DETROIT -- The second of what will likely be a triple crown of rookie honors for Justin Verlander came Wednesday, when he was honored as the American League's Outstanding Rookie as part of the MLB Players Choice Awards.
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. Verlander also won AL rookie honors last month in player balloting by The Sporting News.
The last and most prestigious of the awards comes next Monday, when the Baseball Writers' Association of America releases its American League and National League Rookie of the Year awards. No Tigers player has won that honor since Lou Whitaker in 1978, and no Tigers pitcher since Mark Fidrych in 1976.
Of the top three candidates, Verlander is the only one to last the entire season without missing significant time due to injury or fatigue. His 17 wins tied for fourth among all American League 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 American League leaders in ERA until a second-half fade -- he posted a 5.86 ERA over his final nine starts -- knocked him into a seventh-place tie.
Though the Tigers expected Verlander to have a good share of success when manager Jim Leyland named him to the rotation out of Spring Training, nobody expected the kind of start 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, Verlander 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 final pitch.
"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 [mph] with a curveball off the table and a good changeup, it's pretty easy to be poised. It's that simple."
After a loss to the White Sox ended that unbeaten streak, Verlander topped it with seven straight wins from mid-June 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 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.
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."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.