deGrom repeats, JV edges Cole for Cy honors

November 14th, 2019

It was a night for second helpings -- a serving long-awaited for one Cooperstown-caliber arm and not-so-long-awaited for the Cy Young’s rare repeat customer.

The Astros’ Justin Verlander and the Mets’ Jacob deGrom are the 2019 winners of the American League and National League Cy Young Awards, as announced on Wednesday night on MLB Network by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. And these two-time winners of baseball’s biggest pitching prize took two very different paths to this point.

Past Cy Young Award winners: AL | NL

For Verlander, who won the 2011 AL Cy Young with the Tigers, this award is well-deserved relief after three second-place finishes in 2012, 2016 and 2018. This time, he had to edge out his own equally deserving teammate, Gerrit Cole, to win one of the more interesting Cy races in recent memory.

“It’s just truly incredible,” Verlander said on the MLB Network announcement show. “2011 was just a magical season. I didn’t have to grind through much at that point in time. A lot has changed since then, personally and professionally. It just makes it that much sweeter. Having come so close a couple other times, all that this means, it’s just such an incredible feeling.”

Verlander received 17 first-place votes to Cole’s 13, giving him 171 voting points to Cole’s 159. It was just the fifth time overall -- and the first time in the AL -- that two teammates finished 1-2 in the Cy Young voting. What’s more, their former teammate, Charlie Morton of the Rays, finished third.

For deGrom, this is another victory sans victories. While Verlander won 21 games in 2019 alone, that was deGrom’s combined total for 2018 and ’19. But deGrom’s unmistakable excellence in the areas of the stat line over which he had more control earned him the honor of becoming just the 11th pitcher to win this award in back-to-back years.

“I said it was a dream to win one,” deGrom said. “But to win back to back? Honestly, I’m kind of speechless right now.”

deGrom did it with the exact same voting point total as 2018, once again appearing at the top of 29 of 30 ballots, with one second-place vote. The Dodgers’ Hyun-Jin Ryu received the other first-place vote and finished in second place ahead of the Nationals’ Max Scherzer. The Cy Young results were revealed on the penultimate night of the BBWAA announcements. Awards week wraps with Thursday’s 6 p.m. ET unveiling of the AL and NL MVP honors on MLB Network.

Here’s a look at why the Cy suited Verlander and deGrom:

Verlander: Worth the wait

Verlander’s losses to David Price in ’12 and Rick Porcello in ‘16 were particularly, agonizingly close, as he finished within five voting points both times and actually received six more first-place votes than Porcello.

But at age 36, Verlander finally got over the hump again. He put together one of the best seasons of his Hall of Fame-caliber career.

• Verlander led the Majors in wins (21), innings (223), batting average against (.171), WHIP (0.80), Win Probability added (5.6) and was tied for first in starts (34). He also tied the Rangers’ Mike Minor for the lead in Baseball Reference’s WAR calculation (7.8).

• His WHIP was the second lowest by a qualified pitcher in the past 100 years, bested only by Pedro Martínez’s 0.74 mark in 2000. The batting average against was the seventh-lowest since 1900.

Verlander threw his third career no-hitter on Sept. 1 in Toronto, making him just the sixth pitcher in history with at least three no-nos. The others: Nolan Ryan (seven), Sandy Koufax (four), Bob Feller (three), Larry Corcoran (three) and Cy Young himself (three).

• He reached 300 strikeouts (exactly 300, in fact) for the first time in his career. And he reached 3,000 career K’s in his final start of the season, becoming the fifth-quickest pitcher to reach that milestone, in terms of innings.

• In 73 1/3 innings against playoff teams, Verlander posted a 2.20 ERA in the regular season.

All of the above would have made for a slam-dunk Cy case in most seasons. But Cole bested him in ERA (2.50) while throwing 212 1/3 innings and striking out a Major League-high 326 batters with a Major League-best 185 adjusted ERA+. Verlander and Cole had identical opponent OPS marks (.579), which was tops in the Majors.

In the end, Verlander threw 10 2/3 more innings with the exact same number of runs allowed (66), and that’s what swayed enough voters.

Now Verlander, who became the fourth Astros pitcher to win this award (joining Mike Scott, Roger Clemens and Dallas Keuchel) has yet another selling point in his Cooperstown casebook.

“You don’t want to think about it or focus on it, because you don’t want the work ethic or the fire to go out,” he said. “But sometimes in moments like this, you’ve just got to take a second and appreciate it.”

deGrom: Not as smooth, but still sweet

The 31-year-old deGrom was not necessarily viewed as the runaway favorite in ’19 that he was in ’18, when he posted one of the lowest ERAs in modern history (1.70). But in a deep and complex field of NL candidates, he asserted himself and was the only pitcher named on every ballot.

• Over his final 23 starts, covering 152 innings, deGrom had a 1.89 ERA and .538 opponents’ OPS.

• All told, he led the NL in strikeouts (255), ranked second in ERA (2.43), second in WHIP (0.97), third in innings (204) and third in ERA+ (167). He also led the National League in both the Baseball Reference (7.9) and Fangraphs (7.0) valuations of pitcher WAR.

• Among the five NL pitchers to reach the 200-inning threshold, deGrom’s ERA was the best by 0.82 -- a wide margin.

• He became the only qualifying starter in the NL in 2018-19 with two straight seasons with a sub-1.00 WHIP.

About that won-loss record (11-8): It was once again no indication of how well deGrom pitched. deGrom had nine outings in which he went at least six innings, gave up no more than two earned runs and the Mets lost. It was the second straight year he led the Majors in that particular situation (it happened 11 times in 2018).

But 2019 differed from 2018 in a significant way, in that deGrom began the season by allowing 23 earned runs in his first 52 innings. He had to fight his way back to his standing atop the Senior Circuit pitching platform.

“This game will humble you quick,” he said. “Last year, I didn’t really seem to have any [difficulty]. It was smooth sailing all year. But this year, I was able to recover from that little rough patch and figure out a way to get it done and go out there and fix some mechanical things.”

Now, deGrom finds himself on a list of back-to-back Cy Young winners that includes Sandy Koufax (1965-66), Denny McLain (1968-69), Jim Palmer (1975-76), Roger Clemens (1986-87 and 1997-98), Greg Maddux (1992-95), Pedro Martínez (1999-2000), Randy Johnson (1999-2002), Tim Lincecum (2008-09), Clayton Kershaw (2013-14) and Max Scherzer (2016-17).

National League results

  1. , NYM: 29 (1st place), 1 (2nd place) -- 207 points
  2. , LAD: 1 (1st), 10 (2nd), 8 (3rd), 7 (4th), 3 (5th) -- 88
  3. , WSH: 8 (2nd), 8 (3rd), 6 (4th), 4 (5th) -- 72
  4. , STL: 5 (2nd), 11 (3rd), 6 (4th), 4 (5th) -- 69
  5. , WSH: 6 (2nd), 1 (3rd), 9 (4th), 8 (5th) -- 53
  6. , ATL: 1 (3rd), 6 (5th) -- 9
  7. , CIN: 4 (5th) -- 4
  8. , LAD: 1 (3rd) -- 3
    T-9) , LAD: 1 (4th) -- 2
    T-9) , SD -- 1 (4th) -- 2
  9. , WSH -- 1 (5th) -- 1

American League results

  1. , HOU: 17 (1st place), 13 (2nd place) -- 171 points
  2. , HOU: 13 (1st), 17 (2nd) -- 159
  3. , TB: 18 (3rd), 10 (4th), 1 (5th) -- 75
  4. , CLE: 11 (3rd), 13 (4th), 5 (5th) -- 64
  5. , TEX: 3 (4th), 12 (5th) -- 18
    T-6) , BOS: 3 (4th), 2 (5th) -- 8
    T-6) , CWS: 8 (5th) -- 8
  6. , TEX: 1 (3rd), 1 (4th), 2 (5th) -- 7