Detroit right-hander Justin Verlander’s biggest challenge in becoming the first pitcher to win an MVP award in 25 years could come down to his manager, Jim Leyland, whose month-old comments that he doesn’t think a pitcher should be an MVP have become a calling card for the anti-Verlander movement.
Leyland has since tempered his remarks.
And Verlander has given him plenty of reason to backtrack.
Verlander is enjoying one of those once-in-a-generation seasons, the type that should buck the odds, the type that has MVP written all over it.
It’s unclear whether he’ll gain enough support from the 28 writers who will cast votes on the AL MVP award, but there’s really no question he deserves the honor. But then so did Pedro Martinez of the Boston Red Sox, who received eight first-place votes in 1999 but was denied the MVP because two voters didn’t have him even listed on their 10-player ballots.
Martinez, in fact, is one of only three starting pitchers to even receive a first-place vote in the past 25 years. Johan Santana of Minnesota picked up one in 2006, and Roger Clemens of Boston received three in 1990. Clemens is the last starting pitcher to win the award, in 1986.
Notice a trend? All of those pitchers were in the American League, just like Verlander.
And not since Clemens in 1986 has a pitcher had a season that comes close to the one Verlander has put together in providing the spark for Detroit to win the AL Central title.
And it’s not just the fact that Verlander has become the first 25-game winner since Bob Welch with Oakland in 1990, and had the lowest WHIP (0.91) since Denny McClain’s 31-win season for Detroit that earned him an AL MVP 1968 — the same year that Bob Gibson won the NL award in St. Louis.
It’s also the fact that he’s been a workhorse.
Verlander’s 251 innings lead the AL. He has provided stability while working at least six innings in all 34 starts. He’s allowed Leyland to put together the rest of his rotation and prevented him from burning out his bullpen. Verlander went 16-3 in starts after a loss, the most such wins since Sandy Koufax went 16-4 with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1966.
What’s more, he dominated within the AL Central, going 14-1 in helping the Tigers control the division with a 48-22 record against divisional opponents. Going into the final two regular-season games against Cleveland, the Tigers have a 13-game lead over the second-place Indians, who have a .686 winning percentage in the AL Central.
It was Verlander who worked 7 2/3 shutout innings against Boston on May 29, allowing the Tigers to pull their way out of an early-season struggle, return to .500 and then mount their charge to the division title. That also sent Verlander on a 23-start stretch in which he was 21-2, earning a decision in every start until last Thursday, when he made his final tune-up before the Tigers’ postseason opener Friday.
Make Verlander the AL MVP and also the AL Cy Young winner.
1. Verlander is primed to join Clemens as the only starting pitchers to claim the award in the past 40 years.
2. Curtis Granderson, center fielder, New York Yankees. Push aside the .264 batting average. With apologies to the sheep who have followed "Moneyball" into mediocrity, the stat that means the most is runs, and nobody has been more productive than Granderson. He leads the AL in both runs scored (135) and RBI (119), critical factors in the success of a pitching-challenged Yankee team.
3. Michael Young, heart and soul, Texas Rangers. And to think the Rangers had agreed to trade Young to Colorado last January for Eric Young Jr. and outfield prospect Rafael Ortega, only to back out moments before it was to be announced. Young pushed aside his hard feelings; handled DH, first base, second base and third base duties; once again showed runs can be driven in without home runs; and most importantly underscored the team-first mentality that has become the Rangers’ mantra.
AL CY YOUNG
1. Verlander should become the first pitcher since Oakland reliever Dennis Eckersley in 1992 to claim MVP and Cy Young awards.
2. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Weaver was the consistent starter who kept the Angels’ hopes alive for a postseason bid until the final series of the season.
3. CC Sabathia, New York. Lefty is the throwback. It’s all about winning. He’s not worried about residual stats, like ERA.
AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
1. Mark Trumbo, first baseman, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Might not have the upside of Eric Hosmer of Kansas City, nor the headline-grabbing ability of right-handers Ivan Nova of the Yankees or Jeremy Hellickson of Tampa Bay. But Trumbo was lone power threat for the offensively challenged Angels. He went into the final two games with 29 home runs and 87 RBI.
2. Nova stepped up when veterans failed to come through for the Yankees, providing a solid No. 2 starter behind Sabathia.
3. Hosmer is the foundation of the anticipated young nucleus that the Royals are counting on to regain the glory of Kansas City’s decade of dominance (1976-85), when it made seven postseason appearances.
AL MANAGER OF THE YEAR
1. Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay. He didn’t whine about free-agent depletions, including the defection of Carl Crawford to Boston, and the Rays didn’t spend the summer in self-pity. They reaffirmed that they may reside on the other side of the tracks, but they can compete with the deep pockets (Yankees and Red Sox) of the AL East.
2. Joe Girardi, Yankees. He did a magnificent job of manipulating a pitching staff that had only two consistent starters and claimed another AL East title.
3. Ron Washington, Rangers. He put the Rangers in position to defend the AL pennant they won a year ago, and enjoyed a fifth consecutive season of Texas improving on its regular-season record.
1. Justin Upton, right fielder, Arizona. OK, others have more eye-popping numbers, but no other hitter had the lack of protection of Upton in NL West champion Arizona’s lineup. With Stephen Drew suffering a broken leg, Upton’s primary lineup protection came from Miguel Montero and free-swinging Chris Young.
2. Ryan Braun, left fielder, Milwaukee. The Brewers lineup has the two-headed monster of Braun, a right-handed hitter, Prince Fielder, a left-handed hitter, protecting each other in the 3-4 spots. They both have delivered, with assists from each other.
3. Matt Kemp, center fielder, Los Angeles. His Triple Crown bid was intriguing, but the Dodgers were never a factor in the NL West, and it is the Most Valuable Player, not the Player of the Year. Ted Williams actually won two Triple Crowns and didn’t win an MVP either time.
NL CY YOUNG
1. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles. He leads the NL in wins (21), ERA (2.28) and strikeouts (248) and wasn’t sawed by the best of the NL West, going 8-1 against AL West winner Arizona and runner-up San Francisco.
2. Ian Kennedy, Arizona. And there were giggles when manager Kirk Gibson made Kennedy the Opening Day starter? After going 9-10 last season, he matched Kershaw for the NL lead in wins and became the anchor for a division-champion rotation.
3. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia. He maintained his mastery on the mound and provided the impetus for the strongest rotation in the NL.
NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
1. Craig Kimbrel, closer, Atlanta. The right-hander broke the rookie save record of 40, set by Neftali Feliz of Texas a year ago, on the final day of August, and went into the final two games of the season having extended that record to 46. He is a late-inning intimidator with 126 strikeouts in 76 1/3 innings.
2. Freddie Freeman, first baseman, Atlanta. Testimony to the patience in Atlanta. He was hitting .217 with three home runs and 11 RBI on May 17, but instead of shipping him out, the Braves stood behind Freeman, who responded by carrying a .285 average with 21 home runs and 77 RBI going into Tuesday’s game.
3. Vance Worley, starter, Philadelphia. Stepped into a rotation void and enjoyed the anonymity of the fifth spot in a stellar rotation, going 11-3 with a 3.03 ERA.
NL MANAGER OF THE YEAR
1. Kirk Gibson, Arizona. Thanks to support of new GM Kevin Towers, Gibson was able to change a losing culture created by the previous administration and pulled off the biggest surprise of the major-league season by taking the Diamondbacks to the NL West title.
2. Ron Roenicke, Milwaukee. First-year manager didn’t get to pick any of his coaches, but adjusted well. He handled the challenge of being given a team with championship potential and making sure it met the expectation.
3. Freddie Gonzalez, Atlanta. Facing the task of replacing a legend and close friend, Bobby Cox, Gonzalez didn’t get caught up in insecurities, and the Braves responded on the field.