Winning 20 Major League games in a season has always been difficult. It is especially difficult in today's game. Pitch counts, innings limits, and the five man rotation have cut down on opportunities. In 2006 and 2009, no pitcher topped 19 wins. The Detroit Tigers have had only two 20 game winners since 1991. Justin Verlander won 24 in 2011 and Max Scherzer has reached the milestone in 2013. Over the last 50 seasons, the Tiger franchise has boasted only a handful of 20 game winners. As a result, Scherzer's accomplishment should be relished.
Denny McLain won 20 games three times in four seasons for the Tigers. He won 20 in 1966, 31 in 1968, and 24 in 1969. In those three seasons, McLain started 38, 41, and 41 times. They did not keep track of pitch counts in those days, but the starter pitched 264.1, 336, and 325 innings. For his efforts, McLain won the Cy Young Award in 1968 and 1969, the MVP in 1968, and finished 15th in the Cy Young vote in 1966.
McLain is the only Tiger to win 20 or more games more than twice. Jack Morris, Mickey Lolich, and Joe Coleman each topped the 20 mark on two occasions. Coleman won 20, 19, and 23 from 1971-73. The right-hander started at least 39 games and tossed at least 280 innings in all three seasons. He finished 23rd in the Cy Young vote in 1973.
Jack Morris finished third in the Cy Young voting 10 years after Coleman’s 23rd place. Morris won 20 games in 1983 and 21 in 1986. He started 37 and 35 games in those seasons and threw 293.2 and 267 innings. Morris received Cy Young votes in seven big league seasons and finished third in 1983 and ninth in 1986. He also placed in the MVP balloting each of those years.
No other Tiger has won 20 games more than once other than those three right-handers and Mickey Lolich. The left-hander won 47 of his 217 career victories in 1971-2. He exceeded 300 innings pitched in both those seasons, including a remarkable 376 in 1971. Lolich started 86 games in those two campaigns, finished second in the 1971 Cy Young ballot and third in 1972. He also received MVP votes both years.
The last three Tiger 20 game winners each accomplished the feat once. Earl Wilson went 22-11 in 38 starts in 1967. Wilson toiled for 264 innings compared to “only” 226.1 thrown by Bill Gullickson in 1991. Gullickson led the league with 35 game starts and 20 victories. He only finished eighth in the Cy Young vote due to his 3.90 ERA. Wilson did not receive a single Cy Young vote, but finished 12th in the MVP race. Meanwhile, Verlander led the league in wins (24), ERA (2.40), game starts (34), innings (251), strikeouts (250), and WHIP (0.920) in 2011. This led to the Cy Young and MVP for Detroit’s other ace.
Scherzer’s 20 wins is an impressive achievement in today’s game. He notched his 20th victory in his 31st start of the season. He has topped 200 innings for the first time in his career and is already over 200 strikeouts. Unless he collapses, or the voters lose their minds, Scherzer will join Verlander and McLain as Cy Young laureates with the 2013 award.