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AL Central loses a Very AL Central Player after Justin Verlander trade

There’s a void in the ranks

Chicago White Sox v Detroit Tigers
Justin Verlander pitches to Alexei Ramirez in a Very AL Central matchup.
Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

I won’t miss watching the White Sox face Justin Verlander. He was simply too good, and better than his career numbers against the Sox indicate.

He made 42 starts against the Sox in his career, going 20-13 with a 3.82 ERA, but those starts can be carved up into three periods -- pre-peak Verlander (2006-08), peak Verlander (2009-12), and the post-peak Verlander from 2013 to present. Here’s how those Verlander versions fared against the Sox:

  • Pre-peak: 2-9, 5.90 ERA over 14 starts and 87 innings
  • Peak: 12-1, 2.23 ERA over 13 starts and 101 innings
  • Peak: 6-3, 3.62 ERA over 15 starts and 97 innings

The White Sox appeared to have the present-day Verlander’s number early on, but he has since wrestled them to the ground. As a result, Verlander is 18-4 with a 2.91 ERA against the Sox since the start of the 2009 season. He can be gone.

At the same time, I’ll miss having Verlander in the division, because he was AL Central as hell. He was drafted by the Tigers and made his debut during the Detroit turnaround of 2006. While he made 42 starts against the Sox, he made more against the Royals (45), and the most against Cleveland (52). Every AL Central team has stories about Verlander kicking their asses, and fond memories of the time they kicked his ass.

At the same time, while Verlander was Very AL Central, I don’t think he was the Most AL Central. His profile was too large and important outside of the division. He won a Cy Young and an MVP, his wife fiancee is more famous than he is, and she railed against voters for another Cy Young he should have won.

To be the Most AL Central Player, you have to have a disproportionate impact in a manner that reflects the unbalanced schedule. A few examples:

No. 1: When Paul Konerko retired, he departed as the Most AL Central Player. This is reflected by his retirement tour. It did not require mandatory participation by the league, rather a reception thrown only by the teams that felt compelled. The divisional rivals had the most to say.

(Konerko might be the Most AL Central Player ever, although he can be topped since he started in the National League. Magglio Ordonez has a case here.)

No. 2: While Chris Sale and Jose Quintana were both on the White Sox, Sale was the better pitcher, but Quintana was More AL Central. Everything about Sale transcended divisions, especially when he started fomenting them.

No. 3: Here’s a perfect representation of AL Centralness:

Yes. This has Radke’s name all over it, hands-down. Buehrle is Very AL Central, but he eventually outgrew the division with the no-hitter, perfect game, and the four years away finished his ceiling. Radke’s career is 190-proof AL Central, and if you can’t feel the distinction now, then you may as well wait for the next post.

For those soldiering on, I’m not sure whether Verlander was the Most AL Central Player, but he definitely leaves a hole in the ranks. Looking through the rosters, here are the active Most AL Central players from each team, in order from Least AL Central to Most AL Central.

The Most AL Central White Sox: Jose Abreu. It kinda has to be, especially since Nate Jones and Zach Putnam haven’t been able to stay healthy enough to be as constant a presence. Carlos Rodon can make waves if his good starts end up against divisional opponents.

The Most AL Central Cleveland Indian: By tenure, it’s Michael Brantley. By steadiness of presence, it’s Jason Kipnis or Carlos Santana. By inexplicable and maddening bursts of success, it’s Josh Tomlin and Lonnie Chisenhall. By uniforms, Austin Jackson is 60 percent of the way to completing the set. Corey Kluber is hanging around for his second Cy Young if Sale slips up, so he’s too big a deal. The rest all have that distinct AL Central essence. I think I’m leaning toward Kipnis, but I can be swayed.

The Most AL Central Kansas City Royal: Alex Gordon. He’s spent the entirety of his 11 seasons with the Royals, where his delayed rise and abrupt fall closely resembles the fortunes of his team. With two years left on his deal, he’s going to outlast other Very AL Central Royals like Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain and Sal Perez (in that order). Keep an eye on Danny Duffy.

The Most AL Central Minnesota Twin: Joe Mauer. Here’s a case of a guy who outgrew AL Centralness with the well-deserved MVP and Hall of Fame track, but he’s lost enough celebrity over a 14-year career — all with the Twins -- to return to being a guy largely of divisional import. This could have been who Buehrle settled into had he stayed with the Sox, although I still don’t know whether that makes him more AL Central than Radke. I’d also accept arguments for Brian Dozier, although he was so prominently involved in trade rumors that it kinda feels like he broke containment.

The Most AL Central Detroit Tiger: Victor Martinez. Larry and I discussed this on Twitter, where I wondered whether his year and a half away from the division disqualified him from being the Most AL Central Player in the way an Icelandic horse can never return after leaving the island. But Martinez has been around the division long enough for two lives -- the current one as Detroit’s DH, and the previous one as the starting catcher for Cleveland, which dates all the way back to 2002. He’s been played a key part in battles for two teams, making him a local terror for the three teams he didn’t join, but injuries and defensive limitations make it harder to break through into greater acclaim. That’s the kind of balance you’re looking for in a Most AL Central Player, and assuming the Tigers can’t move him, he’ll hold this title for at least one more year.