Pitching Dominance: Justin Verlander’s and Clayton Kershaw’s Historic Seasons
While Matt Kemp came up short in his bid for the Triple Crown this season, two pitchers completed the pitching Triple Crown. Both Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw led their leagues in wins, ERA, and strikeouts. However, like the hitting Triple Crown, the pitching Triple Crown has a stat that does a poor job at measuring pitching performance; the win. One need only look at Felix Hernandez’s 2010 season or Russ Ortiz’s 2003 season. Since wins are such a poor measure of pitching performance (not to say ERA and Ks are perfect but at least they are far more dependent on the pitcher), let’s replace wins with WHIP. Then the question becomes whether Verlander and Kershaw achieved this version of the pitching Triple Crown and who has claimed that title in the past. Looking at the AL/NL era, let’s see what the numbers say:
|1908||Christy Mathewson (2)||NYG||1.43||0.827||259|
|1913||Walter Johnson (2)||WSH||1.14||0.780||243|
|1916||Pete Alexander (2)||PHI||1.55||0.959||167|
|1918||Walter Johnson (3)||WSH||1.27||0.954||162|
|1919||Walter Johnson (4)||WSH||1.49||0.985||147|
|1924||Walter Johnson (5)||WSH||2.72||1.116||158|
|1928||Dazzy Vance (2)||BRO||2.09||1.063||200|
|1931||Lefty Grove (2)||PHA||2.06||1.077||175|
|1965||Sandy Koufax (2)||LAD||2.04||0.855||382|
|1973||Tom Seaver (2)||NYM||2.08||0.976||251|
|2000||Pedro Martinez (2)||BOS||1.74||0.737||284|
|2001||Randy Johnson (2)||ARI||2.49||1.009||372|
|2002||Pedro Martinez (3)||BOS||2.26||0.923||239|
|2006||Johan Santana (2)||MIN||2.77||0.997||245|
*Bold for numbers that led all Major League Baseball
Not only have Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw pitched fantastically this season, they have done something rather rare. Only two other times has a season seen a pitching Triple Crown winner and (prepare Tim Kurkjian voice) the last that happen was 1924. It is also the first time that baseball had two Triple Crown pitchers but did not have one achieve the Major League Triple Crown.
This list also testifies to how great Walter Johnson pitched. He leads all pitchers in winning this Triple Crown. Along with the five Triple Crowns, he has three Major League Triple Crowns. Pedro Martinez takes second place with three Triple Crowns and Sandy Koufax is second in Major League Triple Crowns with two.
Most of the names that make up this list would not surprise baseball fans. However, there is one name that came out of the blue (at least to me) on the list:
’86 Mike Scott
This name shocked me and probably because I only heard in his name while he sat in the dugout. In watching Game 6 of the 1986 NLCS, you can hear the announcers talking about how the Mets needed to win this game to avoid Mike Scott in Game 7. So who is this mystery pitcher?
Mike Scott made his Major League debut with the Mets in 1979 and the Mets traded him to the Astros in 1982. During that period, you could consider Scott a below replacement level player. Here are his numbers during that period:
In fact, in the 1984 season Mike Scott starting 29 games for the Astros put up a WAR of -2.2. So what changed for Scott to become the most dominant pitcher in 1986?
In the offseason before the 1985 season, Mike Scott came under the tutelage of Roger Craig. Roger Craig invented the split-finger fastball and was pitching coach of the Detroit Tigers in 1984. Many view his teaching of the splitter to many on the Tigers as an important aspect of their World Series run. That success got him the job as manager of the San Francisco Giants in 1985.
During that off-season Mike Scott learned the splitter. He scrapped his slider and change-up and became a fastball-splitter pitcher. In 1985 he pitched the best season of his career up to that point. A year later, he put together the most dominant pitching season of the 1980s. He pitched a no-hitter against the Giants (Roger Craig’s team ironically) to clinch the NL West title. While the Astros lost the NLCS to the Mets in six, their two wins came on the back of two fantastic starts by Scott. He outpitched Doc Gooden in a 1-0 Game 1 victory by posting a five-hit shutout. In Game 4, he pitched a three-hit, one-run, complete game. In his two starts Mike Scott has a 0.50 ERA, a 0.500 WHIP, 19 Ks, and 1 BB. His Game 1 performance got a Game Score of 90 and his Game 4 start got a score of 82. One can see, especially with Game 6 going 16 innings, the Mets could not afford to go against Scott in Game 7.
As his career went on, while he never reached the level he did in ’86, he remained an All-Star caliber pitcher in ’87 and ’88 along with having a good season in ’89. However, by ’90, the wear and tear of the splitter had led to consistent injuries. He retired in ’91.
One should not ignore the potential controversy with Mike Scott’s ascendancy. Many players and baseball insiders thought that Mike Scott scuffed the ball and that gave him the insane movement on his splitter. While that idea does persist, there has not been any conclusive evidence to back up the claims. This might be why we do not talk about Mike Scott’s season in the same way we discuss the other great pitching performances of all-time.
Both Verlander and Kershaw have given us dominant pitching performances this season, and, like Mike Scott, they have put themselves in a class with Walter Johnson, Sandy Koufax, Pedro Martinez and other pitching legends of the game. Many called 2011 the Year of the Pitcher and we have two who epitomized why this season deserved that title.