DENVER, CO - JUNE 19: Starting pitcher Justin Verlander #35 of the Detroit Tigers works against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on June 19, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. Verlander pitched a complete game and earned the win as the Tigers defeated the Rockies 9-1. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
has a been a beast among men this year. He won his 12th consecutive game on Sunday, giving him 24 wins on the year, which ties (1996) and (2002) for the most victories in a season since 1990, when Bob Welch won 27 games. Verlander has one more start against the on Saturday, giving him a legitimate shot to become baseball's first 25-game winner in 21 years.
Some of Verlander's numbers are staggering. He has 16 wins in games following aloss, the most since Steve Carlton won 19 in 1972; he leads the American League in wins, ERA, WHIP, strikeouts and quality starts; he's gone at least six innings in all 33 of his starts, a feat only Steve Carlton, and Bob Gibson (twice) have accomplished in the live-ball era; he's won 20 of his last 22 starts, he's taken three no-hitters into the eighth inning and finished with one on May 7 against the . He'll not only win the Cy Young award with a near-unanimous vote, but will garner serious attention for the MVP award as well.
The Tigers are 24-8 in games he's started, but does that really make him an MVP candidate, even above Tigers first baseman? There is a precedent for pitchers winning both awards, though it hasn't been done in a while; Dennis Eckersley was the last to do it, winning the MVP and the Cy Young in 1992. Three of the last four pitchers to do it were relievers: Eckersley in '92, Willie Hernandez in 1984 and Rollie Fingers in 1981. The last starter to garner both awards was Roger Clemens in 1986, and before that Vida Blue in 1971, who also won 24 games, although he did it with far better peripherals than Verlander: a 1.82 ERA, 301 strikeouts, 8 shutouts and 24 complete games.
In Verlander's defense, hitting numbers -- even in the so-called "post-steroids era" -- are so much better now than they were in either 1986 or 1971 that it's incredible that Verlander's even in the ballpark of someone like Blue. But it's hard to embrace any starter as the MVP of the league, even one as great as Verlander, simply because they only play in one out of five games. The Tigers have a 12.5 game lead in their division and have an everyday player in Cabrera who leads them in batting average, runs, home runs, RBI, slugging and on-base percentage. Verlander is obviously valuable, but more valuable than either Cabrera or, who has a spectacular combination of runs, home runs, RBI and stolen bases? That I'm not so sure of.
The Cy Young award was basically created to be the pitcher's designated MVP award, while the MVP would continue to go to batters. So to bypass the system and give both awards to a pitcher like Verlander is hard to justify, even though it isn't unheard of. Steve Berthiaume of ESPN points out that Verlander has better numbers than Clemens did in the year he won the MVP, although that may have had more to do with Clemens' competition than anything, not to mention that comparing someone's performance to a previous award-winner isn't an argument people make very often, especially in regards to hitters winning the MVP award.
In the end, here's the question that needs to be answered by voters: are the numbers Verlander puts up in 34 games worth more than what Cabrera, Granderson, Jacoby Ellsbury, Adrian Gonzalez and Robinson Cano put up in 162 games? Verlander is probably better at what he does than anyone in the sport, but that may not make him the MVP. We'll find out for sure later this year.