Justin Verlander has a pretty solid case for the Hall of Fame: 2011 AL MVP, 2011 AL Cy Young, 6x All-Star, 2011 Triple Crown, 2006 AL Rookie of the Year, 2x Wins leader, 1x ERA leader, 4x Strikeouts leader, and 2 no-hitters. With a few more productive seasons, Verlander will firmly be on the fence of a Hall of Fame starting pitcher. What would’ve helped his case, however, immensely would be 3 Cy Young awards. Only 9 other people in the history of the game have at least 3 Cy Youngs and only one active pitcher does (Clayton Kershaw).
In 2009, Verlander came in a distant third place to winner Zack Greinke and runner-up Felix Hernandez for the Cy Young. In 2011, he won the pitching Triple Crown–leading the AL in wins, strikeouts, and ERA on his way to his first–and so far, only–Cy Young award. Not only that, he cruised to an AL MVP title, having 8 more first-place votes than another guy. He won the Cy Young over Jered Weaver, James Shields, and CC Sabathia. He won the MVP over Jacoby Ellsbury, Jose Bautista, ex-teammate Curtis Granderson, and teammate Miguel Cabrera. That was his best year of his career.
The following year, 2012, Verlander nearly repeated his statistics and was aiming for back-to-back Cy Youngs. In the voting that year, Verlander narrowly lost to future teammate David Price 153 points to 149 points in what was the closest voting in history. Price secured 14 first-place votes to Verlander’s 13. One more first place vote and Justin Verlander would have been entering the 2013 season with a pair of Cy Youngs and an MVP award in the past two seasons alone.
In 2013, Verlander didn’t garner a single vote from any of the writers for the AL Cy Young. You would think that would have been worrisome for a Tigers team leaning on its ace. Not to worry. Verlander’s teammates, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez, both placed in the top four balloting for the Cy Young. Scherzer won the AL Cy Young that year and Sanchez’s AL ERA title helped him to a fourth-place finish.
That’s when 2014 hit. Verlander for the first time in a while was not pitching like the Justin Verlander we know. His sub-par performance lingered into 2015 after he returned from his first trip to the disabled list in his career. In the second half of 2015, though, we saw something. Verlander was, according to fWAR, the best pitcher in the American League in the second half of 2015. He registered a 2.80 ERA that inspired hope for the Tigers organization.
Believing they had their ace back, the Tigers made a couple of free agent splashes. However, Verlander started off 2016 very slow. After a particular Indians loss, Verlander tweeted, “I’m going to dominate soon! I’m close. Doubt me if you want…We’ll see”. Most people took this with a grain of salt, but you were badly mistaken if you didn’t take Verlander’s word for it. Verlander went 8-3 with a 1.96 ERA in the second half, best in the AL and sparking talk of a Cy Young for the rejuvenated Justin Verlander.
On November 16, Justin Verlander was robbed of a Cy Young.
By BBWAA writers. Especially the two Tampa Bay-affiliated writers who left Justin Verlander, who led the AL in WHIP, strikeouts, and other key statistics, completely off their top-5 ballots. Verlander lost to ex-teammate Rick Porcello 137 points to 132 points, less than the value of a first-place vote in the second closest vote in Cy Young history (after 2012). And incredibly, for the first time in AL Cy Young history, the pitcher with the MOST first-place votes (Verlander with 14) did NOT win the Cy Young award. Rick Porcello finished with 8 first place votes, closer to fourth place finisher Zach Britton (who had 5 first place votes) than to Justin Verlander’s 14. Porcello, overwhelmingly, was the top choice for the SECOND best pitcher in the AL, as he gathered 18 second-place votes compared to Verlander’s two. Corey Kluber gathered the most third-place votes with 12.
Now, if those two Tampa Bay voters had placed Verlander at least in the top three where he belongs, we’d be talking about Verlander’s second Cy Young. Heck, give him one more first place vote in 2012, and we’d be talking about Verlander’s THIRD Cy Young award.
With a combined nine points or about two first-place votes and the two CLOSEST Cy Young voting races in league history, Justin Verlander is not a three-time Cy Young winner. He is instead just the 2011 AL Cy Young winner. Those two voters might believe they just took away one award, but this impacts his legacy and his Hall of Fame ballot. When voters look at his resume, they’re only going to see one Cy Young with three other top-3 finishes. Hopefully they see that Verlander was under the influence of the closest votes in history and realize that Justin Verlander should be a 3x AL Cy Young pitcher and as one of the best pitchers of this generation.