Since and including 1961, the year that marked the beginning of what’s commonly termed the “Expansion Era”, a major-league pitcher aged 28 or younger has won at least 25 games in a season just ten times. In 2011, fifty years and 2,932 starting pitchers into the era, Justin Verlander has a chance to post the 11th such season.
The last major-league pitcher to win at least 25 games in a season was Bob Welch; 21 years ago in 1990, 33-year-old Welch won 27 games for the Oakland Athletics. You have to go back another ten years, to 1980, in order to find another pitcher who accomplished the feat. That pitcher was Steve Stone, then 32, of the Baltimore Orioles. Welch and Stone both finished ninth in MVP voting for their respective aforementioned seasons.
Ron Guidry of the New York Yankees was the last pitcher under 28 to win 25 games in a season; he did so in 1978 at age 27. That year, he finished second in MVP voting to Boston Red Sox slugger Jim Rice–despite having a 8.5 WAR compared to Rice’s 7.0.
In order for Verlander to reach the monumental 25-win benchmark, he’ll have to defeat the Orioles in what will likely be his final regular season start on Saturday night. Verlander has made one other start against Baltimore this year, his second start of the season back in early April; in that game, he allowed three earned runs, but left only after eight innings in which he allowed just five baserunners while striking out nine. Current Orioles are hitting just .216 against Verlander, and the club has an appalling 25-48 record when playing away from Camden Yards, as they will be this weekend.
There’s really no reason to believe Verlander’s streak of twelve straight winning starts will come to an end in this regular season. He should win his 25th game. Whether or not that rare achievement will be enough to sway BBWAA voters away from the conventional thought pattern, the one that says the MVP award should be reserved for position players, remains to be seen.