Justin Verlander Summits Money Mountain

For much of the offseason, Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, and Clayton Kershaw were non-literally linked. All three have been among the most consistently outstanding starting pitchers in the world entire. All three were to enter 2013 two years away from free agency. So all three were to entertain thoughts of signing long-term contract extensions. Felix signed first, re-upping with the Mariners for the rest of days. Now, Friday, with the season just about upon us, Verlander has signed second, re-upping with the Tigers for several days himself.

Depending on how you think about things, Verlander has signed either a seven-year contract or a five-year contract. Verlander was already under contract for $20 million in each of the next two seasons, but upon the new agreement some of the language concerning those two seasons has changed. In any case, after Verlander makes $20 million a year for two years, he’ll make $28 million a year for five. The breakdown:

2013: $20 million
2014: $20 million
2015: $28 million
2016: $28 million
2017: $28 million
2018: $28 million
2019: $28 million
2020: $22 million vesting option (Cy Young voting)

There’s also some no-trade stuff, and some minor incentives stuff. At present, it reads as a seven-year, $180-million contract, with the potential to become an eight-year, $202-million contract. Felix signed a seven-year, $175-million contract, with the potential to become an eight-year, $176-million contract. At the time, Felix became the highest-paid pitcher in the history of baseball. Now Verlander gets to wear that hat, at least until the Dodgers decide to pay Kershaw. Verlander hasn’t really become baseball’s first $200-million pitcher, but he’s gotten closer than anyone ever has.

This contract is very similar to Felix’s, so the discussion is very similar to the Felix discussion. Most discussions about these sorts of things are similar. We acknowledge the ability of the pitcher in question. We acknowledge the risk inherent in signing any pitcher for a long time, and so we acknowledge that there’s upside and downside. Here’s everything you really need to know: the Tigers signed Verlander through 2019 for a lot of money, and Verlander is probably the best starting pitcher in the world, but pitchers can break down at a moment’s notice so the only thing guaranteed is Verlander’s future income.

One thing Felix’s contract has that Verlander’s contract doesn’t is that cheap option at the end in the event that Felix misses 130 days with elbow surgery. The John Lackey clause, as it were. But then that clause came to be for Felix because the team spotted something in his medical examinations. Verlander might’ve checked out completely clean, so there’s only so much to say about this.

Recently, Verlander has been the most valuable pitcher in baseball, due to his durability and talent. Thus, we project Verlander to be the most valuable pitcher in baseball in 2013. He deserved to make the most money, and just as Felix has expressed a desire to be a Mariner for life, Verlander has expressed a desire to stick with the Tigers. It is worth noting that the team contexts are different — the Mariners spend less, and are building for the future, while the Tigers spend more and are a championship contender today. So the Tigers might be more able to afford Verlander’s contract, but it’s clear they weren’t given that much of a discount for presently being good. Team setting is generally a factor, but it’s a much smaller factor than salary maximization.

Now, a thing to remember about the three guys: Kershaw is 25, Felix is nearly 27, and Verlander is 30. As a rule of thumb, young players are considered more reliable for the future than older players, so all else being equal you might think Kershaw would get more than Felix, and Felix would get more than Verlander. But while Verlander has three years on Felix, they’ve thrown the same number of major-league innings. It’s not like there’s that many more miles on Verlander’s arm. Granted, it isn’t only major-league innings that matter — guys throw innings at all levels — but major-league innings are, presumably, the most stressful innings. Verlander has never before been on the disabled list. He’s been the very definition of a dependable workhorse. He’s shown zero signs of wear and tear. His fastball certainly hasn’t slowed in the way that Felix’s has.

So while age is an issue, it seems like a relatively minor one. Now, because this is FanGraphs, I had to put together a pool of player comparables. I looked at the window between 1969-2012, and searched for the best pitchers between the ages of 27-29, by WAR. Not counting Verlander, I found 23 pitchers worth at least 15 WAR over those three seasons. I then looked at how those pitchers did over the subsequent seven years, between the ages of 30-36. I had to eliminate three active pitchers, because they haven’t had a chance to age. A table of the 20 remaining:

Name 27-29IP 27-29WAR 30-36IP 30-36WAR
Greg Maddux 678.7 22.6 1629.7 45.4
Roger Clemens 746.3 25.8 1431.3 41.6
Mike Mussina 674.3 15.5 1444.3 35.5
Steve Carlton 930.7 22.0 1783.3 35.3
Tom Seaver 788.0 18.5 1621.7 30.7
Pedro Martinez 547.0 27.6 1089.7 30.3
Fergie Jenkins 927.3 26.4 1779.3 29.4
David Cone 694.0 16.4 1323.0 28.2
Don Sutton 805.0 17.3 1597.3 23.4
Ron Guidry 729.7 18.6 1364.0 22.7
Rick Reuschel 754.7 16.9 959.3 19.3
Steve Rogers 769.3 15.3 1199.0 18.9
Frank Viola 768.0 18.1 978.3 15.8
Roy Oswalt 674.3 15.6 799.7 13.7
Kevin Appier 648.3 16.8 930.0 11.0
Johan Santana 687.0 16.5 482.7 7.8
Teddy Higuera 737.3 18.6 430.3 6.2
J.R. Richard 834.7 19.3 113.7 3.6
Jose Rijo 640.7 15.7 86.0 1.5
Brandon Webb 698.0 18.0 4.0 -0.2

Who aged well? Greg Maddux aged well. Roger Clemens aged well. Half of the pitchers were worth at least 22 WAR over the seven years, while six were worth at least 30. Of the pitchers, 11 threw more than 1,000 innings. On overall average, between 27-29, the pitchers threw 246 innings a season, and were worth 6.4 WAR. Between 30-36, they threw 150 innings a season, and were worth 3.0 WAR. The cautionary tales loom at the bottom, in the persons of Brandon Webb and Jose Rijo and J.R. Richard. Remember that Webb was one of the world’s most reliable, durable pitchers until he stopped on a dime.

But then, there had long been concerns about Webb’s future health. It’s one of the reasons contract negotiations with the Diamondbacks broke down. No one’s real concerned about Verlander, not yet. Possibly working in his favor is that he’s demonstrated the ability to pace himself, perhaps better than anybody else. People are well aware that Verlander doesn’t throw every fastball at 100%, generally building as a game goes on. It’s easy to see how this could work for his preservation.

Ultimately it is all educated guesswork. If you have to give a seven-year, $180-million contract to a pitcher, you won’t find a better pitcher to give it to than Verlander. He’s got everything going for him, but he’s still a pitcher, and pitchers are flakes. Pitchers are friends you love but can’t count on. This comes up in every post about this topic, and it needs to, but it’s not like you need to be told. There’s no evidence that Verlander is going to break down, except for much of the entire history of pitchers before him. It’s hard to imagine being more confident in a guy than Verlander, but, yeah. You know the deal. Amazing pitcher, big risk, short-term win with long-term questions.

I feel like I’ve no choice but to conclude this post with some Verlander porn. Behold Verlander vs. Asdrubal Cabrera this past May in one of the season’s most dominant showdowns:





I don’t know what’s going to happen to Justin Verlander later on. Neither do the Tigers, and neither does Justin Verlander. The only thing we know for sure is that Verlander is going to get paid, by the Tigers, for a while. But there’s a reason the Tigers agreed to do that. Verlander provides them with things that other pitchers don’t provide. And can’t provide.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

54 Responses to “Justin Verlander Summits Money Mountain”

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  1. fergie348 says:

    Thanks for the GIF sequence, Jeff. It doesn’t get better than that – when a guy can paint the inside corner at 98, no real chance at the 1-2 perfect outside corner curve ball. Unfair..

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    • Nathaniel Dawson says:

      If you believe the stadium gun, it’s 100 & 102. From a starter in the 8th inning. Holy blazes.

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      • John says:

        I think it was during his first no-hitter than he was hitting 101 in the 9th. Maybe the most dominant pitching performance I’ve ever seen. He said in an interview that they gave him a PED test the first thing the next morning!

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  2. byron says:

    My perspective on this stuff has totally changed over the last year or so. Back then, I would have been upset they committed such a large portion of their resources to one player, and suggested there were better ways to build a team. Sports owners have been so greedy since then that I’m just glad to see a player I like get PAID. Don’t forget that Illitch recently asked the state to redirect money from Detroit’s schools to building him a new hockey arena. Any dollar that goes from him to Verlander is A-OK in my book.

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  3. Eric Cioe says:

    I love how he just turns his follow through into his dugout walk in the last gif.

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  4. too much says:

    I love Verlander and am a Tigers fan, but I think it’s too risky to commit that much money to a pitcher. Even very durable pitchers suddenly break down. Based on his age, I think something just a tiny bit more than Hernandez’s deal would have been fair. Something like 26 million/year instead of the 25 million that Hernandez will get annually. Verlander is better than Hernandez, but so much for that hometown discount.

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    • Sleight of Hand Pro says:

      he DID get just a tiny bit more than hernandez…..

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    • Johnny Come Lately says:

      “Based on his age, I think something just a tiny bit more than Hernandez’s deal would have been fair. ”

      And that’s exactly what he got.

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      • too much says:

        3 million more per year instead of my proposed 1 million extra per year. Which comes out to 10 million over 5 years; not insignificant at all.

        Actually, I wouldn’t give a 5-6 WAR pitcher that contract considering a win costs about 5-5.5 million let alone a batter!

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        • commenter #1 says:

          On the scale we’re discussing, it’s as close to insignificant as makes no difference

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        • too much says:

          Is their an article on fangraphs comparing the big money (100 million+) pitching contracts versus comparable hitting contracts? I’m curious if the position player investment worked out better. Mr. Ilitch can afford to pay Verlander that much and he’s probably hungry for a title sinc he’s getting up there in age.

          Would other fangraphs readers pay that annual salary for a pitcher of his caliber? I think something like 23 million or so for Verlander would be the most I would go for 5 extra years, depending on how much insurance would cover and how much it costs.

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        • piratesbreak500 says:

          THing is, cost of WAR is going up, since teams have more money from TV deals. I don’t think we can hold 5-5.5 million as a consistent WAR cost anymore.

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        • Sleight of Hand Pro says:

          its 7/175 vs 7/180…. verlander isnt really getting $3M more per year because he’s getting $20M the next 2 years because its an extension instead of a new contract. on a scale that big, its most definitely under the umbrella of a “tiny bit more”

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  5. Dave says:

    Let’s not forget that he also once summited Kate Upton’s mountains.

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  6. Jake says:

    So does this deal set the market value on arm hair at roughly $.50/hair?

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  7. Neil says:

    I said this in the post about the fastest pitch of 2012, but this at bat against Cabrera and the inning that surrounds it is the most dominant inning of baseball I’ve ever seen. Incredible. I’m getting dinner at Little Caesar’s to do my part. Tiger for life.

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  8. Jay29 says:

    According to the value section of JV’s player page, he’s been worth an average of $31.0 million per year for 2009-2012. The Tigers paid him an average of $10.8 million those four years. EIGHTY MILLION dollar surplus.

    So they’re starting out WAY ahead of the curve here (of course, every team is to some degree when re-signing their own non-FA players). And if he keeps this up a few more years he’ll make up for the likely overpayed years at the back end (though, increased MLB revenue might keep him a bargain for longer).

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    • too much says:

      You don’t pay for past performance. The tigers have no obligation to give money to players for what they did. (See Placido Polanco, Austin Jackson if he leaves before free agency) A lot of players do poorly after their big contracts. (Higginson, Carlos Guillen)

      It’s a very poor way of doing business. Besides, the money that Verlander was getting was guaranteed; the security that he got for the first 80 million dollar contract is invaluable!

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      • Nathaniel Dawson says:

        Not sure I’d agree 100% on this one. I’ve got to believe there’s a certain value for a team in retaining their big stars that have built up a fan following. And also quite possibly in signing a great player to add to your team.

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        • guest says:

          Ok, then you would have been happy with giving out the Pujols and Rodriguez contracts assuming that they didn’t collapse so quickly in the contract? (not exactly pertinent for Pujols, but it doesn’t look too promising right now)

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      • Poopski says:

        Yeah they should squeeze every dollar out of their hometown talent, that’ll attract players to come there.

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  9. DodgersKingsoftheGalaxy says:

    Leyland won’t even use um on short rest in the postseason, he flops in the World Series, odds are this is another flop massive contract.

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  10. Josh says:

    Off-topic: I did a quick calculation from the chart, and Pedro was worth 10 WAR per 200 innings pitched ages 27-29. At his peak, Koufax was only worth about 6.2 WAR/200IP. That’s how ridiculously good Pedro was at his peak.

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    • Nathaniel Dawson says:

      Jeff must have mistitled the article. Apparently, this was supposed to be about Pedro.

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    • Baltar says:

      That chart should have shown those pitchers’ performance in their age 32-36 seasons, since Verlander’s extension was for $140M for those 5 years of his career. How many accumulated 25-30 WAR or better in those 5 years? Not many, I’d bet.

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  11. Gary says:

    Hey Jeff, great article.

    Do you think it’s possible that teams are more willing to shell out big bucks to starters because the continued deterioration of the offensive environment? If a GM realizes that while a pitcher may lose “stuff” every year, that loss is mitigated by hitters slowly getting worse as we leave the steroid era. It at least seems like a market inefficiency worth exploring.

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    • Jay29 says:

      Verlander’s contract is essentially a representation of how much more valuable he is than a replacement level pitcher. If all the hitters suddenly hit like AAA players, Verlander will still be compared to the replacement level pitcher. So I don’t think it has anything to do with a evolving run environment.

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  12. Number Six Organization says:

    Hilarious to me that Dave Cameron prefers Adam Wainwright and 70 million to Verlander. But fails to mention Felix Hernandez..

    What a honk.

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  13. Patrick says:

    It is no surprise that multiple guys on the top of the age 30-37 WAR list have been linked with PEDs.

    There is little doubt that the 30s productivity of all three of these young stud pitchers will almost certainly not equal Greg Maddux or Juice Clemens.

    It has been shown that changeups age better than curveballs. How good will Verlander be when he’s at 32 topping out at 95 with a weak curve? Hard to say.

    He will be great for the next two years I’d bet.

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  14. Patrick says:

    If you want to be great like Maddux in your 30s you need to be able to dominate at average fastball speeds like his 89mph. Felix has shown that he can do it at 92. Can Verlander do it in the low 90s? Remains to be seen.

    Clemens throwing 95 in his late 30s? Would he have done it without PEDs? Nolan Ryan did, but not too many others.

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    • Balthazar says:

      Agreed. “Me, hit that? HAH!” A vicious pitch sequence, try just making contact wit any of them.

      Contracts like this to _any_ player are crazy, especially to a pitcher. No one is cautioned by A-Rod’s time in the shop on the Yankees’ dime, though. Others will have similar experiences. If anyone has a shot at providing value for the length of the deal, I’d put Verlander at the head of the cue, though. He’s a durable horse. That much money X years for a _catcher_, though, Posey? Crazy . . . . He may be worth it in any year he’s healthy, but counting on him not to miss time in all that is pure fantasy.

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    • Eric Cioe says:

      Verlander got probably 500 of the 730 or so outs last year in ABs where he probably averaged 92 on his fastball. He only dials up when necessary. He can pitch at 92. He’s just got an extra 6-10 mph, depending on the day, in reserve. You get the sense that he’s not really trying that hard until a dude gets on base.

      Also it’s not a given that he’s going to lose much velocity. Schilling and Johnson, neither of whom were suspected of PED use, maintained their velocity well into their 30s. AJ Burnett still has most of what he had, too. And given the shape Verlander keeps himself in, compared to someone like Lincecum, I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s still averaging 92+ and touching 96 at the end of this contract. If you think that’s not enough for him, you must not have ever seen him pitch.

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    • Tim says:

      When did Ryan become exempt from PED suspicion? I’m generally against arguing PED use from circumstantial evidence, but on career path and post-career path Ryan has to be a prime candidate.

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      • Ace says:

        Exactly. Steroids weren’t invented in the 90s. Guarantee that plenty of baseball players before Canseco were juicing.

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  15. Bradley Evans says:

    I think J.R. Richard had a stroke, a large cerebral infarction.

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  16. NitPickety says:

    Why are Oswalt and Santana on the “how they aged” table? Neither of them has hit their age 36 season yet (nor has Webb, but in his case I suppose it’s safe to assume he’s WARed all the WAR he’s gonna WAR).

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  17. Victor says:

    Cabrera’s bat flip in the last GIF is gold.

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  18. Balthazar says:

    “Justin Verlander Summits Mt. Fortune.” [Just a tweak amongst friends.]

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    • Eric Cioe says:

      ‘Money Mountain’ has a nice alliterative touch to it, plus the m’s in ‘summit’ … why are we discussing this?

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