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Start of something good

Verlander's no-no may foreshadow future greatness

Posted: Tuesday June 19, 2007 11:55AM; Updated: Tuesday June 19, 2007 11:55AM
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No one should be surprised if the no-hitter thrown by Justin Verlander last week is not his last. Can you name another starting pitcher who throws 100 mph in the first inning, never mind the ninth? And if you put together a list of the five best curveballs in the game right now, you better have Verlander's hook from hell somewhere on your ballot.

This wasn't a no-no from Bud Smith, Wilson Alvarez or Tommy Greene, all of whom were younger than the Tigers righthander at the time of their no-hitters. This no-hitter was different because it did not just confirm greatness for one day, but raised expectations of lasting greatness, given Verlander's rare package of extreme velocity, killer breaking ball, athleticism and intellect. You have to go back to a young Pedro Martinez or Dwight Gooden to see a similarly impressive skill set.

Think about this: Verlander has yet to turn 25 and already has won the Rookie of the Year Award, thrown a no-hitter and pitched in the World Series. How rare is that? Only one other pitcher has hit that trifecta since the Rookie of the Year Award was instituted in 1947: Dave Righetti, who won AL rookie honors in 1981, pitched in the '81 Series and threw a no-hitter in '83. Only three others in those 60 years even made good on the no-no/World Series combination before turning 25: Jim Palmer, Bob Moose and Vida Blue.

No-hitters tend to be random events more than predictors of success or even definitions of talent level. Eric Milton has thrown a no-hitter, for instance, but Roger Clemens has not. Verlander's no-no made me wonder just how often an early career no-hitter does foreshadow a Hall of Fame career. The answer? Rarely. There have been 31 no-hitters thrown in the past 50 years by under-25 pitchers. Only three of them were thrown by pitchers who wound up in Cooperstown: Catfish Hunter, Palmer and Dennis Eckersley.

Verlander has a long way to go before he starts working on an induction speech. The guy has yet to make 50 starts in the big leagues. But if you had to pick one under-25 starting pitcher right now who has the best shot at Cooperstown -- the ultimate growth stock in baseball -- Verlander is your guy. Indeed, if you want to pick from all pitchers who haven't yet turned 30 years old, you might still pick Verlander, though Johan Santana, 28, is the safer pick, and Roy Oswalt, 29, is in the discussion.

The older generation of active starting pitchers is abnormally chock full of Hall of Famers: Clemens, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson, John Smoltz and Curt Schilling are all past their 40th birthday. But check the pitchers in their 30s and you won't find any certainties beyond Martinez. Mike Mussina? Roy Halladay? Tim Hudson? Maybe.

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