In the middle of the season, this race was between two horses: Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers and Jered Weaver of the Los Angeles Angels. In the two and a half months since though….things changed.
Midseason winner: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
1) Justin Verlander, Tigers (45 points, nine first place votes)
2) CC Sabathia, Yankees (34 points)
3) Jered Weaver, Angels (22 points)
4) Dan Haren, Angels (16 points)
5) CJ Wilson, Rangers (10 points)
6) James Shields, Rays (4 points)
7) Felix Hernandez, Mariners (2 points)
8) David Price, Rays (2 points)
This one wasn’t much of a surprise. In addition to being a high level MVP candidate, Justin Verlander was the best pitcher in the American League this year. He won the American League’s triple crown in pitching, leading the league in strikeouts, wins and ERA, as well as innings pitched. He won five more games than anyone else in the league (not that I care about wins, but I digress). He threw four complete games, including a no hitter. Plain and simple, this was Verlander’s year, both in the narrative and in reality.
CC Sabathia of the Yankees would have won the award in any other year, though. He finished second to Verlander in strikeouts, wins and innings pitched, and his 3.00 ERA is nothing to sneeze at. What actually set Sabathia apart from Verlander was the home runs allowed, with CC allowing seven fewer than Verlander on the season. In fact, when you put everything into a blender…Sabathia had a lower FIP and xFIP in comparison to Verlander, and was worth more fWAR (7.1 to Verlander’s 7.0). But the narrative was just too strong. You can’t underestimate the win sometimes.
Angels teammates Jered Weaver and Dan Haren both had great seasons for a second place club. Despite Weaver having a much lower ERA, Haren’s FIP and xFIP were lower, and he ended up racking up more fWAR on the season. The two had comparable strikeout and home run rates, while Haren had a vastly superior walk ratio. But again, the standard stats end up ruling the world. Weaver had two more wins and an ERA that was more than half a run better than Haren’s. We can talk about progession in the baseball community as much as we want to, but the barriers are still too high to overcome sometimes.
CJ Wilson of the Rangers, who is now the top free agent pitcher on the market, had an impressive year to gain his notoriety this offseason. He had a good 2.94 ERA with great peripherals across the board….but they just couldn’t match up to any of the top four pitchers ahead of him. James Shields of the Rays had a great bounceback year with 11 complete games, a season removed from a 5.18 ERA. His 2.82 ERA was a huge improvement on that, as Shields managed to cut down his major opponent in being effective, his home run rate. Reigning Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez of the Mariners didn’t have the sparkling ERA this year, but pitched roughly the same as he did last season. But with a dominant force in the field, and a higher ERA, he wasn’t expected to contend for the award this year. And finally, there’s Shields’ teammate in Tampa Bay, David Price. Price actually pitched better in 2011 than he did in 2010, but because of crappy luck, he no longer had the stellar ERA, and as a result, his support for the award went out the window.