“It doesn’t really matter [who the opposing pitcher is], if I go out and do what I’m supposed to do, things take care of themselves.”
In 2011, Justin Verlander followed his own advice and took care of things. As a result he was named the American League’s Most Valuable Player on Monday.
The tall right-hander becomes the fourth Tiger pitcher to earn the MVP Award, joining Hal Newhouser, Denny McLain, and Willie Hernandez. Newhouser, a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, did it twice: in 1944 and 1945. Hernandez was a relief pitcher who won the award in 1984.
In his sixth full big league season, Verlander is the first starting pitcher to win an MVP since Roger Clemens in 1986. The last NL pitcher to do it was Hall of Famer Bob Gibson in 1968, the same season McLain won 31 games on his way to the award.
Many of baseball’s greatest pitchers of the last 50 years never won an MVP: Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, Jim Palmer, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martinez. There was much debate in 2011 over whether a starting pitcher should win the award, since the Cy Young (which Verlander also won) is available to hurlers.
Verlander’s manager Jim Leyland caused a bit of a stir during the season when he said pitcher’s shouldn’t win the MVP, but he later admitted that if anyone deserved it, it was Verlander. Since the introduction of the Cy Young Award in 1956, fewer starting pitchers have won the MVP.
Verlander was on his game almost every time he toed the rubber for the Tigers this past season, winning 16 times after a Tiger loss, pitching a quality start (at least six innings and less than three runs) in 28 of his 34 starts, and never once pitching less than six innings. His value in saving the workload on the Tiger bullpen was one of the reasons he garnered the rare MVP as a starting pitcher.
Another reason was the fact that he captured baseball’s pitching Triple Crown – leading the league in wins, strikeouts, and ERA. His win total of 24 was the highest in the American League in 21 years, and the most by a Tiger since Mickey Lolich’s 25 forty years ago.
A first round draft pick (second overall) by the Tigers back in 2004, Verlander has used his incredible fastball and curve to throw two no-hitters, his second coming on May 7 in Toronto against the Blue Jays.
“He seems to have no-hit stuff each time he goes out there,” said teammate Jhonny Peralta. In fact, Verlander took three no-hitters as far as the seventh inning in 2011.
With the Cy Young Award and now the MVP on his resume, Verlander is in rare air among pitchers. In the next few seasons, the Tiger ace will attempt to add more gaudy numbers and honors to his amazing accomplishments.