The 2018 season was a banner one for Justin Verlander. Though he couldn't maintain the Bob Gibson-like performance of his first two months (12 starts, 1.11 ERA), the 35-year-old Astros right-hander notched his 200th career win on Aug. 19 and struck out a career-high 290 batters, leading the American League for the fifth time.
He just missed winning that elusive second Cy Young Award, finishing a very close second (to Blake Snell) for the third time in his career, but he might have punched his ticket to Cooperstown.
For those who care about pitcher win totals -- a decreasing demographic, even among Hall of Fame voters -- Verlander reaching 200 wins is significant, since the only starting pitchers elected to the Hall with fewer are short-career types like Sandy Koufax and several high-peak pitchers whose careers predate World War II. With 206 wins, Verlander is ahead of the 203 amassed by the late Roy Halladay, who will be inducted this summer.
Being within sight of 3,000 strikeouts is significant as well, since 14 of the 16 pitchers to reach that milestone, which is to say everybody except self-sabotaging current candidates Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling, are already inducted. What's more, Verlander's JAWS (the average of his career WAR and seven-year peak WAR, using Baseball-Reference.com's version of the stat) improved from 50.0 to 54.6, rocketing him past eight enshrined starters and suggesting that the 61.5 standard of the 65 enshrinees (including Halladay and the freshly elected Mike Mussina) is still within reach thanks to his mid-30s rebound.
Which players could boost their Hall of Fame candidacies the most in 2019? Based upon both traditional and advanced statistics, here's a closer look at seven players (three position players and four pitchers), each listed alphabetically within their respective groups. Note that I'm forgoing the likes of Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols and the just-retired Ichiro Suzuki, all of whom have statistical accomplishments that will make them easy choices down the road.