Justin Verlander goes for his 21st win on Friday, as the Detroit Tigers host the Chicago White Sox. Presuming he starts every fifth day, mark Verlander down for six more starts in 2011. That puts some notable milestones within his grasp.
Could Verlander be the first pitcher in 21 years to win 25 games in a season? In 1990, Bob Welch went 27-6 for the A’s on his way to the Cy Young Award. Since then, two pitchers reached 24 wins (John Smoltz in 1996 and Randy Johnson in 2002), but no one made it to a quarter-century. In fact, only two AL pitchers have even reached 23 wins (Pedro Martinez in 1999 and Barry Zito in 2003).
Most Wins by MLB Pitcher
Single-Season, DH Era (since 1973)
If he reaches 25 wins, Verlander would be just the sixth pitcher to do so since the designated hitter arrived in 1973. In the past 30 years, Welch’s season stands alone.
On Friday, Verlander could be the first Tigers pitcher to reach 21 wins since Jack Morris in 1985. You have to go back to Mickey Lolich in 1971 to find their last 25-game winner.
With 218 strikeouts, Verlander also has a shot at a rare 25-win, 250-strikeout season. In the past 65 seasons, only four pitchers have pulled that off: Steve Carlton (1972), Lolich (1971), Denny McLain (1968) and Sandy Koufax (three times).
Verlander has put himself in this position thanks to wins in each of his past eight starts. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Brandon Webb in 2008 was the last pitcher to win nine straight, and the last Tigers pitcher to do so was McLain in 1968.
With these lofty numbers potentially looming, MVP buzz now accompanies each start. Appearing only every fifth day, starting pitchers are debatable MVP candidates. However, in terms of value to his team, it’s hard to ignore what Verlander has done.
Consider the following from Elias: Verlander is 14-3 in games following a Detroit loss. In the past 30 years, only two pitchers have earned 15 victories following a team loss in a single season: Felix Hernandez (15 in 2009) and Roger Clemens (15 in 1992).
Verlander has already reached the historical minimum win total for a starter to win the award. In 1943, Spud Chandler won 20 games on his way to the MVP. The eight starters to win it since have all won at least 22 games.
Even with more wins, Verlander’s ERA might not be low enough. Four of the last five starting pitchers to win an MVP finished with an ERA below 2.00. The exception was Roger Clemens (24-4, 2.48 ERA) for the 1986 Red Sox.