Even with calf discomfort setback, Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander is still AL Cy Young favorite. Let’s dive in.
On Sunday, Justin Verlander threw 60 pitches, 39 for strikes, while surrendering 3 hits, no runs, and punching out six batters. Though the Astros would go on to beat the Orioles in Houston, Verlander did not factor into the decision, leaving the game with calf discomfort after three innings on the mound.
While Verlander’s timetable for return may not yet be clear, the veteran right-hander likely has done enough to earn the third Cy Young Award of his illustrious career.
In 24 starts, the nine-time All-Star has won 16 contests to just three losses. Should Verlander win the ’22 AL Cy Young Award, he will be just the eleventh player in major league history to earn the prestigious honor in three or more separate seasons.
Here are four reasons why I believe Verlander should still lead all other American League pitchers in the eyes of Cy Young voters—even if he doesn’t take the mound again in the 2022 regular season.
1) Quality Starts
Verlander ranks second in the majors in quality starts, meaning a start in which a pitcher allows three earned runs or less over at least six innings of work. Ironically, while Verlander is having the better season overall, his teammate, left-handed pitcher Framber Valdez, leads the majors with 22 quality starts.
What makes Valdez’s 22 quality starts all the more impressive is that he accomplished these in only 24 chances. In effect when given the ball as a starter, Valdez has produced a quality start at a 92-percent clip. Meanwhile, Verlander has produced 19 quality starts in the 24 times he has toed the rubber, again second-best in the majors this season, good for a quality start rate of 79 percent.
Sure—if Verlander were not to pitch again due to calf discomfort, Valdez holds an outside chance of earning the 2022 AL Cy Young Award, but Valdez would have to win nearly every contest and lower his already low ERA of 2.65. So far this season, in four more innings of work than Verlander, Valdez has allowed 16 more hits, 12 fewer strikeouts, and has walked 30 more batters.
Verlander’s rank: tied for 2nd in AL, tied for 2nd in MLB
At present, Verlander stands head and shoulders over other AL pitchers with his 16 wins on the season. His teammate Valdez has 13 wins on the year, but an ERA .81 higher than Verlander’s. Behind Valdez, four pitchers in the AL possess 12 victories, the Yankee’s Jameson Taillon, the White Sox’ Dylan Cease, the Blue Jays’ Alek Manoah, and Houston’s José Urquidy.
While it remains possible that no pitcher may win 20 games this season in AL, the good news is that the only one likely to do it is Verlander—should he pitch a steady stream of starts in the Astros’ remaining 33 regular season games.
Verlander’s rank: 1st in AL, tied for 1st in MLB
Verlander is on an island all by himself—he is the only pitcher in the majors with at least 67 innings of work and an ERA as low as 1.84. In effect, no other MLB pitcher has come even close to his low ERA until other pitchers’ sample sizes of innings pitched are dramatically reduced.
Verlanders rank: 1st in AL, 1st in MLB
4) Innings Pitched
While earned run averages impress, this late into the season the best pitchers show themselves not just with a low ERA, but with a low ERA over a large amount of innings pitched. And when it comes to excellence displayed over a large sample size, Verlander left action Sunday against the Orioles ranking sixth in the AL in innings pitched up to this point into the season. Verlander stands alone as the only pitcher in the AL—and all of MLB, for that matter—who has pitched at least 100 innings while also holding a sub-2.00 ERA.
Verlander’s rank: tied for 6th in AL, tied for 15th in MLB
The good news for Verlander—especially in light of still recent Tommy John surgery and successful rehabilitation—is that the calf discomfort is not arm-related, and with so little of the regular season remaining, the MLB active wins leader has made enough headway to show Cy Young voters how dominant he has been this season, even if he no longer is a clear-cut strikeout leader, just like the Verlander of old.
Nevertheless, regardless of when he returns, look for a hungry and motivated 39-year-old Verlander, with eyes set on 300 career wins, another World Series title, and securing his third Cy Young Award.