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Verlander Named AL Rookie Of The Year

Courtesy: ODU Athletics
         
Release: November 13, 2006
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Nov. 13, 2006

Verlander wins AL Rookie of the Year 11/13/2006 2:00 PM ET By Jason Beck / MLB.com

DETROIT -- Justin Verlander (ODU '04) was already considered the best rookie in the American League according to two separate polls of players. On Monday, however, was the most prestigious honor of all.

Verlander completed a clean sweep of his league's rookie awards when the Baseball Writers' Association of America selected him as its AL Rookie of the Year. The longest-running of the rookie honors goes to a Tiger for the first time since Lou Whitaker won it in 1978, and the first to a Detroit pitcher since Mark "The Bird" Fidrych in 1976.

In so doing, Verlander becomes the first starting pitcher to win AL Rookie of the Year since New York's Dave Righetti in 1981. Dontrelle Willis won the NL honor in 2003.

While at ODU, Verlander earned All-CAA honors and was the University's Alumni Association's Male Athlete of the Year. He is ODU's, the CAA's and Virginia's all-time strikeout leader with 427 in 335.2 innings of work for an 11.5 career strikeout average, and a finalist for the Roger Clemons award.

The 23-year-old right-hander again won out in what was expected to be a tight contest among AL rookie pitchers, including Twins phenom Francisco Liriano and Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. Of that group, Verlander is the only one to last the entire season without missing significant time due to injury or fatigue.

Verlander received 26 first-place votes and 133 total points, easily outdistancing Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon, who tallied 63 points and no first-place votes. Twins rookie Francisco Liriano was third in the voting with 30 points and one first-place vote. Seattle catcher Kenji Johjima was fourth, followed by Angels pitcher Jered Weaver, the Orioles' Nick Markakis and Ian Kinsler of the Rangers.

For all the talk about Detroit's comeback from 119 losses in 2003 to the World Series this year, the Tigers wouldn't have had Verlander without all those defeats, which earned them the second selection in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft. When they used it on the flame-thrower from Old Dominion, he was a relative mystery, a highly touted arm who came out of a less-than-touted college program. After proving himself with a breakout season of Minor League ball in 2005, he was on the cusp of the big leagues.

Though the Tigers expected Verlander to have a good share of success when manager Jim Leyland named him as a starter out of Spring Training, nobody expected the kind of beginning he would enjoy, which had a lot to do with the Tigers' runaway first half. After putting up three starts of seven innings with one run or less in April, he ran off four consecutive wins -- including his first complete-game shutout -- to earn AL Rookie of the Month honors in May.

Even when he lost, he was turning heads. He gave up four runs over seven innings in April at Oakland, but repeatedly hit triple digits on the McAfee Coliseum radar gun, topping out at 101 mph and hitting 99 mph on his 115th pitch.

"If you take that stuff to the mound every night for a number of years," Leyland predicted, "you're going to win a lot of games. That's pretty impressive stuff."

He wasn't doing that all the time -- in fact, he didn't hit triple digits that many times in any other game this year -- but he wasn't far off. After a loss to the White Sox in June, he tallied seven straight wins into August, during which he allowed a 1.93 ERA.

No Tigers rookie -- until Verlander -- had ever won 10 games by the All-Star break, and no rookie anywhere since Dwight Gooden in 1984 had posted five consecutive starts of at least six innings with one run or less until Verlander repeated it from late June through the end of July.

Verlander's 17 wins tied for fourth among all AL pitchers and easily led all Major League rookies, as did his 186 innings pitched and 3.63 ERA among rookies with enough innings to qualify for an ERA title. He ranked among the league leaders in ERA until a second-half fade -- he posted a 5.86 ERA over his final nine starts -- which knocked him into a seventh-place tie.

All that success raised the question of how such an untested pitcher could look so poised in big games. Leyland had roughly the same answer each time.

"I compare him a little bit to Dwight Gooden when he first came into the league," Leyland said last month. "Man, this kid has got incredible poise. My reaction has always been the same, when you throw at 97 [miles per hour] with a curveball off the table and a good changeup, it's pretty easy to be poised. It's that simple."

That answer provided some explanation as to Verlander's final honor. With a week off between the end of the AL Championship Series and Game 1 of the World Series, Leyland shuffled his postseason rotation order and put Verlander at the top. Verlander struggled in defeat in that outing, but came back with a decent outing in Game 5, save for a critical throwing error on a sacrifice bunt.

Take away Verlander's season-long struggles against the White Sox, and he owned a 16-5 record and 2.97 ERA for the year. Even with Chicago included, his season was by far the best from a Tigers rookie since Fidrych's magical campaign. It was more than enough to earn him respect from his peers.

"There's not many people that come around this game with that kind of stuff," Kenny Rogers said. "And he's solid in pretty much every aspect. The more experience he gets, he's going to get better and better." This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

pre> 2006 AL Rookie of the Year: Justin Verlander, Tigers

2006 American League voting ¬
Player, Club
Justin Verlander, Detroit   26-1-0=133
Jonathan Papelbon , Boston, 0-20-3=63
Francicso Liriano, Minnesota, 1-3-16=30
Kenji Johjima, Seattle,0- 2-4=10
Jared Weaver, Los Angeles, 0-2-2=8
Nick Markakis, Baltimore, 1-0-2=7
Ian Kinsler, Texas, 0-0-1=1

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