Triple Crown of Pitching: Kershaw and Verlander Make History in 2011

Kershaw Verlander
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Winning the Triple Crown of Pitching is an incredible accomplishment. Many pitchers have stood out among the rest of their peers to lead their league in statistical categories. However, nothing was more impressive than the two pitchers who won it in 2011; Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander. Kershaw and Verlander throw with different hands have spent their careers in other leagues, and they’re both bound to be Hall of Famers one day. Nevertheless, both pitchers solidified themselves as elite pitchers ten seasons ago. They put themselves in a class with the likes of Pedro Martinez, Walter Johnson, Tom Seaver, and other pitching icons.

Triple Crown of Pitching: Year of the Aces

Justin Verlander’s Historic Season

24-5, 2.40 ERA, 250 K

Justin Verlander, then of the Detroit Tigers, finished the 2010 season with an 18-9 record, a 3.37 ERA, and 219 strikeouts in 224 1/3 innings pitched. He came out of the gate of the 2011 season with a six-inning start that saw him throw eight strikeouts in a 6-3 loss to the New York Yankees. Three starts after that, Verlander threw his 1,000th career strikeout, becoming the 15th Detroit Tiger to do so. In his eighth start of the season, Verlander his second career no-hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays.

He was the top AL pitcher who owned a five-game lead in wins, a 20-strikeout lead, and a 0.1 lead in ERA. He did fall short of history twice, though. Verlander would have been the first major league pitcher with 25 wins since Bob Welch in 1990. Then, he would have the first Tigers pitcher with 25 wins since Mickey Lolich in 1971.

He led the majors with 24 wins against only five losses. His 250 strikeouts were also a league-best. His AL-best 2.40 ERA was tied for third in the majors, with his NL counterpart taking top ERA honors overall. With Verlander’s .828 winning percentage and a major league-best 0.920 WHIP in addition to his Triple Crown, it was no surprise that we would be the unanimous winner of the 2011 AL Cy Young Award. Verlander became the first starting pitcher to be voted the AL MVP since Roger Clemens in 1986 and the only pitcher besides Sandy Koufax to win the Triple Crown and MVP award in the same season.

The 2006 AL Rookie of the Year joined Don Newcombe as the only players to win all three major awards in their careers.

Clayton Kershaw’s Dominant Season

21-5, 2.28 ERA, 248 K

Clayton Kershaw’s 2010 season was solid. The Los Angeles Dodgers lefty compiled a 13-10 and a 2.91 ERA. He set career highs with 32 starts and 212 strikeouts in 204 1/3 innings pitched. Kershaw started the 2011 season on Opening Day with a seven-inning shutout against the San Francisco Giants. It looked like that performance could be a recurring theme for him all season. Even though the lefty threw 41 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings, inconsistency had Kershaw with a 3.52 ERA at the end of April.

May was the first sign that something special could happen. He allowed eight runs with 46 strikeouts and a 1.77 ERA in 40 2/3 innings in six games started. He finished the month with a two-hit, ten strikeout shutout against Florida. At the end of the first of the season, Kershaw started 19 games with a 9-4 record and a 3.03 ERA.

The second half of the season, well, that’s when history began to unfold. He allowed 24 runs in 142 2/3 innings pitched over his last 19 starts. He threw 65 2/3 innings with 64 strikeouts and a 0.96 ERA. Opponents at the plate had a .225 OBP and .274 SLG. His final outing against the San Diego Padres was the cherry on top of his fascinating year. Kershaw led the NL with 21 wins, 248 strikeouts, and a 2.28 ERA. His adjusted ERA of 163 was just a point behind the late Roy Halladay. The 21 wins were the most by any Dodger since Orel Hershiser won 23 games during the 1988 season.

After the season, he was honored with his first NL Cy Young Award. Kershaw became the youngest winner since Dwight Gooden won it with the New York Mets in 1985.

Triple Crown of Pitching Was Just the Beginning

There have only been two times baseball has seen a pitcher win a Triple Crown. The last time that happened was in 1924. Both Kershaw and Verlander set a very high bar for themselves at the peak of their careers. Following the historic 2011 season, Kershaw would take home two more Cy Young Awards in 2013 and 2014. He threw the only no-hitter of his career on June 18, 2014. As for Verlander threw his third-career no-hitter en route to his second career AL Cy Young Award in 2019. The two starters pitched against each other in the 2017 World Series. Verlander took home his ring that season, while Kershaw earned his three seasons after. 

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