The Case for Justin Verlander for AL Cy Young Award

A Cy Young Award winner gains respect that follows him the balance of his career. A pitcher who wins the coveted award twice is in select company. But if a pitcher wins it three times, he’s in rarified air.

Houston ace Justin Verlander, at 39, is in position to possibly capture a third American League Cy Young Award, which would make him the 11th pitcher to do so. As of July 15, Verlander leads the league in wins (11) and has a miniscule 2.00 ERA in 16 starts.

His first-half efforts have landed JV a spot on the AL All-Star team for a ninth time.

Oddsmakers have Verlander and Tampa Bay’s Shane McClanahan, who was eight years old when the former made his big league debut, as the favorites for the AL Cy Young Award.

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Betting Odds Favor Verlander and McClanahan

Three top sportsbooks view the AL Cy Young Award race this way as we near the All-Star Break:

BetMGM: McClanahan (+250) Verlander (+260), Shohei Ohtani (+800), Gerrit Cole (+850)

BetRivers: Verlander (+250), McClanahan (+260), Gerrit Cole (+800), Shohei Ohtani (+900) 

Caesars: McClanahan (+250) Verlander (+250), Shohei Ohtani (+700), Gerrit Cole (+850)

Why Sportsbooks Should Make Verlander the Favorite

McClanahan has a lower ERA (1.71 as of July 14), but Verlander is pitching deeper into games. So far, JV has 10 games where he’s faced at least 25 batters, while McClanahan has only six.

For the most part, the Rays lefty is pitching to get into the sixth inning. Verlander has pitched into the seventh frame 10 times, while McClanahan has only done it six times. That extra effort by the Houston veteran helps his bullpen rest and be ready to help in other games.

While McClanahan has a higher strikeout rate, and Verlander’s K’s have decreased since coming back from Tommy John surgery, the 39-year old is getting outs the old fashioned way: by using his fielders. The pitchers have nearly identical walk and home run rates.   

Award Can Swing on One Start

The Cy Young race is typically more volatile than the MVP races. That’s because one or two bad (or stellar) outings by a top candidate can swing the balance of the race. Even late in the season a three-inning, five earned run outing can swell an ERA. With wins harder to come by in the modern game, starters are judged mostly by their ERA, FIP, and strikeouts.

A veteran like Verlander should be better at avoiding an “everything-falls-apart” outing that could add a quarter run to his ERA. Verlander has already proven his steadiness: he’s produced 12 quality starts in 16 starts this season. 

A deep look at Verlander’s career shows he saves his best for the last stages of the season. In 80 career regular season starts in September/October, Verlander has a 2.84 ERA and a 46-18 record. Those figures are by far his best for any month. 

Why Odds Favor Verlander

Verlander has the name recognition, and his 2022 story is inspirational. The former AL Most Valuable Player underwent surgery on his famous right shoulder in 2020, and missed all of 2021 after making only one start the previous season. But he’s hardly missed a beat: dominating hitters with a fastball that can still touch 98 miles per hour, and a slider that reaches the plate in the low 90s.

As a younger man, Verlander relied heavily on his raw physical talents. Now as he finishes the trim on a Hall of Fame career and establishes himself as one of the greatest pitchers to ever toe the rubber, he’s a smart pitcher. He knows how to let batters get themselves out. He knows how to locate pitches and manage a game and a workload. No one out-prepares Verlander.

Looking for Strong Finish

Verlander already has more second-place finishes in Cy Young voting than any pitcher (three times, and one could argue he deserved the trophy in each case), he’s pitching himself into position to capture the award a third time, if he can finish off the season strong.*

*As of July 13, the Houston Astros have announced that Verlander is not travelling with the team in order to handle a “family issue.” He is expected to return shortly. The Astros also instituted a six-man rotation in July to ease the strain on Verlander and other starting pitchers. As a result, JV will get a few less starts this season, in anticipation for a long run by Houston in the postseason. 

AP Photo/David J. Phillip

About the Author

Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes has written three books about sports. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball. He enjoys writing, running, and lemon bars. He lives near Lake Michigan with his daughters and usually has an orange cream soda nearby.