cole could string together a few more 200-strikeout seasons and entered hallowed territory. Every other established pitcher would need to string together a run of health that isn’t simply seen in today’s game.

That’s ironic given today’s high-strikeout state of play, but it’s also part of the problem. To make it to the majors, you have to throw hard, and to throw hard, you have to throw high-effort, and to throw high-effort, you probably have to accept some injures here and there. In addition to flamethrowing pitchers regularly breaking down, we’re also dealing with is the death of innings eaters who also start young.

Verlander was drafted out of college in 2004 and made his debut a year later at age 22. Kershaw was drafted out of high school and debuted two years later at 20. Scherzer debuted at 23 years old, Cole at 22. There are certainly pitchers who make it to the majors at that age today, but they are entering a completely different world (see: Paul Skenes, who has averaged 5.33 innings in his first three starts).

What really stands out about Verlander is his 12 seasons with at least 200 innings. That’s one less than every player in the majors has thrown in the past two seasons.

1. Nolan Ryan, 5714
2. Randy Johnson, 4875
3. Roger Clemens, 4672
4. Steve Carlton, 4136
5. Bert Blyleven, 3701
6. Tom Seaver, 3640
7. Don Sutton, 3574
8. Gaylord Perry, 3534
9. Walter Johnson, 3509
10. Justin Verlander, 3,372

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