The Walter Johnson Award

Every year, the Baseball Bloggers Association honors MLB’s best pitchers in the NL and AL with the Walter Johnson Award.

As an AL team blogger, it’s my privilege to place my votes for the AL version of the Johnson Award.

This year it’s not even close. In fact, with a required five pitchers on the ballot, it’s actually kind of tough to fill out the 4th and 5th this year. Quite frankly, they’d be so far below #1 you might scoff at some of them.

At best this was a two pitcher race. In the #1 slot is Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers. Verlander was head and shoulders above the pack in the AL, achieving the pitching Triple Crown: leading the league in wins, strikeouts and ERA. Verlander won six more games than CC Sabathia, the AL pitcher who finished second in wins. His 250 strikeouts was 20 better than #2 James Shields and his 2.40 ERA just nosed out Jered Weaver’s 2.41. Add in an opponents batting average of just .192 against a pitcher who threw 251 innings and a WHIP of 0.92 and you’ve got the makings of an award winner, probably by unanimous consent. Verlander is the easy choice for #1.

The closest to achieving what Verlander did, in my mind, was my #2 pick Jered Weaver. He barely lost out to Verlander for the ERA crown, compiled an 18-8 record and a 1.01 WHIP. Had Mike Scioscia not deemed it necessary to pitch Weaver on three days rest on a couple of occasions down the stretch in an attempt to catch the Rangers in the AL West, Weaver may have won the ERA title in 2011. The three days rest thing didn’t work for him too well.

The third through fifth positions could easily be restacked and reconfigured, because I think they’re all just about equal.

Number 3 on the list is the Comeback Pitcher of the Year: James Shields of the Tampa Bay Rays. Shields had a miserable 2010. Even though he had a respectable 13 wins, his ERA was a sky-high 5.18, leading the AL in the negative categories of hits allowed and Earned Runs allowed. To say he turned it around in 2011 hardly does Shields justice. He had three more wins and three fewer losses, finishing at 16-12. He threw 46 more innings than he did in 2010 while giving up 51 LESS hits and a whopping 39 LESS earned runs. He struck out 225 batters, threw 4 shutouts and led the AL with 11 complete games.

In the 4 spot, I put a pitcher that had a much better year in the end than I expected him to have: CC Sabathia of the Yankees. While Sabathia is a workhorse year in and year out, I’ve never really thought of him as a low-ERA kind of guy. And yet, there he was at the end of 2011, with an ERA right at an even 3.00, second in the league in wins with 19 and second in strikeouts with 230. A pretty good year. It will be very interesting to see if Sabathia decides to opt out of the last year of his Yankees contract in the off-season.

Rounding out the list, I’m going to mention a Texas Ranger: CJ Wilson. There are all kinds of other players I could mention at this point: Jose Valverde, Ricky Romero, Dan Haren, etc. As mentioned earlier, though, does it really matter? Nobody I put here would have any chance of finishing first in the voting. I don’t think anyone that ANYBODY puts in this position has a chance of finishing first. Or second. Or probably even third. So I’ll go with my team and name CJ. His post-season hasn’t been very memorable, but he put together a fine campaign with 16 wins, a sub-3.00 ERA and over 200 strikeouts. So there, I said it and I’m not taking it back!

So there you go, my official ballot. To recap:

1. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

2. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

3. James Shields, Tampa Bay Rays

4. CC Sabathia, New York Yankees

5. CJ Wilson, Texas Rangers

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