Pitching at an elite level

Last week was officially dubbed MLB Awards Week. All of 2022’s major honors were handed out, including Most Valuable Player Awards to Aaron Judge and Paul Goldschmidt and Cy Young Awards to Justin Verlander and Sandy Alcantara.

Those announcements overlapped the ongoing Awards Month here at Baseball’s Best (and Worst). We unveiled six sets of batting citations in two previous installments of this newsletter — November 8 and November 15 — with three pairs of pitching awards coming a few paragraphs below.

Let’s begin by recapping the previous winners. The American League honoree is listed first in each case, followed by his National League counterpart:

Each batting honor is named after a Hall of Famer who epitomized a specific skill, and the same is true of the pitching awards discussed below. Pitchers had to meet the official qualification standards of 162 innings to be considered.

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Juan Marichal Award (overall pitching)

The ratio of bases reached per out recorded (BPO) is an ideal measure of a batter’s skill, and it’s an equally effective gauge of a pitcher’s performance. The only difference, of course, is that a hitter aims for the highest BPO, while a pitcher wants to drive his number as low as possible.

Juan Marichal, the great Giants righthander, posted the best BPO of any postwar Hall of Fame pitcher who obtained at least 10,000 outs. He surrendered only 5,764 bases while piling up 10,622 outs, which translates to a microscopic career BPO of .543. That’s why the pitcher with each season’s lowest BPO wins the Juan Marichal Award.

Justin Verlander’s 2022 figure was even better than Marichal’s career figure — considerably better. Verlander surrendered only 220 bases while inducing 526 outs for the Houston Astros, yielding a BPO of .418, far and away the best mark in the American League. No wonder he was a unanimous choice for the Cy Young Award.

Max Fried of the Atlanta Braves posted the lowest BPO in the NL at .473. The league’s Cy Young honoree, Sandy Alcantara, was seventh with a BPO of .525.

Here are the five best in each league:

American League

National League

Randy Johnson Award (strikeouts)

This award, as I’ve said before, could have been named for several different Hall of Famers — anyone from Walter Johnson to Sandy Koufax to Nolan Ryan.

So why Randy Johnson? Well, he accomplished something unmatched by any other pitcher in big-league history. He notched more than 250 strikeouts in nine separate seasons. Ryan came close with eight. The others finished well behind.

The Randy Johnson Award comes with an unusual twist, given that its namesake pitched precisely 100 complete games during his 22-year career. This honor is given to the pitcher in each league with the highest ratio of strikeouts per six innings, not nine. Starters, after all, hardly ever work nine innings these days.

Carlos Rodon of the San Francisco Giants was the strikeout king of the majors in 2022. He racked up 237 strikeouts in just 178 innings, the equivalent of 7.99 per six innings, the best ratio in either league. Close behind was Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels at 7.92 per six, the top mark in the AL.

These are the five strikeout leaders in each league:

American League

National League

  • Carlos Rodon, Giants, 7.99

  • Corbin Burnes, Brewers, 7.22

  • Charlie Morton, Braves, 7.15

  • Aaron Nola, Phillies, 6.88

  • Zac Gallen, Diamondbacks, 6.26

Warren Spahn Award (durability)

Warren Spahn, the Hall of Fame ace for the old Milwaukee Braves, worked 382 complete games between 1942 and 1965. He’s 21st in the all-time CG rankings, trailing 20 pitchers who predated World War II.

What makes Spahn unique is the fact that he accumulated 77 complete games more than anybody else who pitched in the past 80 seasons. That’s the definition of durability.

The Warren Spahn Award isn’t given for complete games — there were only 36 of those throughout the majors in 2022 — but for the average number of innings pitched per appearance.

Sandy Alcantara was the only big leaguer to exceed seven innings per start this season, averaging 7.15 for the Marlins. He also happened to top the majors in total innings (228.2) and complete games (six), making him the ideal recipient of the National League’s Spahn Award. His AL counterpart is Framber Valdez of the Astros at 6.49.

Here are 2022’s top five workhorses in each league:

American League

  • Framber Valdez, Astros, 6.49

  • Shane Bieber, Guardians, 6.45

  • Alek Manoah, Blue Jays, 6.34

  • Justin Verlander, Astros, 6.25

  • Triston McKenzie, Guardians, 6.17

National League

  • Sandy Alcantara, Marlins, 7.15

  • Yu Darvish, Padres, 6.49

  • Aaron Nola, Phillies, 6.41

  • Max Fried, Braves, 6.18

  • Miles Mikolas, Cardinals, 6.13

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