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Why Justin Verlander will win the 2022 American League Cy Young Award

Paul Conlon
Justin Verlander #35 of the Houston Astros pitches in the first inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Minute Maid Park on October 04, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)
Justin Verlander #35 of the Houston Astros pitches in the first inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Minute Maid Park on October 04, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images) /
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Will Verlander win the 2022 AL CY Young Award? Yes. Yes, he will.

While the Houston Astros might be on their way to their fourth World Series appearance since 2017, another story line does not quite seem to get the attention it deserves.

As Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander turned in his last outing of the regular season, a 10-strikeout gem through five innings against the Phillies in which he allowed no hits and one walk, the score remains to be settled—will the 39-year-old veteran win the 2022 AL Cy Young?

The answer is emphatically yes. Here’s why.

Verlander, MLB’s active wins leader with 244 career regular season victories, missed several starts on the injured list, and did not finish the season as a 20-game-winner. But, neither did any other starter in the American League. Come November when MLB’s award winners are declared, Verlander’s 18-4 campaign should be more than enough to earn the majority of votes for the AL Cy Young Award.

Of all active major league pitchers this season, Verlander stands above the rest, having held opposing teams to a 1.75 earned run average. Only one pitcher in Astros’ history, Nolan Ryan, earned a lower ERA, 1.69, than Verlander’s with Ryan’s 1981 campaign.

Let that sink in—for every starting pitcher in Astros franchise history with at least 149 innings pitched on the season, only Verlander and Ryan finished a season with a 1.75 ERA or less. That’s dominance—Cy Young dominance.

Moreover, Verlander’s ’22 campaign provided several other significant metrics. For instance, Verlander finished this season tied for the 15th best wins above replacement (WAR) rating in comparison to every other starter to ever don an Astros uniform. Moreover, the nine-time All-Star’s 18 wins, which lead the AL this year, closely trail the Astros’ single-season record of 22 wins by a pitcher, accomplished by Mike Hampton in 1999.

And while 18 wins might not sound mind-blowing, Verlander achieved the fourth best winning percentage in Astros history with his performance this season. In other words, in Verlander’s 28 starts this year, he earned a win in 81 percent of his opportunities—an efficiency rating leading the AL. Only five former Astros ever achieved better single-season winning percentages than Verlander’s ’22 campaign: Mike Hampton, Charlie Morton, Roy Oswalt, Roger Clemens, and Mark Portugal.

In the history of Astros baseball, Verlander has proven to be the best single-season pitcher in the category of allowing the least amount of walks and hits per nine innings pitched. In 2019, Verlander allowed just .803 walks and hits per inning pitched—the best mark any Astros starter ever recorded.

With his ’22 campaign, Verlander’s WHIP of .829 leads the AL, and ranks second in Astros history—only to his 2019 performance. This metric also speaks to Verlander’s efficiency and effectiveness.

Furthermore, Verlander was so efficient in the regular season this year that he averaged the sixth least amount of walks among starters in franchise history.

Justin Verlander’s competition for the AL Cy Young Award in 2022

Fans often equate strikeouts with pitching dominance. While Verlander’s 185 strikeouts rank only 10th best in the AL this season, it should be noted that strikeout artists don’t always win Cy Young Awards. And for the nine pitchers in the AL with better strikeout numbers than Verlander this season, none have surrendered less home runs than the Astros ace.

Moreover, only two starters who have better strikeout numbers are ranked to have higher wins above replacement scores than Verlander this season—the White Sox’ Dylan Cease and the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani.

While Cease will receive Cy Young consideration, Verlander outperformed Cease this season by achieving a better ERA, more wins, less losses, more quality starts, a better WHIP, all while the Astros’ ace surrendered only about one-third of the amount of walks that Cease did—advantage: Verlander.

In the case of Ohtani, the Angels’ best starting pitcher this year punched out more batters than Verlander, but finished with an inferior ERA, less wins, more losses, and five fewer quality starts—advantage: Verlander.

Simply put, Ohtani’s incredibly high WAR score this season remains a product of his significantly above average pitching and batting efforts. And while in elite company in some key pitching and hitting categories, Ohtani failed to lead the league in any key pitching category except for strikeouts per nine innings.

One other player stands in the way of Verlander’s third potential career Cy Young Award—Alex Manoah. The Blue Jays’ ace finished the season tied for Verlander with a 5.9 WAR. The 24-year-old right-hander earned just two less victories than Verlander, and achieved a comparable amount of strikeouts, but finished with more losses and a higher ERA than Verlander.

Manoah’s season does prove top-tier and exceptional as he comes close to Verlander’s 1.75 ERA with his 2.24, and close to Verlander’s .83 WHIP with his own of .99. Nevertheless, Verlander proved better, even if just slightly, in nearly every major pitching category—advantage: Verlander.

All-in-all, Verlander’s ’22 campaign proves to be one of the best single-season performances by a starting pitcher in the history of the Astros. Now, time will tell, but the numbers speak to his worthiness—he proves the most deserving for this year’s AL Cy Young Award.

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