Brian writes about baseball history. He is a lifelong baseball fan and has been rooting for the New York Mets since their 1962 debut.
Winning the pitching Triple Crown is a great achievement for a Major League pitcher. A pitcher wins the Triple Crown (an unofficial honor for which no award is actually given) by leading the league in three major pitching categories in the same season: wins, earned run average (ERA), and strikeouts. Although more precise statistics are available to measure a pitcher's skill and value, leading the league in these three pitching categories is clearly the mark of a great and dominant season on the mound.
Only 12 AL Pitchers Have Won the Triple Crown
Since the American League was born in 1901, only 12 pitchers have won the AL pitching Triple Crown. One pitcher, Walter Johnson, won it three times, and three players, Lefty Grove, Lefty Gomez, and Roger Clemens, won it twice, resulting in a grand total of only 17 Triple Crown seasons in 120 years of American League baseball.
New York Yankees
New York Yankees
Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays
Boston Red Sox
Naturally, it is even more unusual to win the honor for all of Major League Baseball—to be the best in all three of these pitching categories in both leagues. Although a number of the Triple Crown winners led the majors in one or two of the three categories, only five American Leaguers have been the best in the big leagues in all three categories in the same season, with two pitchers accomplishing the feat twice. As the table shows, Walter Johnson’s first two Triple Crowns, in 1913 and 1918, were Major League crowns, and Lefty Grove’s two consecutive titles in 1930 and 1931 also led the majors. In 1945, Hal Newhouser won the Major League Triple Crown. Johan Santana was the best in both leagues in 2006, and Shane Bieber accomplished the feat in 2020.
Eight AL Triple Crown Winners in the Hall of Fame
The 12 American League pitchers who won the Triple Crown all had (or are having) solid careers, and their names appear in numerous lists of the best pitchers in baseball history. Among them, they won multiple Cy Young Awards (named after the first AL Triple Crown winner) and MVP awards and were selected to numerous All-Star teams. The first seven AL winners are in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and the ninth winner, Pedro Martinez, was elected to join them in 2015. Roger Clemens was on the ballot for the first time in 2013, but in his first eight years of eligibility, he has not reached the vote total needed for induction.
Here's a chronological guide to the American League's pitching Triple Crown winners.
Cy Young: 1901
Denton True “Cy” Young of the Boston Americans won the American League Triple Crown in 1901, the first year of the league’s existence. Young led both leagues with 33 wins and an ERA of 1.62 while leading the American League with 158 strikeouts. His mark of 0.9 walks per 9 innings was also best in the majors, as was his 4.27 strikeout to walk ratio.
Young began his career in 1890 with the Cleveland Spiders of the National League and was a star pitcher for the NL before he provided immediate credibility to the new American League when he joined the Boston franchise in 1901. In his 22-year career, he won over 20 games fifteen times and over 30 games five times, finishing with a record 511 wins that will never be approached, let alone broken. His career 2.63 ERA and 2,803 strikeouts were posted in 906 games, including a record 749 complete games. Young was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1937, and the Cy Young Award for pitching excellence was named in his honor.
Rube Waddell: 1905
In 1905 Philadelphia Athletics left-hander George Edward “Rube” Waddell had 27 wins and a 1.48 ERA to lead the American League, and his 287 strikeouts were tops in the majors. He also led the majors in games pitched, fewest hits per 9 innings and most strikeouts per 9 innings. His most memorable win occurred on July 4 when he beat Cy Young of the Boston Red Sox in a 20-inning game in which both pitchers went the distance. The Athletics won the AL pennant, but Waddell missed the World Series with a shoulder injury.
Waddell’s 13-season career (1897, 1899-1910) included four consecutive seasons in which he won more than 20 games, and he finished with 193 career wins to go along with a 2.16 ERA and 2,316 strikeouts. He led the American League in strikeouts for six seasons in a row, leading the majors in five of the six, including a post-1900 single-season record of 349 in 1904, which was not bested until Sandy Koufax fanned 382 in 1965. The talented but eccentric Waddell played for five teams in his career. He died from tuberculosis at age 37 in 1914 and was posthumously elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1946.
Walter Johnson: 1913, 1918, and 1924
Washington Senators right-hander Walter “Big Train” Johnson is the only American League pitcher to win the Triple Crown three times, accomplishing the feat in 1913, 1918, and 1924. In his dominant 1913 season, he led the major leagues with 36 victories against only 7 losses for a .837 winning percentage. His 1.14 ERA and 243 strikeouts also led the majors, as did his 29 complete games, 11 shutouts, and 6.3 strikeouts to walks ratio. The Senators finished second, but Johnson was named the AL’s MVP.
In 1918, Johnson led both leagues with 23 wins, a 1.27 ERA, and 162 strikeouts. He again led the majors in shutouts, with eight. In 1924, he posted 23 wins, including a major league-best six shutouts, an ERA of 2.72, and 158 strikeouts. He was named the American League MVP for the second time, as the Senators won the pennant and went on to beat the New York Giants in the World Series.
Johnson pitched for 21 seasons, from 1907 to 1927, all with the Senators. He led the league in wins six times and put together ten consecutive seasons with 20 or more wins. He led the AL in ERA five times and strikeouts twelve times. His 417 career victories are second all-time, his 2.17 ERA is twelfth best, and his 3,509 career strikeouts rank ninth. Johnson also holds the career record for shutouts with 110. He was one of the original five players inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1936.
Lefty Grove: 1930 and 1931
Robert Moses “Lefty” Grove of the Philadelphia Athletics won the AL and Major League Triple Crown in both 1930 and 1931. He had superb winning percentages in both years. In 1930, he posted a record of 28-5 for a .848 percentage, along with a 2.54 ERA and 209 strikeouts. He also led the majors with nine saves. In 1931, he won the MVP award with a 31-4 record (.886 winning percentage). His ERA was 2.06, he had 175 strikeouts, and he led the majors with 27 complete games. The Athletics won the American League pennant in both 1930 and 1931, beating the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series in 1930 but losing to the Cardinals in 1931.
Grove was an American Leaguer for all 17 years of his career, pitching nine seasons for the Athletics from 1925 to 1933 and eight seasons for the Boston Red Sox from 1934 to 1941. He won 20 or more games eight times, leading the league in four of those years and finishing with 300 career victories. His ERA, the best in the league nine times, was 3.06 for his career, and he finished with 2,266 strikeouts after leading the league in that category for each of his first seven seasons. Grove was a six-time All-Star and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1947.
Lefty Gomez: 1934 and 1937
Vernon Louis “Lefty” Gomez of the New York Yankees won the Triple Crown twice, in 1934 and 1937. In 1934 he led the AL with 26 wins, a 2.33 ERA and 158 strikeouts. His 25 complete games topped the majors, and he was named to the All-Star team. In 1937, he recorded 21 wins to lead the league, with a major league-best 2.33 ERA and 194 strikeouts. His six shutouts also led the majors. The Yankees won the pennant and the World Series, as Gomez pitched two complete-game victories and posted a 1.50 ERA and eight strikeouts.
Gomez pitched for the Yankees for 13 seasons, from 1930 to 1942, then pitched in one game for the Washington Senators in 1943 before retiring. He won a total of 189 games in his career, with a 3.34 ERA and 1,468 strikeouts. He was named to seven consecutive All-Star teams and was selected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1972.
Bob Feller: 1940
Right-hander Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians won the Triple Crown in 1940, at age 21, by leading the majors with 27 wins and 261 strikeouts and leading the AL with a 2.61 ERA. He also led the league with four shutouts and led the majors with 31 complete games. The most memorable win occurred on Opening Day when he pitched a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox—the only Opening Day no-hitter in American League history.
Feller made his big league debut with the Indians in 1936 when he was just 17 years old, and he spent all 18 seasons of his career (interrupted for more than three years for military service in World War II) with the Indians. He had six seasons with 20 or more wins, leading the league each time, and finished with 266 lifetime wins. He never led the league in ERA other than in 1940, but he led the majors in strikeouts seven times—including the four seasons preceding his military service and his first three full seasons afterward. He was an eight-time All-Star and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962.
Hal Newhouser: 1945
Left-hander Hal Newhouser of the Detroit Tigers won the Major League Triple Crown in 1945 with 25 wins, a 1.81 ERA, and 212 strikeouts. He also led the majors with 29 complete games and eight shutouts. He won his second consecutive American League MVP award as the Tigers won the pennant and then went on to beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.
Newhouser had a 17-year career from 1939 to 1955, including 15 seasons with the Tigers and two with the Indians. He finished with 207 wins, a 3.06 ERA, and 1,796 strikeouts. In addition to his two MVP awards, he was a six-time All-Star. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1972 after selection by the Veterans Committee.
Roger Clemens: 1997 and 1998
After a drought of more than 50 years without an AL Triple Crown winner, right-hander Roger Clemens won the title in both 1997 and 1998, his first two—and only—years with the Toronto Blue Jays after spending 13 years with the Boston Red Sox. In 1997 he had 21 wins to lead the majors, with a 2.05 ERA and 292 strikeouts. He also led the league in complete games with nine and shutouts with three. In 1998 he won 20 games with a 2.64 ERA. He had 271 strikeouts, accumulated at a league-leading pace of 10.4 per 9 innings. In both 1997 and 1998, he was selected for the All-Star team and won the Cy Young Award.
Clemens pitched in the majors for 24 seasons, from 1984 to 2007, including six years with the New York Yankees and three with the Houston Astros in addition to his years with the Red Sox and Blue Jays. With six seasons of 20 or more wins, including four seasons in which he led the majors, he accumulated a career total of 354 wins, ninth on the all-time list. He is third on the career strikeouts list with 4,672, and his lifetime ERA is 3.12.
“The Rocket” won seven Cy Young Awards in his career, more than any other player. He was the American League MVP in 1986, and he was selected to 11 All-Star teams. Unfortunately, he became embroiled in legal problems connected with baseball’s banned substance controversy. Were it not for those problems, as one of the all-time greatest pitchers in baseball history, Clemens would have been assured of election to the Hall of Fame in 2013, his first year of eligibility. Instead, he was named on only 37.6 percent of the ballots—just about half of the number required for election. His vote total has increased in subsequent years, reaching 61.0 percent in 2020. So there appears to be at least a decent chance that he will ultimately be elected.
Pedro Martinez: 1999
Boston Red Sox right-hander Pedro Martinez’s Triple Crown in 1999 included major league bests of 23 wins (versus 4 losses for a .852 winning percentage) and a 2.07 ERA, along with a career-high 313 strikeouts to lead the AL. He led the majors with 13.2 strikeouts per 9 innings and an 8.46 ratio of strikeouts to walks. Boston won the AL Wild Card and beat the Cleveland Indians in the Division Series but lost to the New York Yankees in the AL Championship Series. Martinez was an All-Star and won his first American League Cy Young Award.
Martinez pitched in the Major Leagues for 18 seasons, from 1992 to 2009, playing 7 seasons for the Red Sox and a total of 11 seasons for four different teams in the National League. His lifetime totals include 219 wins and a 2.93 ERA, and his 3,154 strikeouts place him 13th all-time. He led the majors in ERA five times and led the AL in strikeouts three times. Martinez was an eight-time All-Star, and he won the Cy Young Award three times, once in the NL while pitching for the Montreal Expos and twice in the AL, both times by unanimous votes.
Martinez was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2015, his first year of eligibility, with 91.1% of the vote.
Johan Santana: 2006
Left-hander Johan Santana of the Minnesota Twins won the Major League Triple Crown in 2006 with 19 wins, a 2.77 ERA, and 245 strikeouts. He also led the majors with a 0.997 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched). Santana was named the winner of the Cy Young Award as the Twins won the AL Central Division but lost to the Oakland Athletics in the Division Series.
Santana earned 139 wins in a career that spanned 12 active seasons, including eight with the Twins and four with the New York Mets. He missed the entire 2011 season due to injury but returned for a final season in 2012, which included a no-hitter against the Cardinals—the first-ever in Mets' history. Santana has 1,988 strikeouts to go along with a 3.20 career ERA. He is a four-time All-Star, a Gold Glove winner, and a two-time American League Cy Young Award winner.
He was on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time in 2018, but he was named on fewer than five percent of the ballots, resulting in his removal from subsequent ballots.
Justin Verlander: 2011
Justin Verlander captured the Triple Crown with a remarkable season for the Detroit Tigers in 2011. The big right-hander led the majors with 24 wins against only 5 losses, and his 250 strikeouts were also tops in the big leagues. His AL-best .240 ERA was tied for third in the majors, as NL Triple Crown winner Clayton Kershaw took top ERA honors overall. With his .828 winning percentage and a major league-best 0.920 WHIP in addition to his Triple Crown, Verlander was the unanimous winner of the 2011 American League Cy Young Award. He also became the first starting pitcher to be voted Most Valuable Player 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 American League Rookie of the Year, Verlander was a consistent winner for the Tigers for the better part of 13 seasons. Traded to Houston for the last month of the 2017 season, he went 5-0 for the Astros, following that up in 2018 with a 16-9 record and a league-leading 290 strikeouts. His 2019 season was even better. He won his second Cy Young Award and came close to another Triple Crown as he led the majors with 21 wins and finished second in the AL to Astros' teammate Gerrit Cole in both strikeouts and ERA. He was injured for most of the 2020 season and had Tommy John surgery after the season.
After 16 seasons, Verlander has a lifetime mark of 226 wins against 129 losses, with 3,013 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.33. He is an eight-time All-Star and was selected to the inaugural All-MLB Team in 2019.
Shane Bieber: 2020
Cleveland’s Shane Bieber posted eight wins with a 1.63 ERA and 122 strikeouts to capture the major league Triple Crown in 2020. He also led the majors with 14.2 strikeouts per nine innings and led in FIP (fielding independent pitching) with a 2.07 mark. He won the AL Cy Young Award with 100% of the first-place votes.
The 2020 season was just Bieber's third season in the majors. Although the season was shortened because of the Covid-19 pandemic, his performance was no fluke. Through his three seasons, Bieber has already notched 34 wins in 64 starts and has posted a 3.32 cumulative ERA with 499 strikeouts. He is just 25 years old and barring injury, it is very likely that he will continue to be a dominant pitcher for years to come.
Who Will Be Next in the American League?
Although the pitching Triple Crown is not won often, the achievement has been more common than the batting Triple Crown. Who will be next?
Will Shane Bieber or Justin Verlander repeat and join the small group of multiple American League winners? With Verlander projected to miss the entire 2021, he will be at least 39 years old if and when he next takes the field. Bieber, on the other hand, will be still be only 25 at the start of the 2021 season and could excel for many more years.
Another pitcher to watch is the Yankees' Gerrit Cole, who came within one win of the 2019 Triple Crown with the Houston Astros in 2019 and was close to the top in all three categories again in 2020.
Or will another veteran pitcher step up and win the Triple Crown with a great season? Or maybe it will be another young pitcher not yet on anyone’s radar screen? Who’s your candidate for a likely AL winner?
The Best of the Triple Crowns
Recommended Online Resources
- Baseball-Reference.com - Major League Baseball Statistics and History
Up-to-date major and minor league statistics for each player, team, and league in baseball history. Includes batting, pitching and fielding stats along with leaders, managers, links, books and award winners.
- Baseball Almanac - The Official Baseball History Site
Baseball Almanac is filled with awards, records, stats, quotes, feats, facts and a book full of baseball history.
- Baseball Hall of Fame
The official website of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Includes profiles of each member of the Hall of Fame as well as educational and historical resources.
- Society for American Baseball Research
Bringing the history of baseball to the web. SABR's mission is to foster the study of baseball past and present and to provide an outlet for educational, historical and research information about the game.
- SABR Baseball Biography Project | Society for American Baseball Research
Comprehensive biographical articles about major league players and managers, compiled by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). The ongoing project currently includes biographies of 9 of the 11 American League Triple Crown pitchers.
© 2011 Brian Lokker
Brian Lokker (author) from Bethesda, Maryland on October 18, 2019:
Justin Verlander almost won his second Triple Crown in 2019, but his Astros teammate Gerrit Cole came even closer. Verlander led the majors with 21 wins while Cole came in second with 20. However, Cole took the strikeout crown with an MLB-leading 326 and the ERA title with 2.50, while Verlander came in second in both categories with 300 strikeouts and a 2.58 ERA.
Brian Lokker (author) from Bethesda, Maryland on January 24, 2018:
No Hall of Fame election yet for Roger Clemens, although his vote total again increased, to 57.3 percent. He has four more years of eligibility. Do you think he'll make it? Should he?
Brian Lokker (author) from Bethesda, Maryland on October 03, 2016:
No Triple Crown pitcher again in the AL in 2016. Five pitchers ranked in the top 10 in each of the three Triple Crown categories. The five include Verlander (#1 in strikeouts), along with Rick Porcello of the Red Sox (#1 in wins), Corey Kluber of the Indians, Cole Hamels of the Rangers, and Chris Sale of the White Sox.
Brian Lokker (author) from Bethesda, Maryland on January 09, 2013:
So the 2013 Hall of Fame votes are in, and Roger Clemens got only about half of the votes necessary to get in. Should his impressive stats (including his two Triple Crowns) have been enough?
Brian Lokker (author) from Bethesda, Maryland on November 16, 2011:
I updated this hub to include Justin Verlander's 2011 Triple Crown. A great season -- will he win the MVP too?
daveh.pearlb on July 06, 2011:
I first read about the wild pitch in a Bennet Cerf book called, I think, "Try and Stop Me." It's the lead in baseballlibrary.com's article on Chesbro. The hazards of the spitball, I guess.
Brian Lokker (author) from Bethesda, Maryland on July 06, 2011:
In 1908 Walsh pitched 464 innings and led the majors not only with his 40 wins, but also with his 269 strikeouts. (He also led the majors with 6 saves.) He missed the Triple Crown by finishing 3rd in ERA with a 1.42 mark, but his career ERA of 1.82 puts him in first place all-time. He is likely to remain there permanently: among active players, only Mariano Rivera comes anywhere close (2.22 as of this writing).
I didn't know about Chesbro's wild pitch. His 41 wins are the "modern" (i.e., post-1900) record. Walsh's 40 in 1908 put him in second place, followed by Christy Matthewson's 37 in his 1908 NL Triple Crown season, and Walter Johnson's 36 when he won the 1913 AL Triple Crown.
daveh.pearlb on July 06, 2011:
Even more amazing is that Walsh fell one short of Jack Chesbro's record of 41 wins for the 1904 New York Highlanders (later the Yankees). Almost as amazing: Chesbro's wild pitch on the last day of the season cost his team a chance to win its first pennant.
Robert Porter on July 04, 2011:
I knew "Big Ed" Walsh when I was a kid In Connecticut. He won 40 games one season for the Chicago White Sox. Check out his amazing record for durability sometime.
Brian Lokker (author) from Bethesda, Maryland on May 16, 2011:
@daveh.pearlb - Thanks for your compliment ... I'm glad you enjoyed the article! And thanks for pointing out the Newhouser typo, which is now fixed.
daveh.pearlb on May 16, 2011:
One of the best baseball history articles I've read. One nit: you've got 1940 as Newhouser's year in the lead-in and later correctly as 1945.
Brian Lokker (author) from Bethesda, Maryland on April 28, 2011:
Yes, I wasn't aware of that until I researched this. And there were some pretty good pitchers during those 52 years!
UltimateMovieRankings from Virginia on April 28, 2011:
Great hub...I find it very interesting that there was a 52 year gap between Newhouser and Clemens......and then it happens three years in a row....thanks for sharing....voted up and useful