It’s essentially a one-year, $25 million pact with a $25 million player option for 2023, so he will be the one deciding whether he wants to return for an additional year after the 2022 campaign.
There were some issues with the contract language that had the deal on hold, but they were resolved this week and Verlander is now officially an Astro, once again.
He will turn 39 in February, and there aren’t many pitchers who have been successful at that age in the major leagues.
But if someone can pull it off is Verlander, whose arm is used to big workloads.
Now, the question remains how his arm will react to being out of action for so long: the last time he pitched in MLB was in September 2020, when he needed Tommy John surgery.
There was a chance he could have been ready for the 2021 stretch run and playoffs, but he wasn’t, and the team preferred to play it safe anyway.
Now, he will have the task of leading Houston’s rotation while pushing 40.
Can he return to being a highly effective and successful pitcher?
Expectations Should Be Tempered Somewhat
Expecting something close to what he did in his last full season, in 2019, would be unfair.
That year, he won the American League Cy Young award over his teammate, Gerrit Cole.
Verlander pitched 223 innings of a 2.58 ERA and a 3.27 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching).
He accumulated 6.4 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and had a 35.4 percent strikeout rate, the highest of his career.
Verlander did all this in his age-36 season, so he is capable of dominating even though he is significantly older than the average starting pitcher.
But a couple of years and a major elbow surgery are now between that season and what could be in store for him in 2022.
It’s fair to wonder what would be some realistic expectations for him in 2022.
That 2.58 ERA seems hard to duplicate, even if we shouldn’t be surprised if he pulled it off.
However, something closer to his career averages would be a much more likely outcome for him next season.
An ERA In The Low-To-Mid 3.00s Seems Likely
During his 17-year tenure in MLB, Verlander has a 3.33 ERA.
That number should be attainable to him, but another question would be how big will his workload be.
It’s difficult to envision the Astros sending him out there for more than 200 innings at 39 years old and with a recent Tommy John surgery under his belt.
Somewhere in the neighborhood of 160 or 170 seems way more appropriate given the circumstances, and it may be enough for him to be the best pitcher on the staff.
Some 2022 Steamer Projections that stand out to me:
Enrique Hernández gets better:
90 R / 25 HR / 75 RBI / 3 SB / .246 AVG
Frank Schwindel (proj for just 130 G):
81 R / 27 HR / 75 RBI / 3 SB / .270 AVG
Justin Verlander's back:
12 W / 3.62 ERA / 1.09 WHIP / 213 K (175 IP)
— Pete B. (@PeteBBaseball) November 25, 2021
It wouldn’t be unprecedented, but seeing a 39-year-old power pitcher have such a strong season would be extremely rare these days, with the way baseball is played.
Houston fans shouldn’t expect more than 180 frames, but Verlander will be good no matter his workload.
He actually wants to pitch for a long time.
#Astros Cy Young winner Justin Verlander on undergoing TJ surgery that will sideline him until 2022: "I'm confident that with a proper rehabilitation program and my unwavering commitment that this surgery will ultimately lengthen my career as opposed to shorten it.''
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) September 19, 2020
The 2022 season will give us a better idea about where he is at physically.