Earlier in the week, Justin Verlander became only the 14th unanimous Cy Young selection in the 56-year history of the award. However, according to some prognosticators, that might just be the appetizer for the Tigers’ right hander.
Unanimous Cy Young Award Winners
|Johan Santana||2004, 2006|
|Pedro Martinez||1999, 2000|
|Roger Clemens||1986, 1998|
|Greg Maddux||1994, 1995|
|Steve Carlton||1972, 1977|
|Sandy Koufax||1963, 1965, 1966|
When the A.L. MVP is announced next Monday, many believe Verlander will add to his list of already impressive accomplishments by becoming the seventh starter (and 10th pitcher) to win both the Cy Young and MVP in one season. In addition, if the Tigers’ ace is given his second trophy, he’ll join the Brooklyn Dodgers Don Newcombe as the only player to be named Rookie of the Year, Cy Young, and MVP during his career. Throw in a pair of no hitters, and the list of accomplishments achieved by Verlander has Hall of Fame written all over it.
Although his credentials as an MVP candidate are beyond question, there is an element around the game, and within the BBWAA, that seems to think pitchers should not be eligible for the award. At the very least, a commonly held position is that if a pitcher is going to win the MVP, he must clear an extra hurdle. So, does Verlander’s 2011 campaign meet that higher standard?
According to baseball-reference.com’s version of Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Verlander tied Jose Bautista for the league lead at 8.5. However, based on fangraphs’ numbers, Verlander not only trailed Bautista by over one win (8.3 to 7.0), but he also ranked behind CC Sabathia’s league leading total (7.1) for pitchers. The lack of a sabermetric consensus really doesn’t matter because chances are many of the voters won’t be taking WAR into account (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). Nonetheless, it is interesting to take a look out how past Cy Young/MVPs have performed relative to their position player counterparts in terms of WAR.
Cy Young/MVPs vs. Top-WAR Position Player
|MVP/Cy Young||Year||bWAR||Top Position Player – bWAR|
|Roger Clemens*||1986||7.9||Wade Boggs||8.6|
|Vida Blue*||1971||8.3||Roy White||7.4|
|Denny McLain||1968||5.4||Carl Yaztremski||10.1|
|Sandy Koufax||1963||9.6||Willie Mays||10.2|
|Don Newcombe*||1956||4.1||Duke Snider||7.7|
|Justin Verlander||2011||8.5||Jose Bautista||8.5|
*Did not lead pitchers in WAR.
The chart above presents a mixed bag. On two occasions, the victorious starter out rated his position player counterpart significantly, while in two other instances, the position player held a smaller advantage. In the final two cases, however, the position player almost doubled the WAR of the pitcher. Not surprisingly, the Cy Young/MVP in those seasons also featured extreme win totals (31 for Denny McLain in 1968 and 27 for Newcombe in 1956). In fact, all dual award winners finished at least second in wins, and only Bob Gibson had a total lower than 24 (albeit with a miniscule ERA of 1.12).
It’s not a ground breaking conclusion, but in the past, wins have been a major determinant of which Cy Youngs also win the MVP. Another prevailing factor seems to be team success, as all six of the pitchers who won both awards also played for clubs that either won the pennant or a division (the same is also true for the three relievers who won both awards). Considering Verlander’s impressive performance (he won the pitchers’ triple crown and had five more wins than the second place Sabathia), the Tigers’ division title, and the heightened connection between the two perceived by many, there seems to be a perfect storm for the right hander to win both awards. That is, of course, unless George King still has a ballot.