Verlander turns double play, wins AL MVP
Cy Young winner first starting pitcher to couple awards since '86
DETROIT -- Justin Verlander's case for winning the American League Most Valuable Player Award is closed. His trophy case, on the other hand, had better be open, because he's going to need room.
With a no-hitter, an AL pitching Triple Crown and a Tigers division title on his resume, Verlander on Monday became the first starting pitcher in a quarter-century -- and the first Tiger since 1984 -- to win the AL Most Valuable Player Award. This, after capturing the AL Cy Young Award last week.
"Not even in my wildest dreams had I thought of this," Verlander said. "I want to say this is a dream come true. I can't say that, because my dream had already come true -- to win the Cy Young. The next dream is to win a World Series. This wasn't even on my radar until the talk started."
As Verlander's win total increased and Detroit surged up the AL Central standings in midsummer, talk of the right-hander's chances of claiming an MVP gained momentum as well. The votes are in, but the debate will surely live on, considering Verlander beat out a significant group of strong candidates.
Verlander received 13 of 28 first-place votes from members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, two in each AL city. Just as important, Verlander received three votes for second place and three votes for third, boosting his point total to 280. He received more than double the amount of first-place votes as any other player.
Boston center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury finished second in balloting with 242 points and Toronto right fielder Jose Bautista was third with 231. Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson -- a former teammate of Verlander's in Detroit -- was fourth and Tigers teammate Miguel Cabrera placed fifth.
Verlander felt his case was helped by the fact that the Tigers claimed the division crown.
"I think the word 'valuable' implies that something good happened," Verlander said. "Obviously, that had a huge impact on me winning the award this year. I believe with the guys like Bautista and Ellsbury -- those guys not making the playoffs -- obviously that, I think, is a major weighing factor as to why I won."
The last pitcher to win the award was A's closer Dennis Eckersley in 1992. The last starting pitcher to be named AL MVP was Roger Clemens of the Red Sox in 1986. Verlander has known the latter bit of trivia for years and he felt honored to be the first starting pitcher since Clemens to accomplish the rare feat.
"An idol of mine growing up, Roger Clemens, was the last starting pitcher to do it," Verlander said. "I remember seeing that. Once I got into baseball -- really got into it, not as a kid, but as I started to grow up -- I remember seeing that he won an MVP and thinking that may never happen again, and how impressive that was.
"That means a lot to me, to be the successor to that, to be the next starting pitcher to win MVP."
As the 2 p.m. ET announcement drew near, Verlander still had his doubts. He remembered what time he received a phone call last week and learned he had won the Cy Young Award in a unanimous vote. On Monday, his phone remained silent long enough to have him convinced someone else was going to take home the MVP.
"I was talking myself out of it, saying, 'I'm not going to win it,'" he said. "I was trying not to jinx it. Then, I was saying, 'Well don't do that. You want this, so don't talk yourself out of it.' I was playing ping pong in my head, really. Then I just decided, you know what? Fate's already been written. The votes are already in. There's nothing I can do about it now but sit back and wait."
Verlander the MV-Pitcher
Then Verlander's phone began to ring.
"When I got the phone call, I couldn't believe it," he said. "It was just a weight off my shoulders and just pure elation."
Verlander's total shows how much voters accepted the idea that a pitcher is worthy of being MVP. It would have taken just a few voters in adamant opposition to keep him from the honor, since those voters might have left him completely off their ballot. Only one -- Jim Ingraham, an Indians beat writer of The News-Herald in Willoughby, Ohio -- did so.
Last week, Verlander wouldn't allow the MVP debate to overshadow his AL Cy Young Award. Still, it was clear that it was on his mind, and he didn't hide the fact that he wanted the dual honor.
"If you had told me at the beginning of the year I would be a shoo-in for the Cy Young, I would have been excited and ecstatic. I would've never even thought about the MVP," Verlander told reporters on his Cy Young conference call.
Verlander went into a detailed explanation why he believed pitchers deserved to be considered alongside everyday position players for MVP. The impact that a starting pitcher has on determining the course of a game was one of his reasons, and he estimated that a good start gives a team an overwhelming chance to win. The impact that a dominant starter has on the use of a bullpen was another reason.
Verlander reiterated as much after getting his wish and earning the MVP.
"On the pitcher's day, the impact we have is tremendous on that game," Verlander said. "You have to have a great impact almost every time out to supersede [a position player winning MVP]. It happens on rare occasions. I guess this year was one of those years."
Verlander also noted the current trend in Cy Young voting toward the best statistical pitcher in a season. There must be a place for the most valuable pitcher, he said, and he believed MVP was it.
The way Verlander pitched this season, he dominated both the statistics and the results.
Verlander topped all Major Leaguers with 24 wins and 250 strikeouts and led the AL with a 2.40 ERA, becoming the first to lead the American League in all three categories since Johan Santana of the Twins in 2006 and the first Tigers pitcher since Newhouser in 1945.
No AL pitcher won so many games in a season since Bob Welch won 27 for the 1990 powerhouse Oakland Athletics. No Major League pitcher had posted that combination of strong Triple Crown stats in the same season since Randy Johnson of the D-backs in 2002, no American Leaguer since Oakland's Vida Blue in 1971.
Verlander also led AL pitchers with 251 innings, a .192 opponents' batting average and a 0.92 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) ratio. The Tigers went 25-9 in games Verlander started, accounting for better than a quarter of their win total. But his impact went well beyond that.
His win opposite Jered Weaver and the Angels on July 31 was cited as a game that gave the Tigers confidence that they could compete with and beat the best teams in the league. His May 7 no-hitter coincided with the stretch during which the Tigers began to dig out from a slow start.
His 16-3 record against division opponents made him a difference-maker in an AL Central race that was close for much of the summer until Detroit pulled away down the stretch. From July 21-Sept. 18, Verlander won 12 consecutive starts and posted a 2.28 ERA during that stretch.
When that run began, the Tigers and Indians had been tied for first place in the division. When it ended, Detroit was well on its way to a playoff berth.
Verlander knows, however, just how important a role his teammates played in his successful season. Shortly after learning he won the MVP, the pitcher called catcher Alex Avila and exchanged texts with Cabrera. Verlander plans on reaching out to more of his fellow Tigers, too.
"Obviously, you can't do it by yourself," Verlander said. "I called Alex and Miggy right away as soon as I found out and talked to those guys. I haven't had a chance to talk to the rest of my teammates yet. But they're all a part of this, just as I am."
And now Verlander is a part of baseball history.
In a way, it was probably fitting that he won the MVP. Verlander became the Tigers' fifth MVP in the past 70 seasons. All of them have been pitchers, joining Verlander with relief great Guillermo Hernandez in 1984, 30-game-winner Denny McLain in 1968 and '69, and Hal Newhouser in 1944 and '45.
Being on that list was special for the starter.
"Just having my name involved with those individuals means a lot for me," he said. "I started in Detroit. Hopefully, I finish in Detroit. To have my names linked with those guys for a long time -- for the rest of history, really -- it means a lot for me, and hopefully for the city of Detroit."
American League Most Valuable Player voting totals
|Jacoby Ellsbury||Red Sox||4||13||4||1||4||1||1||242|
|Jose Bautista||Blue Jays||5||7||4||4||4||1||1||1||1||231|
|Adrian Gonzalez||Red Sox||1||1||2||6||8||3||3||1||105|
|Dustin Pedroia||Red Sox||4||1||4||6||48|
|Paul Konerko||White Sox||5||1||11|