Justin Verlander may be the best pitcher of his generation, but to this point in his career, he has struggled in the Fall Classic. In three World Series starts (two in 2006 and one in 2012), the hard throwing right hander has lost all three times, while posting an ERA of 7.20, the fifth highest mark among the 174 pitchers with at least as many starting appearances and more than twice the 3.23 rate of all World Series starters.
Note: Does not include relief appearances.
Justin Verlander isn’t just any pitcher. As the reigning Cy Young award winner, the Tigers’ ace belongs to a select fraternity of only 40 award winners to appear in the World Series (including Frank Viola and Pat Hentgen, who pitched in the Fall Classic before winning the Cy Young). Among that group, only Dwight Gooden and Don Newcombe pitched to a higher ERA in baseball’s championship series. Including only those starts taken in the year of or after each pitcher’s first Cy Young award, Verlander’s disastrous outing in last night’s game 1 places him behind only Newcombe, who allowed 11 runs in 4 2/3 innings after being crowned baseball’s best pitcher in 1956.
Note: Does not include relief appearances and starts made by the pitcher in seasons before winning the Cy Young award. Included are starts in the same season as the pitcher’s first Cy Young.
In terms of individual games, Verlander has plenty of company among Cy Young award winners who had a clunker in the World Series. His game score of 33 in last night’s game 1, which was reminiscent of Cliff Lee’s false start against the same Giants in 2010, was the fifteenth worst mark recorded by a Cy Young award winner in the Fall Classic.
Note: Does not include starts made by a pitcher in seasons before winning the Cy Young award. Included are starts in the same season as the pitcher’s first Cy Young.
Adding a further touch of irony to Verlander’s struggles in the opening game of the 2012 World Series was the performance of his counterpart. Since winning the Cy Young in 2002, Barry Zito’s career has taken a turn for the worst, particularly while pitching for San Francisco. In the six years since signing a mega contract, which many now consider to be one of the biggest busts in free agent history, the lefty has gone 58-69 with an ERA of 4.47 (ERA+ of 91). What’s more, the last time the Giants were in the postseason, Zito was left off the roster for each round.
Considering how rocky his Giants career has been, no one could have imagined the veteran opening the first game of the World Series, much less beating Justin Verlander. And, not only did Zito emerge as the unlikely victor in a duel of Cy Young award winners, but he was relieved by Tim Lincecum, another award winner who was the Giants’ ace during the 2010 postseason (click here for the history of Cy Young relief appearances in the World Series). With all the hardware on display last night, it was Zito who shined brightest. Go figure. Or, better yet, don’t even try.