It’s unanimous! Verlander, Alcantara sweep Cy vote

November 16th, 2022

Their arms were outliers. Justin Verlander’s surgically repaired, 39-year-old right arm was responsible for a season that was both statistically and scientifically significant. Sandy Alcantara’s previously underrated, remarkably durable right arm delivered a workload that, by modern standards, rated as an unusual extreme.

So it came as no surprise Wednesday night on MLB Network when the Baseball Writers’ Association of America rewarded Verlander’s incredible comeback and Alcantara’s old-school output by naming them the unanimous Cy Young Award winners in the American League and National League, respectively.

Verlander named Cy Young winner
• Every Cy Young Award winner

That made them outliers of a different sort. This marked just the second time in history that both winners were unanimous. The only other was in the Year of the Pitcher, when the AL’s Denny McLain and the NL’s Bob Gibson captured all the votes in 1968.

On the MLB Network broadcast, a clearly touched Verlander, who won this award for the third time, reflected on what this achievement meant to him after overcoming surgery at a later stage of his career.

Alcantara named Cy Young winner
• Full voting results

“I think [you]appreciate everything more at the back third or quarter of your career,” he said with a laugh. “Just everything that led up to this. When you’re young and things just go your way, you don’t understand what it takes to make things go your way. All of a sudden, things go in the opposite direction. That happened to me a couple times in my career, and it makes you appreciate things more, because you know how much hard work goes on to get to this point.”

Alcantara — the third Dominican-born pitcher to win a Cy Young (joining Bartolo Colon and three-time winner Pedro Martínez) — more succinctly put to words the ascension he made this season.

“I made it,” he said with a smile. “I made it, I made it.”

Each winner’s innings load was meaningful in a different way.

Because of an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, Verlander — a winner of this honor in 2011 with the Tigers and 2019 with the Astros — entered 2022 having pitched only six innings since that ’19 win. He is now the first pitcher ever to win the Cy Young after pitching zero innings the previous year. The previous low had been Fernando Valenzuela’s 17 2/3 innings in 1980 before winning the Cy while still a rookie qualifier in 1981.

The 27-year-old Alcantara, meanwhile, is the Marlins’ first Cy Young winner after logging an MLB-high 228 2/3 innings — the highest total for any pitcher since David Price’s 230 in 2016 and the highest in the NL since Clayton Kershaw’s 232 2/3 in 2015. Alcantara’s six complete games were the most in MLB in six years and more than any other team in MLB threw in 2022.

Alcantara on winning Cy Young
As Alcantara asserted himself among the game’s elite aces, Verlander further polished his already clear Hall of Fame case. Only 10 others have won the Cy three times:

Roger Clemens: 7
Randy Johnson: 5
Steve Carlton: 4
Greg Maddux: 4
Clayton Kershaw: 3
Sandy Koufax: 3
Pedro Martínez: 3
Jim Palmer: 3
Max Scherzer: 3
Tom Seaver: 3

• Winners of multiple major year-end awards

Verlander also became the fifth-oldest pitcher to win the Cy Young (per age on the last day of the regular season):

2004 Clemens: 42 years, 60 days
1978 Gaylord Perry: 40 years, 17 days
1959 Early Wynn: 39 years, 267 days
2001 Clemens: 39 years, 64 days
2022 Verlander: 39 years, 227 days

Verlander on third Cy Young win

• Ranking every Cy Young Award season

Age proved nothing but a number for Verlander, who had an AL-best 18 wins and a Major League-best 1.75 ERA, WHIP (0.83), opponents’ OPS (.497) and opponents’ batting average (.186). The ERA was the lowest by an AL pitcher since Pedro Martinez’s 1.74 mark in 2000, and Verlander’s 220 ERA+ was the best of his career, topping his Cy Young/MVP season with the Tigers in 2011 (172).

No pitcher his age or older had ever returned from Tommy John surgery to be even a dependable starter, let alone a Cy Young-winning one. Verlander’s patience with the rehab process paid off in a big way.

“Once I picked up a ball, even the first day I picked up a ball, it felt remarkably normal,” he said. “And I didn’t know how abnormal that was until one of my coaches who had been with me and done a lot of Tommy John rehabs was talking to me about how shocked he was at just how natural it looked, me throwing the first time. From there, my rehab, I couldn’t have scripted it any better.”

• Every franchise’s BBWAA awards winners

It will pay off even more in Verlander’s second round of free agency in as many years. Verlander, who did his part to seal the Astros’ second title by earning his first personal World Series victory, is the 10th pitcher to win a Cy Young heading into free agency, with five of the previous nine (including last year’s AL winner, Robbie Ray) changing teams. The big-market Dodgers, Yankees and Mets are among Verlander’s rumored suitors.

• Verlander is rare Cy Young-winning free agent

Verlander has long been a workhorse. But no one was a bigger workhorse in 2022 than Alcantara. His anomaly of a season saw him toss eight or more innings in 14 of his 32 starts and amass 23 2/3 more innings than his next-closest competitor (the Phillies’ Aaron Nola). He said completing games is important to him.

“Always, always,” he said. “That’s why I get so mad when they take me out in the eighth.”

There was quality to go with the quantity. Alcantara’s ERA (2.28), expected ERA (2.92), strikeouts (207) and quality starts (24) were all top five in the NL.

Interestingly, Alcantara stepped up his arsenal in the late innings, giving him the presence of a starting ace and bullpen anchor, all in one. His 98.6 mph four-seamer in the eighth inning or later was the eighth-highest average in MLB in those innings, his 98.6 mph sinker tied for fourth-highest, his 90.5 mph sider was sixth-highest and his 92.5 mph changeup was highest.

Alcantara’s strong track record with the Marlins (3.48 ERA and 122 ERA+ in 78 starts from 2018-21) had only attracted limited national attention prior to ’22. But the young man with an old-school acceptance of his responsibility to pitch deep into games took his performance to yet another level this year.

And now, alongside a likely Cooperstown-bound Verlander, he’s the best possible kind of outlier.