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MLB Awards: AL Cy Young is a Coronation

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Between 2020 and 2021, Justin Verlander threw six MLB innings. He made his first start of the abbreviated 2020 season before undergoing Tommy John surgery. He missed all of 2021.

Now 39, many felt that Justin Verlander’s career would be in its twilight. Perhaps he could coast for a few seasons, tacking on extra strikeouts and wins as a middle-of-the-rotation arm for the Houston Astros. There would be a few more memories, but the peak was over.

Verlander then pitched 26 innings of 1.73 ERA ball in April. He followed it up with the worst month of his season – a 2.27 ERA across 31.2 innings in May. He ranked 14th in MLB in ERA in his worst month of the season.

Verlander settled to a 2.04 ERA in June. He would go below 2.00 in each of the final three months. He fired a 1.01 ERA in July before posting a 1.93 ERA in August. In September, he wrapped up the season with a 1.17 monthly ERA. All told, he pitched to an absurd 1.75 ERA.

2022 Context

In 2022, there were 130 pitcher months that fit the following criteria: 23 innings pitched and a 2.27 ERA or lower. Verlander accounts for six of these months.

Cy Young candidates in both leagues may have met the criteria once or twice during the season. Julio Urias, Carlos Rodon, Shohei Ohtani, Triston McKenzie, Alek Manoah, Tony Gonsolin, Max Fried, Dylan Cease, and Corbin Burnes spent half of their months in this elite territory. Sandy Alcantara made it four months in a row to begin the season.

Verlander was perfect. He did not have a bad month, and he should be expected to be on stage at the MLB Awards.

Historic Season

Justin Verlander was not the same workhorse as he was earlier in his career. He only pitched 175 innings across 28 starts. He has 12 seasons with more than 200 innings pitched including four seasons that he led the Majors. What he lost in volume, he more than made up for in run prevention.

Verlander cut nearly three-quarters of a run off his previous career-best season ERA. He had the highest ERA+ of his career by 41 points. He had the lowest FIP of his career. His 0.829 WHIP fell just short of his extraordinary 2019 WHIP. He tied his career marks in lowest HR/9 and H/9.

Being the best pitcher in MLB is one thing. Verlander’s season is one of just 17 with as many innings to induce an ERA+ of 220 or higher. Since 1920, the only new additions to this group are Bob Gibson, Dwight Gooden, Greg Maddux (twice), Roger Clemens (twice), Pedro Martinez (twice), Zack Greinke, and Verlander.

Perhaps even more impressively, Verlander’s 0.829 WHIP ranks 10th ever among pitchers with 175 innings pitched. In the last 100 years, only 1995 Maddux, 2000 Martinez, and 2019 Verlander had superior WHIPs.

The Best of the Rest

Other pitchers had excellent seasons. Cease led the AL in bWAR with Ohtani edging out Verlander for second place. Ohtani struck out 11.8 batters per nine with Gerrit Cole and Cease also striking out at least 11 per nine. Emmanuel Clase had a legendary season for a closer with 42 saves and a 1.36 ERA. Even Verlander’s teammate Framber Valdez set an MLB record for consecutive quality starts in a season.

However, no one compares to Verlander’s magic. His ERA never rose above 2.30. For context, Alcantara will almost certainly win the NL Cy Young, and his season ERA was 2.28. Even at his worst, Verlander had a top-five ERA in the sport.

Return of the King to the MLB Awards

After heading into the season with questions about his longevity, Justin Verlander has wondrous answers. How long can he pitch at this level? At 39, Verlander set a live-ball era ERA record for those 36 and older. Only Cy Young (1907 and 1908) and 2005 Clemens have had a sub-2.00 ERA at 40 years old. This is Verlander’s next milestone.

Justin Verlander will win his third Cy Young, his second with the Houston Astros. Verlander will be the 11th player to win three Cy Young Awards, joining Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw as active players. Only Clemens can match the time between a player’s first Cy Young and his last.

Justin Verlander was an obvious first-ballot Hall of Famer even if he had retired after the 2020 season. He has given fans 175 innings of some of the best pitching MLB has seen in decades and is expected to make it on stage at the MLB Awards, a place where he is no stranger. There may be more left in the tank from this veteran for 2023 and beyond.

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Ryan Potts is an avid football and baseball fan. He covers the NFL and Major League Baseball, focusing on the Baltimore Ravens and Atlanta Braves.