Verlander named King Tiger for 2009
Mayo Smith Society honors club's right-handed ace
DETROIT -- Justin Verlander completed his tandem of Tiger team awards Tuesday when the Mayo Smith Society named the gifted right-hander as its King Tiger for the 2009 season.
The honor, revived by the national organization of Tigers fans six years ago after a generation-long dormancy, follows Verlander's Tiger of the Year award from November as voted on by the Detroit chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America, as well as his third-place finish in American League Cy Young award voting. Members of the Mayo Smith Society will present Verlander with his award during the organization's annual Spring Training trip to Lakeland, Fla.
Unlike Verlander's Tiger of the Year honor, he had some competition for this award. Among his teammates receiving votes were defending King Tiger Miguel Cabrera, Tigers Rookie of the Year Rick Porcello, Brandon Inge, Ryan Raburn and Placido Polanco.
For a team that came within a game of the AL Central title on the strength of its pitching, however, Verlander made the greatest impact. A year after his 17 losses tied for the Major League lead, his 19 wins did the same, drawing him within a victory of becoming Detroit's first 20-game winner since Bill Guillickson in 1991.
Only ERA kept Verlander from an AL pitching triple crown in a year when he not only racked up strikeouts, but innings. By winning each of his last three starts, Verlander tied Felix Hernandez, CC Sabathia and Adam Wainwright with 19 victories. He had long since wrapped up an American League strikeout title, the first for a Tiger since Mickey Lolich in 1971, and used his late-season stretch to pass San Francisco's Tim Lincecum for the Major League crown.
Not since 2002, when Pedro Martinez racked up wins and ERA titles, has a pitcher led the AL in two of the three pitching triple crown categories and not won the Cy Young.
Not since Pedro fanned 284 batters in 2000 has an American Leaguer struck out as many batters as the 269 Verlander racked up this year, the fifth-highest total in franchise history and most by a Tiger since Lolich's team-record 308 in 1971.
Verlander had at least eight strikeouts in 20 of his 35 starts, and seven double-digit strikeout games. That includes 60 strikeouts over a five-start stretch in April and May in which he won all five starts and posted an ERA under 1.00, something only Randy Johnson has done among active Major League pitchers.
The single-game dominance was even more formidable. He struck out nine Yankees with no walks over seven innings April 27 at Comerica Park to start him on that aforementioned stretch, then put up three consecutive starts with 11 or more strikeouts. The Indians managed just two hits and two walks off him in a complete-game shutout, punctuated by Curtis Granderson's leaping catch at the Progressive Field center-field wall.
The list of Verlander's mastery goes on and on, from eight scoreless August innings at Fenway Park to avoid a sweep to the Red Sox to back-to-back wins over the defending AL champion Rays. Through it all, every time the Tigers needed a solid outing from him, he answered, including his seven-plus solid innings in a home finale the Tigers needed to win to force an AL Central tiebreaker with the Twins.
It was simply a dominant season for a team that needed solid pitching to support an offense that struggled to score runs, and the best all-around single season for a Tigers pitcher since the days Jack Morris commanded the mound at Tiger Stadium.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.