Verlander, Britton and me: A strange Twitter tale -
Dan Connolly

Verlander, Britton and me: A strange Twitter tale


This Election Day just happened to be my daughter’s 13th birthday. As is our family tradition, we went out to dinner at a place of her choosing before we came back home to watch election (and Gold Glove announcement) coverage.

As I arrived home, I noticed a couple text messages from one of my best buddies in sportswriting. When we check in with one another, it’s usually to bust the other’s stones about something. It’s that kind of friendship.

That’s what he was doing this time, ragging me about my Twitter interaction with Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander. My friend said he had read the Internet article about it.


The what?

A Google search revealed that I had inadvertently made a little news in Detroit this week – or Verlander did anyway, and I was along for the ride.

Really strange how things work in this brave new world of instant communications. A handful of tweets ultimately became a blog entry for a couple different media entities in Michigan.

Weird, but funny. So, I figured I’d share my side of the story – if you want to call it that — with you today.

The background: On Monday night, MLB Network revealed the three finalists for each of the BBWAA season-ending awards, including AL Cy Young. I was in my home office about to report that Orioles closer Zach Britton was one of the three finalists. I didn’t really expect him to win since it is traditionally a starters’ award, but I figured since Britton didn’t blow a save and posted a 0.54 ERA in 67 innings this year, he’d be in the conversation.

Yeah, I was wrong. Way wrong. The finalists were all starters: Cleveland’s Corey Kluber, Boston’s Rick Porcello and Verlander. Britton didn’t make the cut despite the lowest ERA in the history of baseball for anyone with at least 50 innings pitched.

My phone started blowing up and I began making calls looking for comment. This produced a series of tweets, including one in which I tried to capsulize my surprise in 140 characters:

My point, if I had a little longer to expound on Twitter, was that this seemed to be one of those rare situations in which a reliever had a real shot at the Cy Young (It’s happened nine times since 1956, but not since 2003). No legitimate AL starter candidate had an ERA under 3.00 this year; it’s been since 2007 in either league since a starter won the award with a mark above 3.00.

Well, I didn’t expound. And Verlander (16-9, 3.04 ERA, 254 strikeouts in 227 2/3 innings) saw the tweet. He apparently wasn’t in agreement that his superb season wasn’t dominant, so he replied to me – with a chart.

No explanation, no words of retort. Just a color-coded graphic with pretty simple facts. Six top AL starters were listed along with 12 pitching categories, a mix of traditional ones and advanced metrics. The leader in each category was highlighted in yellow, and the last-place finisher was highlighted in red.

Verlander led or was tied for the top spot in eight of those categories, and trailed in just one; he had received the worst 2016 run support of any of the elite starters listed.

It was an interesting and revealing piece of information. First, though, I had to make sure it actually came from Verlander. The @JustinVerlander account included the Twitter blue check that shows an account is verified. And it had nearly one million followers, a pretty good clue that it was him.

And the sentiment was understandable. The guy pitched his butt off this year, had his best season since 2012 and probably wasn’t thrilled some writer suggested he wasn’t dominant.

So, I decided to respond to Verlander with this:

I was referring to Verlander’s 2011 season when he won the AL Cy Young and MVP awards with a season for the ages. My point was that if he had that same campaign this year as he did in 2011 – or some other AL pitcher put up those numbers this year – then there’d be no need to debate Britton’s candidacy as a potential Cy Young winner.

Because a dominant starter should eclipse a dominant reliever every time. That’s a simple matter of workload. But when a reliever is dominant – historic — and the cadre of starters is very, very good? Well, I think that Cy door should be cracked open, at least for a reliever to be a finalist.

The chart Verlander sent to me – which was originally created by a Tigers’ fan site, – says more about his viable candidacy versus the other AL starters than it does to support the claim that any of this year’s AL starting crop was dominant.

But it makes the point that Verlander belongs in the conversation for the award – something I’ve never questioned. (Full disclosure: I had a AL MVP vote this year, so I spent my time researching those candidates and not looking deeply into the Cy Young race.)

Verlander replied again – this time with words.

I responded that I agreed, I just didn’t get why Britton, or any pitcher who had an unquestionably historic season, would be left out of the Top 3 for the Cy Young.

Verlander answered: “Innings…That’s my guess anyways…Agree. Unbelievable season.”

That was the end of the correspondence. Verlander did follow with an overall tweet that read: “Hey everyone…No negativity here. Objectivity. I just enjoy the debate and the stats. That’s 1 of the things that makes baseball great.”

Frankly, I didn’t think any more of it. In this job, and with the advent of Twitter, people are always commenting directly to me about what I write and tweet. Some of those people are the athletes I cover.

Back when he was highly active on Twitter, it wasn’t unusual for Orioles center fielder Adam Jones to get into a debate with one of the Orioles’ writers on social media – with the public reading their give-and-take and sometimes joining in. It makes the process a little more fun; and that’s what Verlander’s correspondence did, too.

This was a little more unusual, I suppose, because I don’t have a relationship with Verlander. I’ve interviewed him in group situations during the postseason and had a brief one-on-one interview with him when he was a rookie; he was a Virginia native and that was pseudo-local enough for The Baltimore Sun.

It was also unusual that a Cy Young finalist would take to social media to defend his candidacy. But Verlander is fairly active on Twitter, and it’s not really like he defended it. He just read a broad statement from me and sent some information to make a point. It was cordial and professional, not pleading or edgy.

My nephews, Tigers fans born in Michigan, thought it was cool. The Detroit News referred to me as a “prominent baseball writer,” the first time those words have been printed or uttered about me in, probably, forever.

And Verlander showed he was engaged in baseball talk even in the offseason, which thrilled many of his fans (who promptly rebuked me for not thinking Verlander was dominant in 2016).

So, it was all good. No harm, no foul. Certainly, no hard feelings.

Just a fun, quick little debate that, for some reason, generated more interest than anticipated.

But, as Verlander tweeted, debating intricacies of the sport is one of the great things about baseball.



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