There’s been a lot of worry about the age of the Mets’ rotation, especially with newly acquired Justin Verlander getting ready to embark on his age-40 season. But while it’s a good idea to avoid hitters this age – and frankly quite a few years earlier than that – there’s no reason to fret about older pitchers who are really good. And Verlander won the CY Award last year at age 39, so he qualifies.

Since 1990, a span of 33 years, there have been 46 seasons with a pitcher aged 40 or above who’ve thrown enough innings to qualify for the leaderboards. Last year, Adam Wainwright met that threshold, becoming the first pitcher in his 40s to qualify since old pal R.A. Dickey did so in 2017. Wainwright had a 2.8 fWAR last season, which is not too shabby. In fact, 31 of the 46 seasons from our super veteran hurlers resulted in a 2.0 or greater fWAR. On the top end, 10 of the 46 seasons resulted in an fWAR of 4.0 or greater, led by Randy Johnson’s 9.6 mark in 2004

Wainwright has been a good pitcher for a long time but he’s never won the CY Award. But here’s the list of our super veterans who had one at least one: Clemens, Colon, Dickey, Glavine, Hershiser, Johnson, Maddux and Smoltz. Those eight pitchers combined for 22 CY Awards and 21 of the 46 seasons on our list. Colon and Johnson each qualified four times in their 40s, while Clemens, Dickey and Maddux all did it three times.

Jamie Moyer made the list six times, from 2003-2008.

The majority of pitchers on our list fit in one of three categories. Here they are and the pitchers who place there:

CY Award winners – Clemens, Colon, Dickey, Glavine, Hershiser, Johnson, Maddux and Smoltz
Knuckleballers – Candiotti, Dickey, Hough, Wakefield. And an Honorable Mention for Woody Williams
Soft-tossing LHP – Glavine, Moyer, Rogers. And Honorable Mentions to Pettitte and Wells, who weren’t soft tossers at the beginning of their career but who more or less fit that description in their 40s.

That’s 16 of the 19 pitchers who comprise our list. Who are the outliers? We’ve already mentioned Wainwright. He’s joined by Dennis Martinez, who won 245 games in his career despite battling shoulder injuries and alcoholism in his career. And the last one is Nolan Ryan, who had seven no-hitters but who never won the CY Award in his 27 years in the majors.

Recently, Verlander reached out to Ryan in regards to throwing the changeup. We have this image of Ryan as a fireballer until the very end but the truth is he was able to pitch until age 46 because he developed a changeup, which played well off his fastball, which was no longer a threat to hit triple digits.

Meanwhile, Verlander’s velocity came back all of the way after missing most of the previous two seasons from TJ surgery. But, in a continuing trend from before the elbow injury, Verlander did not throw his changeup very often. Much like with Jacob deGrom and the curve, Verlander didn’t want to get beat with his fourth-best pitch. Yet, one time the change was a weapon for him. Back in 2013, Verlander threw his change 16.9% of the time, making it his second-most-used pitch, behind only his fastball. Last year, he threw it just 2.4% of the time.

If tips from Ryan, along with work and suggestions from Jeremy Hefner, help Verlander get the confidence back in his change, it will add another weapon to his repertoire and make Verlander even more of a threat to hitters in his age-40 season.

According to OECD, the average life expectancy of an American male at birth is 76.1 years. But bringing down that number is the people who die young, whether due to illness, stupidity or violence. However, males who reach age 65 have a life expectancy of 83.1 years. There was no further breakdown; yet, intuitively we would expect people who reach age 75 to have an even higher life expectancy.

And it’s the same with pitchers.

The likelihood of a MLB pitcher at age 25 to be able to qualify for the leaderboard at age 40 is small. But if you qualify for the leaderboards at age 39, you’ll be significantly more likely to do so at age 40. From 1990-2022, there were 18 pitchers who qualified for the leaderboards at age 39. In that same span, 16 qualified at age 40.

From a pure numbers standpoint, the odds are overwhelmingly in favor of Verlander qualifying for the leaderboards at age 40, because he did so at 39. And the fact that he fits in one of our three categories as a previous CY Award winner, just makes it even more likely. And if he adds a quality changeup – well, you get the idea.

It’s why I like the Mets’ gamble on Verlander and his age-40 season. If only confidence could be that high with Tommy Pham and his age-35 season.

5 comments on “Justin Verlander and pitchers who qualified for the leaderboards in their 40s

  • NYM6986

    It’s incredible to think that Verlander and Scherzer can pitch like aces at their age. They are obvious outliers in the world of aging players whose skills have diminished. Fingers crossed for a good and healthy year for this pair. If they stay healthy they will carry this team a long way on their backs. If they go down we have capable backups, just not a #1 or #2.

    • Brian Joura

      I’m more worried about the age of Ottavino and Robertson than the top two SP. Scherzer and Verlander are two of the best pitchers of their generation. The relievers? Eh, not so much. To be sure, I like both of the relievers. I just think they come with big risk.

      • NYM6986

        Both relievers seem to be outliers as well as neither is young. Just got to hope for repeat seasons and showing up to throw a strong inning when called on. Still have my concerns on Marte’s health as he is a significant part of this offense for setting the table and stealing a bunch of bases now that they are 6 inches closer to each other.

  • BoomBoom

    Verlander will be good. I think DeGrom ends up having a better year.

    • Brian Joura

      It all depends on health, doesn’t it?

      Saw a meme with deGrom standing and talking with his new pitching coach, Mike Maddux. The meme writer had Maddux telling deGrom that they were both going to pitch the same amount of innings.

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