The debate goes on each season in which a pitcher turns in an otherworldly dominant performance. In addition to the Cy Young Award, should they also be considered for the MVP Award?
Pitchers who go into that stratosphere typically are bound for Cooperstown, defined in part by their epic MVP season. It’s rarified air.
The Cy Young Award wasn’t established until 1956, and only 11 pitchers have gone on to win both in the same season. But even prior, it was still a significant deal if a pitcher took home the MVP hardware.
With that in mind, MLB.com takes a look back on each pitcher to win MVP (stats accumulated by Baseball-Reference):
The dual-hardware elite
Clayton Kershaw, LAD, 2014
Notable numbers: 7.7 WAR, 21-3, 1.77 ERA, 197 ERA+, 0.857 WHIP
Kershaw had already won two Cy Young Awards by 2014, but people will look back at that season as the one in which he truly established himself as the greatest pitcher of his generation. Even after missing roughly six starts with a back injury, Kershaw still threw 198 1/3 innings and compiled a 1.77 ERA and a 197 ERA+, both of which were at the time tied for the 15th-best mark in the Modern Era. He also threw a no-hitter against the Rockies on June 18, which by his 102 Game Score, was the third-most dominant nine-inning starting pitching performance in history. Of course, the MVP Award is also subjective to the competitive climate, and Kershaw wasn't hindered by overwhelming competition, comfortably finishing ahead of runner-up Giancarlo Stanton.
Justin Verlander, DET, 2011
Notable numbers: 8.6 WAR, 24-5, 2.40 ERA, 251 IP, 0.920 WHIP
Verlander won the pitching Triple Crown while catapulting his career to the Hall-of-Fame-caliber trajectory it’s been riding ever since. He became the first American League pitcher to accumulate 24 wins and 250 strikeouts while posting an ERA of 2.40 or lower. Verlander also no-hit the Blue Jays on May 7. Verlander received 18 of 28 first-place votes, ahead of runner-up Jacoby Ellsbury, whose Red Sox famously tumbled out of postseason contention by going 7-20 in September.
Dennis Eckersley, OAK, 1992
Notable numbers: 51 SV, 1.91 ERA, 3.6% BB rate
Eckersley put a formal stamp on his late-career renaissance as a reliever, which helped revolutionize the role of the closer. Eck’s 51 saves were the second-most in history at the time, and though his 1.91 ERA was impressive yet far off from the 0.61 mark he posted in ’90, some said at the time that the award was a tribute over his dominance in the role over multiple years. Eckersley received 15 of the 28 first-place votes, edging the Twins’ Kirby Puckett.
Roger Clemens, BOS, 1986
Notable numbers: 8.8 WAR, 24-4, 2.48 ERA, 169 ERA+, 2.81 FIP
At just 23 years old, the legend of the “Rocket” began on April 29, when Clemens struck out 20 Mariners to set an unprecedented Major League record (only Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton had punched out at least 19 in a game since the mound had been lowered). Clemens also won his first 14 decisions that year, helping the Red Sox win the AL pennant. In what was considered one of the most dominant pitching seasons ever at the time, Clemens earned 19 of the 28 first-place votes, edging runner-up Don Mattingly (five) and teammate Jim Rice (four).
Willie Hernandez, DET, 1984
Notable numbers: 1.92 ERA, 204 ERA+, 32 SV, 80 G, 140 1/3 IP
Hernandez navigated the Tigers through their wire-to-wire World Series season as their linchpin. His then-MLB record of 32 straight saves without a blown save might not sound wild by today's standards, but consider that Hernandez pitched more than one inning two-thirds of his save chances while going more than two innings in 18 of those instances. Also consider that none of today’s relievers would ever approach Hernandez’s 140 1/3 innings. Hernandez will always be remembered in Detroit for being on the mound when the Tigers clinched the division, won the pennant and the Fall Classic.
Rollie Fingers, MIL, 1981
Notable numbers: 4.2 WAR, 28 SV, 1.04 ERA, 333 ERA+
Fingers’ unprecedented relief dominance -- at the hearty age of 35 -- is often forgotten among the memorable pitching seasons in history, in part due to his competitive environment. The ’81 season limited Fingers’ Brewers to just 109 games, which when you consider the sample size, makes his 4.2 WAR jump off the page. And Fingers’ 333 ERA+ that year has been eclipsed by only 10 pitchers since (min. 70 innings). Fingers wasn’t the clear choice, and his closest competitor for the honor, future Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, made it one of the tightest votes in history at the time.
Vida Blue, OAK, 1971
Notable numbers: 9.0 WAR, 24-8, 1.82 ERA, 312 IP, 8 SHO
Blue burst onto the scene in ’70, becoming the fourth-youngest pitcher in history to throw a no-hitter, at 21 years and 55 days old, setting the stage for one of the youngest marvels in history. The following season, in ’71, Blue won 24 games in a whopping 39 starts, throwing an MLB-high eight shutouts while posting the fifth-lowest ERA (1.82) among pitchers who’ve thrown at least 300 innings in the Live Ball Era (since 1920). Blue claimed 14 of the 24 first-place votes that year, ahead of Sal Bando and Frank Robinson, and he remains the youngest MVP Award winner ever.
Denny McLain, DET, 1968
Notable numbers: 7.4 WAR, 31-6, 1.96 ERA
Even the most ardent opponents of the wins stat have to give a hat tip to McLain, who is one of just four pitchers in the Live Ball Era (since 1920) -- and the most recent -- to reach the epic 30-wins plateau. McClain won 31 of his 41 outings that year for a Tigers club that went on to win the World Series, where he made three starts. McLain would earn all 20 first-place votes in that year's MVP ballot, making him the only unanimous winner on this list among those who also won the Cy Young.
Bob Gibson, STL, 1968
Notable numbers: 11.2 WAR, 22-9, 1.12 ERA, 0.853 WHIP, 13 SHO
It’s not only been considered the best MVP season by a pitcher -- Gibson’s ’68 campaign has also been touted as the greatest individual season by anyone ever, pitcher or position player. His 1.12 ERA is by far the best single-season ERA in the Live Ball Era, as are his 13 shutouts (which were more than the 11 homers he allowed). Gibson claimed the MVP Award with 14 of the 20 first-place votes, with Pete Rose claiming the other six.
Sandy Koufax, LAD, 1963
Notable numbers: 10.7 WAR, 25-5, 1.88 ERA, 11 SHO, 382 K, 0.875 WHIP
Koufax wooed voters with a 1.88 ERA that, at the time, was the game’s fifth-lowest of the Live Ball Era and the best in 18 years. That year, he won the first of his three Triple Crowns (MLB’s first since ’45) while also leading the Majors in a slew of other statistical categories, including his 11 shutouts, which remain the most ever behind only Gibson in ’68. Koufax also became the first ever unanimous Cy Young Award winner in history, and he claimed 14 first-place votes for MVP, ousting Dick Groat (four votes) and Hank Aaron (one).
Don Newcombe, BRO, 1956
Notable numbers: 27-7, 3.06 ERA, 131 ERA+, 18 CG
Newcombe, who was one of the pioneers of integrated baseball and passed away in 2019, recorded his best season in ‘56, three years after he returned from service in the Korean War and seven after winning the ’49 National League Rookie of the Year Award for Branch Rickey’s Dodgers. Newcombe led the Dodgers all the way to the World Series, where they would fall to Mickey Mantle’s Yankees in an epic seven-game fight. Newcombe earned 66% of the MVP vote in ’56, finishing ahead of teammate Sal Maglie (54%), in a year that the Cy Young Award was introduced.
The pre-Cy Young era
Bobby Shantz, PHA, 1952
Notable numbers: 8.8 WAR, 24-7, 2.48 ERA, 159 ERA+, 279 2/3 IP, 1.048 WHIP
The 5-foot-6 Shantz proved scouts wrong who said he was too short to make it when he claimed the ’52 AL honor after leading the league with 24 wins. Shantz received 16 of the 24 first-place votes, ahead of Yankees Allie Reynolds and Mickey Mantle, who went on to win that year’s World Series, while Shantz’s A’s barely finished above .500.
Jim Konstanty, PHI, 1950
Notable numbers: 4.7 WAR, 74 G, 62 GF, 22 SV, 152 IP, 2.66 ERA, 151 ERA+
Konstanty played 11 years in the big leagues, but at the elite echelon, he was somewhat of a one-hit wonder. In ’50, he pitched in relief an MLB-high 74 games while posting a 16-7 record and earning 22 saves (well before it became an official stat in ’69) for the pennant-winning Phillies. He became the first reliever ever to claim the MVP Award in either league.
Hal Newhouser, DET, 1945
Notable numbers: 11.3 WAR, 25-9, 29 CG, 8 SHO, 1.81 ERA, 195 ERA+, 313 1/3 IP, 2.45 FIP, 212 K
Newhouser won the pitching Triple Crown, while also pacing the Majors in innings, complete games, shutouts, ERA+ and FIP. He even recorded two saves for good measure (though they weren't yet an official stat). In that year’s World Series, which didn’t count toward his MVP vote, the Michigan native won two more games as the Tigers topped the Cubs in seven games.
Hal Newhouser, DET, 1944
Notable numbers: 7.8 WAR, 29-9, 25 CG, 6 SHO, 2.22 ERA, 159 ERA+, 312 1/3 IP
The AL MVP vote in ’44 was among the closest in history, with Newhouser edging teammate Dizzy Trout for the honor -- even though Trout accumulated more first-place votes (10 to Newhouser’s seven). But overall, Newhouser earned 236 points to Trout’s 232, or 70% of the share to Trout’s 69%. Newhouser led the Tigers to an MLB-high 29 wins, which at the time was a club record and has since only been passed by another pitcher on this list, McLain.
Spud Chandler, NYY, 1943
Notable numbers: 6.4 WAR, 20-4, 20 CG, 5 SHO, 1.64 ERA, 198 ERA+, 253 IP, 0.992 WHIP
With the Yankees’ roster depleted due to World War II -- gone were Joe DiMaggio, Red Ruffing, Buddy Hassett, Phil Rizzuto, and Tommy Henrich -- the Bombers needed Chandler more than ever. And the righty delivered. Thanks in part to the talent drain due to the war, Chandler’s 1.64 ERA was the lowest since 1919 and has since been bested only five times. He also led the AL with 20 wins, with his last clinching the pennant.
Mort Cooper, STL, 1942
Notable numbers: 8.2 WAR, 22-7, 22 CG, 10 SHO, 1.78 ERA, 192 ERA+, 278 2/3 IP, 0.987 WHIP
Cooper ousted teammate Enos Slaughter while helping the Cards to their first of three straight World Series titles. He led the Majors in wins, ERA, shutouts, WHIP and FIP. In June, Cooper went on a tear that is in the conversation for most dominant months of all-time. He won each of his seven starts, throwing a complete game in six, while posting a 0.72 ERA. It also didn’t hurt that he was lights-out against the rival Dodgers, going 5-1 against them that year to help the Cards to the NL pennant.
Bucky Walters, CIN, 1939
Notable numbers: 8.2 WAR, 27-11, 2.29 ERA, 31 CG, 170 ERA+, 319 IP
Walters’ pitching numbers were outstanding, but he truly separated himself with his performance at the plate. Walters’ 27 wins in ’39 remain tied for the most in Reds history (in the Modern Era), and he also slashed .325/.357/.433 with 16 RBIs over 131 plate appearances. The performance led sports writers to honor Walters with the “All Around Player” of the Year Award, according to SABR -- over Joe DiMaggio.
Carl Hubbell, NYG, 1936
Notable numbers: 9.7 WAR, 26-6, 25 CG, 2.31 ERA, 169 ERA+, 304 IP
The Hall of Famer Hubbell was hugely credited for helping pull the Giants out from fifth place by as late as July and leading them to the NL pennant, as the club went undefeated in the final 19 games he pitched. Hubbell won his final 16 decisions to finish with a career-high 26 wins, which topped MLB that year, while also pacing the league in ERA. His streak continued against the mighty Yankees in World Series Game 1, but Hubbell’s Giants wound up losing in six games to a club led by Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, and rookie Joe DiMaggio.
Dizzy Dean, STL, 1934
Notable numbers: 8.9 WAR, 30-7, 2.66 ERA, 24 CG, 7 SHO, 311 2/3 IP
Never shy to heckle the competition, Dean pitched his way to one of the best seasons in Cardinals history, while leading the "Gashouse Gang" to a seven-game World Series over the Tigers. Dean set the franchise's Modern Era record in wins, a milestone that still stands, and he's also the last NL pitcher to reach that mark.
Carl Hubbell, NYG, 1933
Notable numbers: 9.0 WAR, 23-12, 22 CG, 10 SHO, 1.66 ERA, 193 ERA+, 308 2/3 IP, 0.982 WHIP
Hubbell jumpstarted his Hall of Fame run in ’33, when he led the heavy underdog Giants to a World Series win while establishing himself as among the best left-handers of his era. The most impressive line in Hubbell’s epic ’33 has to be the 18-inning shutout he threw against the Cardinals on July 2.
Lefty Grove, PHA, 1931
Notable numbers: 10.4 WAR, 31-4, 27 CG, 4 SHO, 2.06 ERA, 217 ERA+, 288 2/3 IP
Grove went on a tear and tied an AL record that still stands today by winning 16 straight games, which helped him win his second straight Triple Crown. In leading the A’s to their third straight AL pennant, Grove took home the AL MVP Award over Yankees legend Lou Gehrig.
Dazzy Vance, BRO, 1924
Notable numbers: 10.5 WAR, 28-6, 30 CG, 2.16 ERA, 174 ERA+, 308 1/3 IP, 262 K
Vance won the Triple Crown and became the first NL pitcher to win an MVP Award, earning the honor over runner-up Rogers Hornsby. His most notable highlight from that season had to be the 15 strikeouts he threw against the Cubs. Interestingly, Vance was not presented a trophy for MVP, according to SABR, but rather, $1,000 in gold coins.
Walter Johnson, WSH, 1924
Notable numbers: 6.8 WAR, 23-7, 20 CG, 6 SHO, 2.72 ERA, 149 ERA+, 277 2/3 IP, 158 K
Of course, much of this relies on his era, but Johnson is the only pitcher to win an MVP Award in the Dead Ball and Live Ball Eras. Johnson’s ’24 season was supposed to be his last, but the Senators finally contended and won their first AL pennant, with Johnson leading the way. It all shaped up for what is still considered one of the most dramatic World Series of all time, when Johnson’s Senators defeated the Giants in seven games.
Walter Johnson, WSH, 1913
Notable numbers: 15.1 WAR, 36-7, 1.14 ERA, 259 ERA+, 29 CG, 11 SHO, 0.780 WHIP, 346 IP, 243 K
Through a statistical lens, Johnson’s ’13 season was the most remarkable in Modern Era history. His 15.1 WAR remains the highest ever, by nearly two wins. And no one has (or ever will) come close to matching his 36 wins from that year.