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Active Pitchers Who Are Sure Thing Future Hall Of Famers

Walter Johnson sets the standard for starting pitcher WAR (look for his posters on Amazon)

In any given major league season, there are typically around 35-40 active players who will make baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Some of these are rookies getting their first taste of the majors. Some are young superstars in their prime.  Some are players who aren’t done quite yet but have already punched their ticket to Cooperstown when they retire.

Previously, we explored the hitters who have already punched their ticket to Cooperstown. Now, let’s talk about the starting pitchers who are active in the majors now who would make Baseball’s Hall of Fame if they retired today.

We’ll talk about the key rookie cards of these players and the investment prospects of these cards.

Just a note on WAR. When WAR is referenced in this article, we are using Baseball Reference WAR, not Fangraphs version.

Also, as a reminder, a player becomes eligible for the election to the Hall of Fame 5 years after they retire, and remains eligible for 10 years or until they are named on less than 5% of ballots. The Hall of Fame voting results are announced in January, and the induction ceremony is in July.

What makes a Hall of Fame starting pitcher? So who are the active pitchers who are sure thing future Hall of Famers? And what are their rookie cards?

What makes a HOF starting pitcher?

By raw numbers, what a Hall of Fame starting pitcher looks like has changed a lot over the years. When you look at a more advanced statistic like WAR, however, we can normalize across eras and get a pretty good idea.

There are 66 starting pitchers in Baseball’s Hall of Fame. The average WAR for these pitchers is 73.0, although that’s a bit skewed by early baseball all-time greats Walter Johnson (165.1) and Cy Young (163.6).

I think the discussion for the Hall of Fame for a starting pitcher starts right around 60 WAR (Andy Pettitte finished with 60.2). Of the 66 pitchers with over 60 career WAR, only 15 are not in the Hall of Fame. Several of those 14 will make the Hall of Fame eventually.

Of the 33 pitchers with more than that 73.0 average career WAR, all but seven are already in the Hall of Fame.

The exceptions? The only retired players not already enshrined are Roger Clemens (139.2) whose performance-enhancing drug troubles have kept him out, Curt Schilling (79.5), and 19th century pitcher Jim McCormick (76.2).

The other four? They are all active pitchers and pitched during the 2023 season. They are the subject of our article today.

Bob Feller is a Hall of Fame Pitcher worth collecting

Justin Verlander

Age: 40 Career WAR: 80.9

In 2020, Verlander was already 37 years old and already worth 72.2 WAR for his career. He also had a blown-out elbow. Nobody would have blamed him for retiring.

Instead, he had surgery and rehabbed the entire 2021 season. When he came back for the 2022 season, he was as good as ever, going 18-4 with a 1.75 ERA and winning his third career Cy Young Award.

After signing a record contract for 2023, he went 13-8 with a 3.22 ERA. He was traded in mid-season back to the Houston Astros.

For his career to date, Justin Verlander has a 257-141 record with a 3.22 ERA (132 ERA+). He was worth 80.9 WAR in his career, ranked 25th all-time among starting pitchers.

Verlander also has all the hardware – a Rookie of the Year, 3 Cy Young Awards, and an MVP award, to punch his ticket to Cooperstown whenever he and his rebuilt elbow decide to hang it up.

Shop for Justin Verlander rookie cards on eBay

The Top Justin Verlander rookie cards

Verlander’s rookie cards appear in 2005 products, including 2005 Bowman and 2005 Bowman Chrome. The 2005 Bowman has only been graded 339 times by PSA with a scant 24 PSA 10’s. If you can find one in that grade, expect to pay around $500 for it.

The 2005 Bowman Chrome not only adds premium Chrome, but also an autograph. It has been graded by PSA only 186 times. In a PSA 10 slab, these fetch about $1,000, if you can find one.

Thankfully, Verlander has several different rookie cards at different price points to fit most budgets.

Shop for Justin Verlander rookie cards on eBay

CardTotal PSA PopRecent Sale PopRecent Sale Price
2005 Bowman Justin Verlander #174339PSA 10 =24PSA 10 = $500
2005 Bowman Chrome Justin Verlander Auto #331186PSA 10 = 66PSA 10 = $950-1,100

Clayton Kershaw

Age: 35 Career WAR: 79.9

Clayton Kershaw is the youngest pitcher on our list at 35 years old. Injuries have limited his time on the mound the last few years, but not his effectiveness.

Currently recovering from shoulder surgery, Kershaw is eyeing a mid-season return to the mound. The quiet months while he’s not pitching may be a good opportunity to grab some of his cards as values may cool slightly.

Kershaw’s Hall of Fame resume is impressive. He has a 210-92 record for his career, a .695 winning percentage that is the highest among active pitchers and ranked fifth all-time.

His career ERA is 2.48, good for a staggering 157 ERA+. He’s won three Cy Young awards, an MVP award, 5 ERA titles, and has been an All-Star 10 times.

Shop for Clayton Kershaw rookie cards on eBay

The top Clayton Kershaw rookie cards

Clayton Kershaw’s rookie cards appear in 2006 products, including the autographed 2006 Bowman Chrome and 2006 Bowman Heritage.  The autographed card is the crown jewel, but it’s not particularly affordable at around $3,000 in a PSA 10 slab.

The Heritage offers a far more affordable (and old-school) offering, with a PSA 10 going for only about $150.

Shop for Clayton Kershaw rookie cards on eBay

CardTotal PSA PopRecent Sale PopRecent Sale Price
2006 Bowman Chrome Clayton Kershaw AUTO #DP84225PSA 10 = 114PSA 10 = $3,000
2006 Bowman Heritage Prospects Clayton Kershaw #BHP85434PSA 10 = 72PSA 10 = $150

Zack Greinke

Age: 40 Career WAR: 77.5

As mentioned above, the Johnson/Young inflated average WAR of a Hall of Fame pitcher is 73.0.

Greinke’s career WAR is currently at 77.5. Yet some media types, fans, and collectors still question Greinke’s Hall of Fame prospects. Sure, he’s never won 20 games, but he’s won a Cy Young award, 6 Gold Gloves, and two ERA crowns.

Greinke had a tough year in 2023, and as of this writing is undecided on whether he’ll pitch in 2024. Whether he takes the mound again or hangs up his spikes, Greinke can be proud of his career line, which currently stands at 225-156 with a 3.49 ERA (121 ERA+).

Greinke is a six-time All-Star, six-time Gold Glove winner, and has won 2 ERA titles and a Cy Young Award.

Shop for Zack Greinke rookie cards on eBay

The top Zack Greinke rookie cards

Zack Greinke has his rookie cards in 2002 products, specifically 2002 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects and 2002 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects Chrome.

Both offer shockingly low PSA populations for a modern rookie card of a future Hall of Famer.

The 2002 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects card has never been graded a 10 by PSA. Even in a PSA 9, they sell for $300.

The 2002 Bowman Chrome version is the more premium offering but has a larger (but still small) total PSA population. In a PSA 9 recent comps have also been around $300.

Shop for Zack Greinke rookie cards on eBay

CardTotal PSA PopRecent Sale PopRecent Sale Price
2002 Bowman Draft Zack Greinke118PSA 9 = 27PSA 9 = $300
2002 Bowman Chrome Draft Zack Greinke #BDP6452PSA 9 = 174PSA 9 = $300

Max Scherzer

Age: 39 Career WAR: 75.0

Max Scherzer is another 3-time Cy Young Award winner who saw his career WAR pass the 73 WAR average of Hall of Fame pitchers in 2023.

After another solid season, Scherzer finds himself with a career record of 214-108 with an ERA of 3.15, good for an ERA+ of 134. Scherzer is an 8-time All-Star who has led his league in wins four times.

Shop for Max Scherzer rookie cards on eBay

The top Max Scherzer rookie cards

Max Scherzer has his rookie cards in 2008 products, including 2008 Bowman Chrome Draft. Even in a PSA 10 slab, the cards sell for a very reasonable $150 or so.

Scherzer does have a variety of other rookie cards in 2008, including in Topps, Topps Heritage, and Bowman. The variety offers a card to fit most budgets and a lot to chase if you’re a Scherzer completest.

Shop for Max Scherzer rookie cards on eBay

CardTotal PSA PopRecent Sale PopRecent Sale Price
2008 Bowman Chrome Draft Max Scherzer #BDP33623PSA 10 = 147PSA 10 = $150
Active Pitchers Who are Sure Thing Future Hall Of Famers

A word on pitcher card values

Pitchers, including starting pitchers, seem to suffer from a bit of bias compared to position players when it comes to card values.

This seems to persist across all points of their career and after. From prospect and rookie cards, to established stars, and to the all-time greats that played long ago.

Compare prices on cards of Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb to Walter Johnson or Cy Young, or cards of Bob Feller to his hitting contemporaries to see an example of this.

For young players, this may make sense, since pitchers are more susceptible to injury. But for players who are retiring or approaching the end of their careers, it is less obvious why. Maybe it’s the fact that a starter only pitches in 30 or so games a year. Maybe offense just rules from a collecting perspective.

You’ll see the effect with the key rookie cards of the sure-fire Hall of Fame starting pitchers who are active today, in terms of both card value and PSA population.

Maybe that will change in the future. Of note, I’ve seen both Kershaw and Scherzer in TV commercials over the last year or two.  

Whatever it is, before you go feeling too bad for starting pitchers, go check out relief pitcher values!

Investment thoughts

So, which of these players and cards has the most upside? I think you can’t go wrong on most of the cards, but Scherzer’s cards seem to lag behind the others on this list in terms of value, despite similar Hall of Fame credentials.  

A few other thoughts:

  • Players from this era have a LOT of rookie card options…you can easily go upscale and look at Refactors, Press Plates, and the like. Or you can look at alternate rookie cards at lower price points, such as Bowman Heritage. And don’t forget about pre-rookie cards from companies like TriStar, Donruss, and Upper Deck.
  • Once these players retire, expect a softening of their card values 2-4 years after they retire, but then a bit of a bump when they are elected to the Hall of Fame.
  • It is looking like all four of these pitchers intend to pitch in 2024, meaning they will all have opportunities to add to their career totals. With 3 of the 4 coming off solid seasons, those career WAR totals could continue to creep upwards.

Final thoughts on Active Pitchers that are sure thing future Hall Of Famers

While pitchers don’t often get the attention (and card values) that their position player peers, they do offer an opportunity to buy into the career of a sure-fire Hall of Famer at reasonable prices with some upside. There are lots of options and lots of price points, so there’s a card for every buyer!

What’s your take on the active pitchers who are Sure Thing Future Hall of Famers?

Do you agree they’re all future Hall of Famers? Who’s your favorite investment target among them? Tell us all about it at card_lines on Twitter.

Mike D.

Mike D

Mike D. has collected cards for over 35 years, since he bought his first pack of Topps at the corner store in 1987. His fandom,  collecting interests, and contributions to Cardlines center around baseball in general and the Baseball Hall of Fame specifically.

Mike's collecting focus is centered on graded cards, mostly rookie cards, of Hall of Famers and future Hall of Famers. Lately, he's been enjoying dabbling in graded minor league cards. A collector/investor with a "buy and hold" approach, Mike takes the long-term view with his collection.
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