DETROIT — Justin Verlander’s case for winning the American League MVP 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, beating out former teammate Curtis Granderson and others for the league’s highest individual honor.
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 points total to 280.
Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury received four first-place and 13 second-place votes and finished second overall with 242 points. Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista was third with five first-place votes and 231 points.
Granderson garnered three first-place votes and 215 points to finish fourth, while Cabrera received two first-place votes and 193 points to place fifth. Michael Young of the Rangers received one first-place vote but finished eighth in the balloting.
The National League MVP will be revealed on Tuesday. MLB.com’s live coverage begins at 1:30 p.m. ET.
The last starting pitcher to be named AL MVP was Roger Clemens of the Red Sox in 1986. The last pitcher to win the award was A’s closer Dennis Eckersley in 1992.
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 they might have left him completely off their ballot. One of them did: Jim Ingraham of The Herald-News in Ohio, who told The Associated Press that he was opposed to pitchers being eligible for the award. Verlander also received one eighth-place vote. Sheldon Ocker of the Akron Beacon Journal cast that ballot, AP reported.
But those two ballots didn’t prevent Verlander from winning.
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, 31-game-winner Denny McLain in 1968 and Hal Newhouser in 1944 and ’45.
Verlander wouldn’t allow the MVP debate to overshadow his AL Cy Young award last week. 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.
Yet another, he said, was 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.