Is Verlander the new Ryan Express?

 Justin Verlander #35 Of The Detroit Tigers Pitches

by Wally

Every time I catch a glimpse of Detroit’s Justin Verlander pitching, I can’t help being reminded of Nolan Ryan.   What a treat it is to watch him throw a baseball and whiff a batter just about every inning!   But it’s a combination of things that make me think of the Ryan Express.    At 6’5″, 225 lbs, he’s got about the same build as Ryan.   He’s got a smooth, yet powerful and technically sound leg-driven delivery … just like Ryan.   A GREAT, lively fastball often delivered at 100 mph and maybe most importantly, a knee-buckling Uncle Charlie curveball with a sharp 12-to-6 downward break … both say “Nolan Ryan” to me.    Then you go to Verlander’s demeanor … confident bordering on cocky, but completely under control.   Now, mind you, I’m talking about comparisons to the mid-late career Ryan who had command of his pitches and limited his walks.   But the resemblance is simply uncanny.

CHICAGO - 1988:  Nolan Ryan #34 of the Houston Astros pitches during the 1988 season against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

And so are the results.    Verlander is only 28 and he’s won 93 games with a 3.65 career ERA.   And he’s simply getting better and better.  This season, he’s 10-3 with a 2.38 ERA and microscopic WHIP of 0.84.   124 strikouts in 128 innings.   Wow!    Of course, he also pitched his second career no-hitter this season and seems to be a threat to do so almost EVERY time he takes the mound.   Again, very “Ryan-esque”.      Could he approach Ryan’s record of 7 no-no’s?   If he stays healthy, he’s got a shot.   5,714 strikeouts?   Probably not.   We tend to forget that Ryan, the freak of nature that he truly was, pitched for 27 years!

Anyway, there’s a lot of great pitchers out there these days … Halladay, Lee, Lincecum, Beckett, Hernandez, Jurrjens … but I gotta rank Verlander as King of the Hill right now.   Nobody else has the power, the command, the ability to get to the 7th inning without yielding a hit as consistently as this guy.   It’s like watching Nolan Ryan in his prime … and I’d definitely pay to see that!

31 Responses to "Is Verlander the new Ryan Express?"

  1. bill ribas   June 28, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    Wally, while you’re on the subject of power pitchers, how about a top ten all time list, just for grins? Ryan at the top, right?

  2. Wally   June 28, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    Well without looking at stats and doing it quickly, this is what I’d throw out there:

    Ryan, Walter Johnson, Koufax, Randy Johnson, Clemens,
    Feller, Gibson, Seaver, Gossage, Drysdale

    I’m sure I’m forgetting a couple obvious choices, but that’s a quick brain dump. What say you, Bill?

  3. bill ribas   June 28, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    I’d say that’s good enough without going into stats, although I’m tempted to put Gooden up there (and the drug use killed his potential).

    It’d be interesting to find a 5 year window when they were all at their peak and compare stats. Maybe tomorrow I can look into it all.

  4. Wally   June 28, 2011 at 10:32 pm

    Yep, Gooden was really awesome for a few years. Close to unhittable. One guy who may have cracked the top 10 if it weren’t for a tragic stroke was Houston’s J.R. Richard. He was as good as Ryan for a couple years and they were teammates, then the unfortunate stroke.

    I bet some of the real old-timers would say that Lefty Grove could really bring the heat and of course he’s one of the all-time greats.

    Back to relievers/closers, Billy Wagner was one of the most dominant fastballers I’ve ever seen over about a 5 year period.

    Back to Verlander … I truly believe he’s definitely got a shot at the Top 10 if he stays reasonably healthy and pitches another 7-8 years. By then, he may have another 4 no-hitters … We’ll see.

  5. Wally   June 28, 2011 at 10:52 pm

    One guy I should probably mention as a top power pitcher is Pedro Martinez. He might be borderline Top 10. I always tend to forget about him … Maybe cuz he was somewhat small in stature. But he had a great career and whiffed a lot of guys with a real live fastball.

    Another guy who was somewhat a flash in the pan but had probably the most dominant season I remember witnessing was Louisiana Lightning … Ron Guidry. He threw it by everybody all season … I think he was 26-3 that year or something like that.

  6. bill ribas   June 28, 2011 at 11:10 pm

    You know, I was going to mention Pedro – I know his numbers are good, but his velocity fell off later on. I think it may take some work to get the stats in line, because no one really measures velocity, at least over time anyway, but it’s good food for thought. It’s hard to quantify the terror of, say, facing Randy Johnson versus Steve Carlton, for example. This will be fun though.

  7. Chas   June 29, 2011 at 10:03 am

    I left a comment over an hour ago, but it’s awaiting moderation because I included three links.

    I’ll try again, with one link at a time…

    I’m not sure I’m ready to throw Jair Jurrjens into the same category as the other names you mentioned.

    The best pitcher in the game today, without a doubt (in my opinion), is Roy Halladay. If you want to make your own comparisons, here are the numbers from 2008 to present: http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=pit&lg=all&qual=y&type=8&season=2011&month=0&season1=2008&ind=0

  8. Chas   June 29, 2011 at 10:04 am

    I chose 2008 to present because that was Lincecum’s breakthrough season, but here’s going back to 2006, Verlander’s breakthrough season: http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=pit&lg=all&qual=y&type=8&season=2011&month=0&season1=2006&ind=0

  9. Chas   June 29, 2011 at 10:05 am

    What’s your definition of greatest power pitchers of all-time? Honestly, I think no matter how you slice it, Randy Johnson is #1, but here’s all pitchers with a minimum of 2000 IP(click twice on the K/9 column to sort on that statistic): http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=pit&lg=all&qual=2000&type=8&season=2011&month=0&season1=1871&ind=0

    The top four should be on everybody’s list. After that, it gets interesting.

  10. bill ribas   June 29, 2011 at 10:15 am

    I think that’s part of my problem Chas in identifying a power pitcher, because at least for me, it would include a velocity above 90, which of course, ain’t in the stats, and won’t be anytime soon I’d guess. With velocity comes intimidation, which also can’t be measured. No one wants to dig it too hard against a Randy Johnson, for example. I’ll have to think more on the question.

  11. Chas   June 29, 2011 at 11:10 am

    Taking what Bill said into account, I would define a power pitcher as:

    1. A guy who can throw hard and is intimidating.
    2. A guy who strikes a lot of people out.

    I think #2 is more important to the final ranking, but #1 is a requirement for making the list. So, while a guy like Trevor Hoffman certainly struck a lot of people out, he doesn’t make the cut.

  12. Wally   June 29, 2011 at 11:15 am

    Chas —
    With regard to proclaiming Verlander “King of the Hill”, my point of reference, right or wrong, is THIS season … right now. I think he’s having the best season up to now, I expect it to continue, and keep in mind that he’s pitching in the AL which is tougher than the NL. But it’s just my opinion and I certainly concur that Halladay is the best overall for the past few seasons … he’s also having a terrific year and probably pitching for the best team in MLB.

    Where is the Big Train … Walter Johnson … on the K/9IP stats??? I gave up after not seeing his name after 2 pages, did I miss it?. Is his rep as a fireballer indeed way overblown???

    Anyway, as Bill points out, the concept of “power pitchers” doesn’t necessarily coordinate directly with a stat. Sure you would think strikeout ratios would be high, but there’s also the matter of perception, intimidation, etc. And I’m pretty sure we’re not saying that “best power pitchers” = “best pitchers” .

  13. Chas   June 29, 2011 at 11:52 am

    Walter Johnson is pretty far down on the list…something like 5.34 K/9 IP. I don’t think his reputation is overblown, though. Ty Cobb said his fastball “made me flinch” and “hissed with danger”: http://bioproj.sabr.org/bioproj.cfm?a=v&v=l&pid=7068&bid=1702

    I think his low K rate has a lot do with era. Strikeouts are a lot more prevalent nowadays. I’d attribute this to two factors: emphasis on the home run and the walk. In order to walk you have to take a lot of pitches and hit with two-strike counts. You can’t strike out until you have a two-strike count, obviously. By and large, though, there was just a lot more emphasis back then on making contact rather than waiting for a good pitch to hit. Regardless, I’m surprised Johnson’s strikeout rate is so low.

    What about Cliff Lee and his 32 consecutive scoreless innings, including three consecutive complete game shutouts…last night against the Red Sox. He certainly made them look like an NL team. 🙂

  14. Wally   June 29, 2011 at 11:54 am

    I want to bring up Billy Wagner again, esp since I saw him pitch in person several times during his peak with the Astros. Everyone knew the fastball was coming, but it was a real live riser often timed in excess of 100 mph. His K/9IP ratio for his peak years before arm trouble (1997-2003) was 12.5. I don’t think he had any pitch other than that great fastball and it was pretty amazing he could throw that hard consistently for 7 years … most power closers flame out after 3-4 seasons.

  15. Wally   June 29, 2011 at 11:57 am

    Cliff Lee is certainly rescuing his season after a mediocre start to it … terrific streak!

  16. bill ribas   June 29, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    We might need a power reliever list too.

  17. Wally   June 29, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    Speaking of Cliff Lee and his scoreless streak … what’s the current record at? 57 innings? Orel Hershiser?

    I think we were talking about this several weeks ago as one of the “most unbreakable records” in baseball.

    I’ll commit to this … if Lee seriously approaches the record, I’ll annoint him current “King of the Hill” 🙂

  18. Chas   June 29, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    I just wouldn’t be so quick to anoint Verlander as the current King of the Hill. He’s a great pitcher, and he’s had a great June, to be sure. But, Cliff Lee’s had a better June, and prior to this month, Jered Weaver was clearly better among AL pitchers.

  19. Wally   June 29, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    If you had to pick one pitcher to make your team a serious contender for the next 3-5 years, who would it be?

    My vote goes to Verlander. His relative youth is one reason and the emergence of his dominant skills is another.

  20. Chas   June 29, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    Good question, Wally. Since you’re talking 3-5 years, my candidates would be Verlander, Sabathia, Felix Hernandez, Tim Lincecum, Jon Lester, Cole Hamels. But, since you’re making me choose only one, I’d say Felix Hernandez.

  21. Chas   June 29, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    One other I’d seriously consider is Clayton Kershaw, but Felix is still my answer.

  22. Wally   June 29, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    Chas —
    Irrespective of whether starter or reliever, is there any pitcher in history with at least 500 career innings pitched that has a better K/9IP ratio than Billy Wagner’s 11.92?

  23. Chas   June 29, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    Brad Lidge – 12.00
    Billy Wagner – 11.92
    Francisco Rodriguez – 11.26
    Octavio Dotel – 10.95
    Armando Benitez – 10.93
    Randy Johnson – 10.61
    Ugueth Urbina – 10.51
    B.J. Ryan – 10.48
    Mark Prior – 10.37
    Kerry Wood – 10.31
    Pedro Martinez – 10.04
    Eric Gagne – 10.04
    Tim Lincecum – 10.02

    Randy Johnson pitched over 4000 innings, Pedro Martinez just under 3000. Kerry Wood is the only other guy on the list with over 1000 IP.

  24. Chas   June 29, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    Also of note:

    Rob Dibble – 12.17 (477 IP)
    Carlos Marmol – 11.70 (420 IP)
    John Rocker – 11.70 (255 IP)
    Jonathan Broxton – 11.55 (392 IP)

  25. Wally   June 29, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    Problem with Kerry Wood is that for every strikeout, he also walked a guy, hit a guy, and hung a curveball at an inopportune time. It all adds up to mediocrity. Another instance of stats in isolation hiding the true story.

  26. Chas   June 29, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    Well, of course, Wally. No one would suggest that looking exclusively at K rate is any way to evaluate pitchers.

  27. Chas   June 30, 2011 at 8:44 am

    Actually Wally, stats prove that your statement about Kerry Wood is flat-out wrong. You say that for every strikeout he walked a guy, hit a batter and gave up a home run? Well, considering he struck out over one batter per inning, then are we to believe he gave up more than a walk, a home run and a HBP per inning? Uh, let’s see…

    Kerry Wood: 10.3 K/9IP, 4.3 BB/9IP, 1.0 HR/9IP, 0.6 HBP/9 IP

    I know you were exaggerating, but statements like that just prove that you love to use your anti-stats arguments to re-write history based on your memories, which, of course, include a much smaller sample size than reality.

    In this case, I’m almost positive that this is based on your frustration that Kerry Wood didn’t turn out to be the second coming of Roger Clemens, a fact that probably had much more to do with injuries than with ineffectiveness on his part.

  28. Wally   June 30, 2011 at 11:22 am

    Yes, you obviously picked up on my disdain or disappointment in Kerry Wood which sources itself back to the Cubs collapse against the Marlins for the NL pennant. Bartman!

    Yes, I’ve been known to exaggerate a bit for storytelling purposes. Is a guy not entitled to whine a little bit on the site? Anyway, we got a lot of mileage out of this topic and I enjoyed it … hope others did too.

  29. Casey   June 30, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    “I know you were exaggerating, but statements like that just prove that you love to use your anti-stats arguments to re-write history based on your memories, which, of course, include a much smaller sample size than reality.”

    Helmet Sticker!

  30. Chas   June 30, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    I knew that zinging Wally might be an effective way to reel Casey back into the discussion. 🙂

  31. Wally   June 30, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    Yes … what great fun! I’m soooooooooo happy you were able to draw Casey into the conversation. (That’s OK … I was starting to think Casey was either dead or “too sophisticated” for the site anymore since he hardly provides any in depth commentary let alone posts anymore. Yes, he’s off for the summer. Helmet stickers don’t count. Ditto that for Smitty … he still hasn’t explained his dropping the ball at US Open time.)

    For the record, I’m not anti-stats … I love stats! Numbers are my life! (never said my life was exciting)

    By the way, I’m thinking that giving up a HR every 9 innings and hitting a batter every 2 games is kinda “subpar”. Kerry Wood stinks … he’s choked in just about every clutch situation he’s ever been in. It’s amazing how the fastball flattens out and the curveball either hangs or goes only 58 feet when runners are on 2nd and 3rd in the late innings. That’s Kerry. Oops … he’s “hurt ” again.

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