Justin Verlander was the runaway winner of the 2011 AL Cy Young Award. The Detroit flamethrower earned all 28 first place votes after leading the bigs in wins, games started, innings pitched, strikeouts, ERA+, WHIP, and H/9. He also paced the junior circuit in winning percentage and ERA, the latter giving him the AL's pitching version of the Triple Crown. And did I mention he tossed a no-hitter in May against a hard-hitting Toronto offense?It was a truly dominant season by the Tigers' ace and merits serious MVP consideration, but we'll have to wait until Friday to see if he becomes the first starting pitcher to take home league Most Valuable Player honors since Roger Clemens did it for the Bosox 25 years ago.
Jered Weaver played runner up in the AL ERA race (lost to Verlander by .01) as well as the Cy Young race, although his second straight impressive season is nothing to sneeze at. The 2010 major league strikeout leader saw his whiff rates regress to career levels this year, but he posted career bests in virtually every other category and seems to have really blossomed into a top tier starter.
"Big Game" James Shields recovered from a brutal 2010 campaign, one in which no major league pitcher allowed more hits or earned runs, to enjoy a marvelous return to form in 2011. He led both leagues with 11 complete games, meaning he went the distance every third start or so, while also putting up career bests across the board.
A slimmed down C.C. Sabathia was his usual steady self at the front of the Yankees' thin rotation, falling just short of 20 wins but enjoying another stellar season in New York before opting out of his hefty contract there. A cause for concern is his rising WHIP that has increased in each of his three years in the Bronx, but otherwise he's as reliable as they come and, in my opinion, the Yanks' most indispensable player on a roster loaded with All-Stars.
Detroit closer Jose Valverde rounded out the top five on the strength of a perfect season, 49 for 49 in save opportunities, at the end of the Tigers' pen. I don't think he deserved a higher finish than C.J. Wilson and Dan Haren, or even the immortal Mariano Rivera (numbers six through eight), but voters seemed to be swayed by gaudy save totals (see Francisco Rodriguez and Brad Lidge). Josh Beckett finished ninth for Boston in a resurgence that rivaled that of Shields, and Toronto southpaw Ricky Romero closed out the top ten thanks to a nifty 2.92 ERA despite facing the AL Beast's Big Three in roughly 40 percent of his starts. RR Cool Jay made huge strides his past two seasons and is the undisputed ace north of the border.
Last but not least we have David Robertson, Rivera's setup man and an All-Star who quickly stepped in for an ineffective Rafael Soriano to build the crucial eighth inning bridge to Mariano. His 1.08 ERA and 100 punchouts in 66 and 2/3 innings speak for themselves.
Tomorrow the managers of the year will be announced, and I'm thinking Joe Maddon and Tony LaRussa deserve them for helping lead their teams to historic comebacks down the stretch.