LAKELAND, Fla. -- Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander came within a few votes of his second American League Cy Young Award last season, losing out to Rick Porcello despite garnering more first-place votes. Verlander has spent his Spring Training trying to get himself closer to his peak pitching at the start
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander came within a few votes of his second American League Cy Young Award last season, losing out to Rick Porcello despite garnering more first-place votes. Verlander has spent his Spring Training trying to get himself closer to his peak pitching at the start of the season than he was in 2016.
Verlander did it for team reasons, hoping to help pitch the team to a better start than it had last year. But if he can, there could be some individual benefits as well.
Verlander went 9-3 with a 1.98 ERA over the final three months of the season, striking out 147 batters over 123 innings. That performance, stretched out over four or five months, likely would've left him a no-brainer for the Cy Young. But he entered July with a 7-6 record and a 4.30 ERA. Porcello, while not nearly as dominant, had the advantage of consistency, posting 11-2 records before and after the All-Star break and topping a 4.00 ERA in only one month, June.
Here's a look at Verlander and other candidates for end-of-season awards:
Cy Young/Esurance Pitcher of the Year
Verlander will have no shortage of competition for the twin honors. Chris Sale, who made a bid for the AL Cy Young Award on a White Sox squad that was never in the race, now has the advantage of a contender, pitching alongside Porcello in a stacked Red Sox rotation. Masahiro Tanaka has had a dominant Spring Training for the Yankees. Corey Kluber has become an annual contender, but maybe never more than this season as he tries to lead the Indians in defense of their AL pennant.
MVP/Esurance Player of the Year
Jose Cabrera has received an AL MVP Award vote in each of his 14 seasons, finishing ninth among AL contenders last year. If he's healthy, there's every reason to expect that streak will continue. Toppling the top five of Michael Trout, Mookie Betts, Jose Altuve, Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado is a tougher challenge. As Wins Above Replacement and advanced metrics creep further into consideration among MVP voters, the onus on Cabrera's offense becomes larger. Verlander, too, received some consideration at the bottom of ballots last year.
Rookie of the Year
While JaCoby Jones has the combination of offense and defense to make a quietly big impact on the Tigers' fortunes, he could be competing to earn AL Rookie of the Year Award consideration among a stacked group of prospects. Nobody saw Michael Fulmer coming in last year's race. An in-season candidate could be reliever Joe Jimenez, especially if he vaults into a high-profile role upon arrival.
Comeback Player of the Year
The Tigers haven't had a winner for this award, but if Anibal Sanchez can carry over his Spring Training into the regular season, a revival out of career purgatory could garner him awards consideration -- or at least free-agent consideration next winter if the club declines his option for 2018.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.