Sunday, May 8, 2011

Justin Verlander Throws Second Career No Hitter

Justin Verlander became only the 30th pitcher in the history of baseball to have thrown multiple no hitters in his career. The truly amazing thing is that Verlander has two no hitters at the age of only 28. It was the 271st no hitter in major league history, an average of about two per year since the first official no hitter by Joe Borden of the Philadelphia White Stockings in 1875. Verlander is one of only three active pitchers with more than one no hitter, the other two being Roy Halladay and Mark Buehrle.

Only five pitchers in baseball history have more than 2 no hitters, Larry Corcoran (3), Bob Fellar (3), Cy Young (3), Sandy Koufax (4), and Nolan Ryan (7). In fact, Justin Verlander has more no hitters than the New York Mets and San Diego Padres.

Now a no hitter is not the end all be all for a major league pitcher. It is a special achievement because it is so rare, so any pitcher that has thrown more than one has definitely needed the right combination of luck and skill, the former more so than the latter. That said, Verlander is certainly a very talented pitcher in very elite company. His age only makes it more likely that he could join that list of five pitchers who have thrown more than 2 no hitters. While the right amount of good fortune could get you two no hitters, the list for three or more contains some very good pitchers.

Verlander probably most favorably compares with Nolan Ryan of anyone in that list of five. In fact, I have heard the comparison made on more than one occasion without the no hitter context. It stands to reason, both are big burly right handed pitchers with a lot of power. Both pitchers light up the radar gun, featuring powerful fastballs. Both pitchers feature a curve and changeup as their primary secondary offerings. Maybe most importantly, both appear to be incredibly durable. Ryan famously pitched for 27 seasons, accumulating over 5,000 innings pitched while never having any very significant injury problems. Verlander has similarly amassed a large amount of innings in his career so far; he is sixth in total innings pitched since his rookie year in 2006 with 1110 innings behind only Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia, Dan Haren, Bronson Arroyo and Felix Hernandez. During that time frame, Justin Verlander has had almost no injury problems (furiously knocking on wood) despite being a power pitcher.

Ryan, one of the better pitchers since world war two, was still notoriously maligned by control problems. Ryan struck out 9.55 batters per nine innings for his career but also walked an average of 4.67 batter per nine innings. Not surprisingly with 27 years of service time Ryan is first career strikeouts and walks. Verlander features lower K totals, 8.19 K/9 career, but also much lower walk totals, 2.98 BB/9 career.

The way Verlander might be able to differentiate himself from Ryan is through his superior control, a trait that kept Ryan from reaching the levels of the games truly elite pitchers. Verlander while not yet in possession of elite control, walks few enough batters to put himself in very elite company through the start of his career. While Verlander may not have had a truly distinguished “great” year pitching (mostly because he has never had an era that significantly outperformed his FIP like so many other great pitchers), he still sits 4th in WAR since his rookie year in 2006 only behind Halladay, Sabathia and Haren. This is probably even more impressive when considered with the fact that he suffered from a massive drop off in production in 2008 caused by a “dead arm”, bad mechanics or arguably by former Tigers pitching coach Chuck Hernandez depending on what you believe.

As a result, one would almost have to believe with Verlander’s durability and skill, that he not only stands a great chance of getting a third no hitter if not more, he could very well go down in history as one of his generations’ best pitchers. He still has a ways to go in the mind of many observers. Never has a pitcher with as much ability and success as Verlander frustrated so many of his own fan base since, well Nolan Ryan. He really has not maxed out on his potential as of yet and that can be frustrating. However, he does not possess the same limitation that always plagued Ryan. The talent is there and he is only 28 with plenty of time to continue to put himself in elite company. Sit back and enjoy the ride.

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