As September slowly creeks into October, the American and National League wild card races will likely dominate the attention of most baseball fans. The Boston Red Sox, who just this summer seemed destined to claim the American League pennant, and the usually unflappable Atlanta Braves, are slowly losing their clenches on their wild card leads to younger, perhaps more hungrier franchises. If you remove yourself from the East Coast bubble, however, and take a look at the league’s stat leaderboards, you’ll notice that two players outside of the eastern divisions have a chance to do something that no pair has done in decades.
Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw could potentially both win the pitching Triple Crown this season, meaning they each would finish the season leading their respective league in strikeouts, wins, and ERA. The pitching Triple Crown, while not as unheard of as the hitter’s one (batting average, home runs, RBI), is still a rarity in itself. It has only been accomplished 37 times in the past 134 seasons, and it hasn’t been accomplished by two pitchers in the same season since 1924 when Dazzy Vance and Walter Johnson led the National and American League’s respectively in the three major categories.
In fact, having two Triple Crown winners is so rare that if the pair were to each win it this season, it would constitute just the fifth time in all of Major League Baseball history that pitchers in both leagues accomplished the feat in the same year.
Dazzy Vance – 28 wins, 262 strikeouts, 2.16 ERA
Walter Johnson – 23 wins, 158 strikeouts, 2.72 ERA
Hippo Vaughn – 22 wins, 148 strikeouts, 1.74 ERA
Walter Johnson – 23 wins, 162 strikeouts, 1.27 ERA
Rube Waddell – 27 wins, 287 strikeouts, 1.48 ERA
Christy Mathewson – 31 wins, 206 strikeouts, 1.27 ERA
Guy Hecker – 52 wins, 385 strikeouts, 1.80 ERA
Charles Radbourn – 59 wins, 441 strikeouts, 1.38 ERA
This season Justin Verlander’s dominance over the American League has given him a virtual stranglehold on the leaderboards, making him all but a lock for the accolade. The Tigers hurler currently has a 2.29 ERA, which trumps second ranked Jarred Weaver’s 2.41, and he has five more wins and 20 more strikeouts than New York Yankees ace C.C. Sabathia who ranks second in the other two categories. Kershaw on the other hand needs a little help from his teammates as he is currently tied with Arizona’s Ian Kennedy in for the National League lead in Wins with 19. As of this writing he leads Johnny Cueto in ERA by 0.01 with an ERA of 2.30, and is up by a healthy margin in the strikeout race over Cliff Lee with 236.
Perhaps most impressive is that if these two pitchers pull this off, it will be the first time it will have been done since the end of the dead ball era. Hitting has absolutely dominated the game for the past two decades, and the numbers required to claim the Triple Crown haven’t been seen frequently since the 1920’s.
The game is fundamentally changing. Whether it is the result of the removal of steroids from the game of baseball of the past five years, or just the influx of a special breed of new pitching talent, dominating hurlers are starting to take over the sport. While the Triple Crown is an arbitrary accomplishment given value by the spectators, it’s occurrence this season may very well confirm the thought that we are now entering a new pitchers era, unlike anything we’ve seen since the 1960’s.
This push by both Verlander and Kershaw is great news for Major League Baseball, who have not seen such dominance from two pitchers since the late 1990s when Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens dominated the scene. These two players, both in their 20’s, have a significant opportunity to dominate the game for years to come.