To the absolute surprise of absolutely nobody, Justin Verlander is American League's Cy Young Award winner in 2011. Also to absolutely nobody's surprise, it was a landslide:
obody started more games than Verlander, or pitched more innings. Nobody struck out more batters, or more batters per nine innings. Nobody won more games, or won a higher percentage of decisions.
Justin Verlander won 24 games this year. Since 1980, there have been 17 pitcher-seasons that included at least 23 wins, including Steve Carlton twice. Only two of those seasons did not result in a Cy Young award ... and both of those pitchers -- Danny Jackson in 1988 and Curt Schilling in 2002 -- finished second in the balloting, behind another pitcher who won at least 23 games.
If Justin Verlander hadn't won the Cy Young Award in 2011, the Baseball District Attorney could have filed charges against the Baseball Writers Association of America for, if nothing else, a Crime Against Precedent.
Would I have voted for Justin Verlander? Yeah, I probably would have. He did all those things, you know? He did post a 2.40 ERA, and he did win 24 games (as we account such things). He did pitch a no-hitter, and nearly another.
I probably would have voted for Justin Verlander, too.
I'm just not completely convinced he was the American League's best pitcher this year.
CC Sabathia pitched almost as many innings as Verlander.
Sabathia struck out nearly as many batters as Verlander, and walked nearly as few.
Sabathia gave up 17 home runs, while Verlander gave up 24.
There were 20 American League pitchers who threw at least 200 innings this season. According to Baseball Prospectus, Sabathia faced significantly better hitters than Verlander faced, which shouldn't come as a surprise considering the respective divisions in which their teams play.
The difference between Verlander's 2.40 ERA and Sabathia's 3.00 ERA essentially comes down to one thing (or two things, if you prefer): Verlander gave up an American League-best .236 batting average on balls in play, while Sabathia gave up a .312 average on balls in play.
That's obviously a massive difference, and utterly impossible to forecast before this season or sustain after this season.
Verlander entered 2011 with a .298 career BABiP, which is a perfectly normal figure.
Sabathia entered 2011 with a .291 career BABiP, also a perfectly normal figure.
Considering the facts that a) Verlander did not become a fundamentally different pitcher in 2011, and b) no pitcher can sustain a sub-.250 BABiP for long, we may logically assume -- indeed, we must assume -- that Verlander's was ... yes, exceptionally lucky in 2011.
That's not a dirty word, lucky. It does happen.
John Smoltz? Great pitcher. Hall of Fame pitcher, probably. But when he went 24-8 in 1996, he was lucky.
Roger Clemens? Great pitcher. Hall of Fame pitcher, probably. Maybe. Someday. But when he went 24-4 in 1986, he was lucky.
In this century, Verlander's .236 BABiP is the third-lowest that we've seen.