- FanGraphs Baseball - http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs -

Justin Verlander Wins 2011 AL Cy Young

The BBWAA confirmed what most already expected Tuesday by tabbing Justin Verlander as the 2011 American League Cy Young award winner. Verlander was absolutely dominant in 2011, pacing both circuits with 24 wins, a 2.40 ERA, and an astonishing 251 IP. Verlander similarly dominated ballots by receiving all 28 first-place votes for a perfect total of 196 points, according to the BBWAA’s tabulation system. Rounding out the top-five were Jered Weaver, James Shields, CC Sabathia, and in a bit of a head-scratcher, Verlander’s teammate and closer Jose Valverde.

There are just shy of a million ways to quantify just how incredible Verlander’s season was, so just let me highlight a few of those most noticeable.

Verlander’s 24 wins marked the second time he had led his league in victories (he led the league in starts both seasons), and were the most by a major league pitcher since Randy Johnson posted an identical 24-5 mark with the Diamondbacks in 2002. They were also the most in the AL since Bob Welch won a staggering 27 games for the A’s in 1990. Verlander’s 29 decisions accounted for 85.3 percent of his starts, well above the major league mark of 70.9 percent.

The decision percentage is certainly a huge testament to the quality with which Verlander pitches, but more so serves notice to his durability. The 2011 season marked the fifth-straight season Verlander had tossed 200-plus innings, and the sixth-straight in which he’d made 30 or more starts. In fact, the Goochland, Va. native has worked six or more innings in his last 42 starts, dating back to a 6-2 loss at the hands of the New York Yankees that saw Verlander work only five frames on Aug. 17, 2010. This ties Verlander with the remarkable Roy Halladay for 10th longest such streak.

In a similar vein, and with a hat tip to Aaron Gleeman of NBC Sports’ Hardball Talk (who in turn tipped his hat to me), Verlander holds the longest streak of all time when it comes to games with 100-plus pitches. That streak is currently active at 52 games, which absolutely obliterates the nearest competition from the Big Unit, whom held separate streaks at 37 and 38.

So we get it, Verlander is remarkably durable. Now lets have a look at what comes along for the ride on this workhorse.

There’s a number of reasons why Verlander was so difficult to hit in 2011. For one, Verlander has three above-average offerings which he can use to work off his fastball, which registered an average of at least 95-miles-per-hour for the third-straight season, and fifth of Verlander’s seven big league campaigns. For as good as his fastball is, the lanky Old Dominion grad didn’t rely on it too heavily, only tossing it 57 percent of the time in 2011, a career low. Verlander supplemented with his changeup and curveball, tossing them a combined 34.6 percent of the time while mixing in a slide piece every now and then as well. In that sense, a tip of the hat not only goes to Verlander, but also to Alex Avila and any other battery mate Justin had for mixing up the arsenal a bit. After all, a high-90s fastball has to be much harder to hit when it’s not seen as often.

Also, Verlander held left-handed hitters to a stunning .174/.233/.271 line this season, which was good, or perhaps more accurately bad for a .504 OPS. Again, we’re talking about opposite-handed hitters flailing away at Drew Butera-like stat lines. For some context, left-handed hitters combined to hit righties at a .262/.331/.412 clip. In other words, the average left-handed hitter in the major leagues versus right handed pitchers was Johnny Damon, and Verlander made them collectively look like corncobs, you guys. Right-handed hitters had better, but still well below league-average luck against Verlander as well, as they combined for a .215/.253/.364 triple-slash, which was still nearly 100 points below the league average .695 mark. All told, Verlander allowed a .555 OPS to opposing hitters, while the league average mark stood at .720, a stunning 165 point difference.

The BBWAA also passed along the following tidbits:
Verlander is the ninth unanimous winner in AL history, and fourth Detroit Tiger.
Verlander is the first AL winner who had also won AL Rookie of the Year honors.

Obviously, Verlander was in a league all to himself this season.