Verlander set to re-enter tight Cy Young race in return from IL

DETROIT, MICHIGAN – SEPTEMBER 14: Justin Verlander #35 of the Houston Astros looks on from the dugout while playing the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on September 14, 2022 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Verlander set to re-enter tight Cy Young race in return from IL

When Justin Verlander exited the game on August 28th after just three innings and 60 pitches, there was an understandable sense of collective concern in the Astros’ fanbase. Placement on the 15-day IL two days later was another piece of bad news, putting an abrupt pause on the fantastic season Verlander has put together in 2022.

On the day of his injury, Houston’s ace was the clear odds-on favorite to win this year’s American League Cy Young, coming in well ahead of Dylan Cease, who had taken over in second place, although with much worse odds. Fast forward to this writing as of Sept. 15, and most books have Cease above Verlander, though with a small margin, as the favorite.

Verlander will return to the mound in Friday night’s matchup with the Oakland A’s. As long as he stays healthy, he could see 3-4 more starts, including Friday’s, depending on how Dusty Baker manages the rotation in the regular season’s final weeks. Cease is in line for three more starts as well if Chicago keeps to their current rotation.

Here’s a blind look at their stats as they stand today (generated on stathead baseball):

Provided by View Stathead Tool Used
Generated 9/15/2022.

Pitcher 1 has the advantage in wins, ERA, FIP, and WHIP. Pitcher 2 has better strikeout numbers, has pitched more innings, and gives up slightly fewer hits on average. However, pitcher 2 has allowed nearly three times as many walks as pitcher 1, hence the higher WHIP.

Based on most of these numbers, pitcher 1, Verlander, should arguably still be the favorite for Cy Young. Still, Cease’s ability to get a leg up on games and innings during Verlander’s injury has prompted oddsmakers to value his ability to maintain his numbers over the extra time on the mound. That being said, Cease had two great starts while Verlander was injured, a shutout of the Twins and a scoreless six-inning start against the A’s, which put him ahead in the race, but then had a rough start against the Rockies at home, giving up three runs and going just five frames.

That leaves the door open for Verlander to take back control of the race, should he be able to return with one of his all-to-typical dominant performances on Friday at Minute Maid Park. The race is close enough at this point that each start for these pitchers will be meaningful towards who gets the most votes, not to mention Cease’s White Sox are four games back in their division trying to overtake the Cleveland Guardians and 6.5 games back in the Wild Card race, making his starts all that more important for his team.

Whether he wins the award for the third time in his career or not, Verlander’s 2022 season has been incredible to watch. Everyone knew what he is capable of at his best, but it has still been a surprise to see him do it this season, at age 39 and returning from Tommy John surgery no less. He continues to climb the all-time strikeout leaders chart, currently at number 14, second in active pitchers to Max Scherzer, who sits at 13 ahead of him by just six Ks.

One award I’d say he’s sure to be the favorite for no matter how his remaining starts go: Comeback Player of the Year.

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