With a JAWS of 59.0 so far in his career, Verlander remains below the JAWS average for starting pitchers of 61.5. But he’s not alone. No active starting pitcher meets the JAWS standard (although some may do so by the time they retire). In fact, neither does any starter who has thrown a single pitch this entire decade. That suggests a problem not with Verlander or other modern pitchers, but with the standard. Simply put, it’s too high given the usage patterns of today’s starting pitchers.
As pitch counts and bullpens have become bigger parts of the game, we’ve gone from 1,034 complete games pitched in the 1978 season to 266 in 1997 to just 42 last year. From 1871 to 1953, a period that includes at least part of the careers of about two-thirds of Hall of Fame starting pitchers, starters accounted for more than 80 percent of all innings pitched every season. In 2018, that share was 60 percent. It’s simply not fair to compare starting pitchers of the past few decades — let alone of the past few years, a period when “bullpenning” has exploded in popularity — with bygone Hall of Famers who regularly exceeded 300 innings pitched in a year.
What we can do instead is sketch out a new standard, based on the premise that the Hall of Fame should immortalize the greatest starting pitchers of each era, even if those eras are not directly comparable. Verlander’s numbers may not be able to hold a candle to those of, say, the deadball era, but he deserves recognition as an elite hurler in the context of our current era, the bullpen-happy 2010s. The average season from 1901 to 2004 had 10 active starting pitchers who were eventually elected to Cooperstown, so we can maintain the Hall’s relative historical standards by electing the top 10 best starting pitchers in the game today.