The list of Cy Young Award winners who are former Detroit Tigers pitchers is simply incredible.
Yes, Justin Verlander is now a former Tiger. He joins a group that includes Rick Porcello, David Price and Max Scherzer.
They were all on the same staff at one point, now they are starring in other places.
Verlander is coming off a thrilling season in which he went undefeated down the stretch for the Houston Astros after a trade just before the deadline brought him to Houston. He was the ALCS MVP and finally got a World Series championship. It was just about the only hardware he hadn’t won, being just the second player in history to win all three major awards for players — Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and MVP (Don Newcombe is the other).
Porcello and Price are with the Boston Red Sox, following general manager Dave Dombrowski from Comerica Park to Fenway Park. Porcello won the Cy Young last season, beating out Verlander in the voting despite Verlander’s dominance in first-place votes.
Last year, Scherzer also won his second Cy Young Award, this time as a member of the Washington Nationals.
He made it two in a row by claiming the Cy Young Award last week. He is now one of just 10 pitchers in baseball history to win at least three Cy Young Awards (the other nine are Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Steve Carlton, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Clayton Kershaw, Jim Palmer, Sandy Koufax and Tom Seaver—all but Clemens and Kershaw are in the Hall of Fame).
Scherzer’s first Cy Young came as a member of the Tigers in 2013. In between his first award and the two most recent, he had two years where he finished fifth in Cy Young voting. This is a pretty incredible run that Scherzer is on.
So which season has been his best?
Let’s compare his past five seasons. He made the All-Star team in each of them.
In 2013, Scherzer went 21-3. He started the season with 13 consecutive wins. He led the American League in wins and winning percentage at .875. He posted a 2.90 ERA, 240 strikeouts and a league-leading 0.970 WHIP. His WAR was 6.7 and he had a Wins Above Average of 4.7. Result: Cy Young.
In 2014, Scherzer again led the AL in wins, this time going 18-5. He had a .783 winning percentage and a 3.15 ERA to go along with 252 strikeouts. His WHIP was a little higher at 1.175. His WAR was 6.0 and his Wins Above Average was 4.1. Result: Fifth in Cy Young voting.
In 2015, Scherzer suffered a bit from lack of run support in his first season with Washington. He was 14-12 with a .538 winning percentage despite an ERA of 2.79. He had four complete games, including three shutouts — two of them no-hitters. His WHIP was 0.918, striking out 276. His WAR was 7.1, his WAA was 5.3 and he led the NL in walks-to-strikeouts ratio with a stunning 8.12. Result: Fifth in Cy Young voting.
To me, this illustrates how far baseball has come in regards to analytics and sabermetric stats. A 7.1 WAR, 5.3 WAA to go along with 276 Ks and a 2.79 ERA — and two no-nos — might have won the Cy Young this year — and that season was just two years ago. However, it was a particularly dominant year for NL starters. Jake Arrietta won the award in 2015 with an 8.7 War, ahead of Zack Greinke (19-3 and 9.3 WAR), Clayton Kershaw (7.5 WAR) and Gerrit Cole (19-8, 4.5 WAR). I don’t think there is any question with today’s outlook, Scherzer at least finishes higher than Cole. But what an amazing year for pitchers.
In 2016, Scherzer went 20-7, again leading the league in wins. He led the NL with 228.1 innings and 284 strikeouts, along with a 0.968 WHIP and a 5.07 walks-to-strikeouts ratio. He also led the league with 31 home runs allowed and had a 2.96 ERA. His WAR was 6.2 and WAA 4.4. Result: Cy Young.
He won this one in a landslide, grabbing 25 first-place votes. Jon Lester, Kyle Hendericks, Madison Bumgarner, Clayton Kershaw and Johnny Cueto followed, each with a WAR in the 5s.
In 2017, Scherzer went 16-6 with a 2.51 ERA. He pitched two complete games and led the NL with 268 strikeouts, a 0.902 WHIP and allowing 5.7 hits per nine innings. His WAR was 7.3, the highest of his career, as was his WAA at 5.7.
So which was his best? He struck out 200 in all of them and pitched more than 200 innings in each season. Based on wins and some of the more traditional numbers, it was his Cy Young year in Detroit. Based on WAR, it was this season, but you could make a case for four of his past five seasons being the best. That is a mark of true greatness when someone is so dominant over a five-year period — in both leagues —you can’t be sure which year was his best.