Verlander looks like a shoo-in for AL Cy Young
Dominant season overshadows strong campaigns of others
Justin Verlander provides the biggest question about awards season, about whether he can come away a winner, and he knows it.
The Tigers right-hander has taken the time to learn the debate that baseball writers, fellow players and other voters had to wage when deciding award-winners at the end of the regular season. He chatted about the subject with writers in spare moments during the postseason.
The public debate will rage on until the results are finally announced later this month ... for Most Valuable Player. The Cy Young Award? That debate seemingly closed a while ago.
Though a surprise is always possible, the inevitable is likely to occur when the Cy Young winner is revealed Tuesday by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Live coverage on MLB.com begins at 1:30 p.m. ET.
What Verlander did this season was so good that it leaves the announcement feeling like a prelude rather than an award in its own right. It meant enough to the Tigers' first division title in 24 years, which led to their run to the AL Championship Series, that it's being compared to the best contributions of everyday players, leaving the contributions of other pitchers almost as footnotes.
It isn't a dig at the competition. If not for a couple more outs, it might have been a longer debate over the Cy Young, even if it reached the same conclusion.
If not for a David DeJesus home run in the ninth inning in a game against the A's on Sept. 23, the Angels' Jered Weaver would have beaten out Verlander for the AL ERA title, capping an 18-win season despite having the league's second-lowest run support from an anemic Angels offense that finished second in the AL West and went a game under .500 in games that Weaver didn't start.
If Weaver had made his originally scheduled start in the season's final week -- he was scratched once the Angels were eliminated to avoid unnecessary wear and tear on his arm -- he could have passed up Verlander for the ERA crown by pitching 1 1/3 scoreless innings.
That didn't happen, and Verlander captured the 12th pitching Triple Crown in the past 50 years. The previous 11 pitching Triple Crown winners all were rewarded with a Cy Young, including three by Sandy Koufax back when it was a single Major League award rather than one each for AL and NL.
The others didn't just win the Cy Young, they won it resoundingly. All but one pitching Triple Crown winner took the Cy Young in a unanimous vote. The only one who didn't was Roger Clemens, who captured 25 out of 28 first-place votes in 1997 after his first season for a Blue Jays team that had a losing record. Randy Johnson, who fell one strikeout shy of Clemens in strikeouts, received two of the other three votes, with the remaining tally going to Orioles closer Randy Myers, whose team finished with the AL's best record.
With Verlander having played a major role in breaking Detroit's division-title drought -- he went 14-1 against AL Central teams -- that winning-team debate and the pitcher's contribution to it figures to have worked in Verlander's favor. And Weaver seems more like a favorite for second alongside Tampa Bay's James Shields, who threw 11 complete games -- four of them shutouts -- in a 16-win season for a Rays team that defied all expectations by winning the AL Wild Card. CC Sabathia, a 19-game winner with 230 strikeouts for the AL East-champion Yankees, will also get a strong amount of support.
Verlander topped all AL pitchers with 24 wins, a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts, becoming the first American Leaguer to lead in all three categories that since the Twins' Johan Santana in 2006 and the first Tigers pitcher since Hal Newhouser in 1945. No AL pitcher won so many games since Bob Welch won 27 for the 1990 powerhouse Oakland Athletics. No Major League pitcher posted that combination of strong Triple Crown stats in the same season since the Big Unit did for Arizona in 2002, no American Leaguer since Vida Blue of the A's in 1971.
Verlander also led AL pitchers with 251 innings, a .192 opposing batting average and a 0.92 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) ratio.
If there was a stat for intimidation, Verlander might have led in that, too. Between his 100-mph fastball, his pinpoint command and his ardent belief -- almost arrogance -- that no player should be able to get a hit if a pitcher executes his pitches correctly, he was the most formidable pitcher in the game.
"From a personal standpoint, it was an amazing year," Verlander said last week upon being honored as MLB Player of the Year as part of the Players Choice Awards. "I worked extremely hard for this, and I told you guys a few times, if you expect greatness, it shouldn't surprise you. I've always expected myself to be able to pitch this way. It still doesn't surprise me that I did."
His highlight was a no-hitter May 7 at Toronto, where only J.P. Arencibia's 12-pitch walk in the eighth inning thwarted a perfect game. His amazement was in how often he was seemingly close to throwing another one, from the 5 1/3 hitless innings he threw in his next start, against the Royals, to a no-hit bid he took into the eighth inning against Cleveland in June.
On a hot July 31 afternoon at Comerica Park, he took one more try, taking another no-hitter into the eighth. The Angels were the opponent. Weaver was the starting pitcher on the other side. Detroit won, 3-2. Some Tigers looked back on that game as the day they believed they could beat anybody. It looks now like the day that the AL Cy Young turned in Verlander's favor.