Every pitcher in baseball will dream of returning from Tommy John surgery like Justin Verlander.
The Houston Astros ace, a free agent this offseason, on Tuesday won the 2022 American League Cy Young Award, the latest accolade recognizing the right-hander’s historic comeback after one of baseball’s most feared surgeries.
Verlander and the NL Cy Young winner, Miami Marlins ace Sandy Alcantara, both unanimously won the award. It is the second time in MLB history that both awards have been unanimous, the other being 1968 (Bob Gibson and Denny McLain).
It also marks Verlander’s third time winning the MLB Best Pitching Award, having won it (plus MVP) in 2011 with the Detroit Tigers and in 2019 with the Astros.
Verlander missed the entire 2021 season after going under the knife in September 2020, but returned in time for the start of this season. From start to finish, he didn’t just look like the top MLB hitters they’ve known all too well for the past 15 years. He was better.
He led the entire MLB with a 1.75 ERA, the best mark by a pitcher at least 39 years old since the actual Cy Young, while striking out 185 in 175 innings. His 0.829 WHIP also led MLB, and his 18 wins were the highest total in the AL.
The other half of Verlander’s dream season was winning his second World Series ring and earning his first victory in a World Series game, in his fifth appearance in the Fall Classic. Few things haunt a pitcher like injury woes and postseason woes, and Verlander managed to beat them both in one year.
The only question now is where Verlander will play next year. He just hit free agency for the first time in his career and shouldn’t be short of suitors.
Justin Verlander joins exclusive company with 3rd Cy Young win
Any statistic list intended to determine the greatest baseball players of all time will have its mistakes and stretches, but the list of three-time Cy Young winners is pretty solid. And now Verlander is part of it.
The list of pitchers to receive at least three Cy Youngs is now Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Steve Carlton, Greg Maddux, Sandy Koufax, Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer, Pedro Martinez, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Verlander.
Except for Clemens (for obvious reasons), every pitcher on that list is a Hall of Famer or will become a Hall of Famer sometime in the next 10 years.
Sandy Alcantara wins NL Cy Young Award
Verlander may have been baseball’s leading pitcher per inning this year, but no pitcher turned in more great innings than Alcantara.
The right-hander took home his first career Cy Young Award on the NL side, winning the award unanimously from finalists Max Fried and Julio Urias. The honor crowns a season that wouldn’t have been out of place 20 years ago, but certainly stands out now.
Eight MLB pitchers pitched at least 200 innings this season, the former standard for what a full season’s work meant for a healthy pitcher. None of them threw more than 205, except for Alcantara, who had 228.1. That means Aaron Nola, who had second most innings with 205, would have needed more than three more starts to tie Alcantara, who also posted six complete games and pitched at least seven innings in 22 of his 32 starts.
Alcantara wasn’t just an inning eater either. His 2.28 ERA was not far off the NL’s best mark (Julio Urias, 2.16).
Alcantara did it all with an overwhelming fastball average of 98 mph and a change that terrorized southpaw hitters all year. He pounded the offensive zone—he ranked in the top 10 in MLB in zone percentage and percentage of pitches swung into the zone—and was among MLB’s best at inducing grounders, though he could also strike out:
That kind of season, with several complete games and avoiding strikeouts for groundballs, is something many think is a lost art in baseball these days, but Alcantara keeps it alive.