Houston Astros pitchers Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander 2019 regular-season contributions face off in a tight race for the AL Cy Young Award. Who will win?
Houston Astros faithful — the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) voters have already cast their submissions for the 2019 Cy Young Award winners. However—though those election results are likely known somewhere by someone—the results have yet to be announced. But this Wednesday, Nov. 13, that will all change.
Two Houston Astros—well, one free agent, Gerrit Cole, and one current Astro, Justin Verlander—are thought to be neck and neck for the coveted prize. The duo represents two of the three official AL Cy Young Award finalists—in addition to Tampa Bay’s Charlie Morton—announced previously by the BBWAA back Nov. 4.
The Cy Young Award is the de facto best pitcher trophy based on an MLB player’s regular-season contributions. When the award began, only one Cy Young recipient was declared annually; however, for a little over half a century, both the American and National Leagues recognize a winner for each season.
Does the prize definitively prove a pitcher is the best? Not necessarily—as the voting process remains subjective. After all, a pitcher’s season represents a body of work featuring many pitching statistics that voters might consider more or less important than others.
Take for instance, Cy Young, whom the award was named after. In his major league career, he lost 315 games. While that might seem like a major blemish, Young’s 22-year major league résumé features something no other player can claim: 511 career wins.
Without a doubt, number of wins at the end of a season can play a key role in influencing voters’ opinions on who the best pitcher may be for a given year. But, with the way opening pitchers and relief specialists are increasingly utilized in this era, wins may not be as relevant for Cy Young Award consideration as they once were. For instance, two seasons ago, Kenley Jansen of the Los Angeles Dodgers finished in fifth place for the National League Cy Young Award after only pitching 68.2 innings and finishing the season 5-0 with a dominant 1.32 ERA.
The election process entails BBWAA members submitting individual ballots with five selections, representing their first through fifth place choices for pitchers deemed most deserving. Here is a breakdown of the crème de la crème of American League pitchers in key statistical categories that might have swayed the decisions of Cy Young voters in 2019.
JV started 34 games for the Houston Astros, a game more than Cole, who missed at least one start due to injury. Verlander led all major league pitchers with 21 wins. Cole stands alone in second place in MLB with 20 wins. The question remains: if Cole made one more start to tie Verlander’s number of games played, could Cole have also tied Verlander with 21 wins? But on the other side of that coin, had Cole started one more contest, he could have lost six games like Verlander, instead of just five.
Among American League pitchers who threw at least 160 innings, Cole leads the pack with a 2.50 ERA over 212.1 innings pitched. Meanwhile, Verlander came in at a close second by turning in a 2.58 ERA over 223 innings. In a distant third, Rays’ starter, Charlie Morton, finished the regular season with a 3.05 ERA in 194.2 innings of work.
However, one caveat concerning Cole’s superior ERA is that Verlander faced exactly thirty more batters in 2019 than Cole. In other words, Cole’s ERA was better, but Verlander had to earn a nearly comparable ERA against a larger sample size than his 2019 teammate.
In a landslide, Gerrit Cole led the majors by throwing 326 strikeouts. In second place, Verlander reached exactly, 300. Both marks represent single-season career highs for punch outs for each 2019 Astro. The next highest major-league strikeout total was achieved by Shane Bieber of Cleveland, who fanned 259.
WHIP, an abbreviation for walks plus hits per innings pitched, represents the average number of baserunners allowed on base for each inning that a player pitches. The lower the WHIP, the more dominant the pitcher, as fewer baserunners per inning equate to fewer runs scored against pitchers, in general.
Of all starting pitchers who threw at least 180 innings in the American League, Verlander allowed
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the fewest baserunners with a 0.80 WHIP. In second place, Gerrit Cole turned in a 0.89 WHIP. Shane Bieber’s 1.05 WHIP and Charlie Morton’s 1.08 WHIP represent third and fourth place AL finishes. Though, as an honorable mention, Zack Greinke, who did not pitch exclusively in the AL in 2019, turned in a 0.98 WHIP over 208.2 innings pitched between the Houston Astros and Diamondbacks.
Verlander walked 42 batters over a larger sample size than Cole, who allowed 48 bases on balls. Meanwhile, Morton comes in at a distant third in allowing walks, having given up 57 on the season.
However, these numbers can be misleading as complete indications of control. For example, Verlander allowed 36 homers to Cole’s 29. Most impressively, Morton allowed only 15 long balls in 33 starts while facing a total of 790 batters in the regular season.
In conclusion, several other factors might have influenced voters. For instance, Verlander threw two complete games, while Cole and Morton threw zero. Additionally, in 2019, four no-hitters were thrown in the majors, and Justin Verlander pitched one of them. While that might seem like enough to get Verlander over the finish line in voters’ minds, Cole has something no other pitcher in 2019 does: Cole’s strikeout rate per nine innings of 13.82 led all of Major League Baseball.
Houston Astros fans — what do you think? Please leave your comments below.