November 15, 2012 at 1:00 am

Tony Paul

Detroit-based writer defends vote of David Price over Justin Verlander

Detroit — One first-place vote, that's how close it was.

One more first-place vote for Justin Verlander, and the Tigers ace today would be continuing the celebration of winning his second consecutive Cy Young Award.

But it didn't happen, and there are several votes one could point to for Rays lefty David Price's victory.

Rays closer Fernando Rodney got a first-place vote, for instance, but zero second-place votes from the 28 voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Those in Metro Detroit, though, are more interested in how their local writers voted. And in that case, one, The Detroit News' Lynn Henning, voted for Verlander. But the other, Fox Sports' Jon Paul Morosi, after long deliberation, decided to go with Price.

And for that, he caught flak on Twitter after the announcement Wednesday night.

Morosi understands that, but wants fans to know he didn't make his decision lightly. In fact, he cast his vote only after gauging the opinions of those who know the game best, the players and coaches.

In the end, for Morosi, it came down to this: Price's performance was a tick more impressive than Verlander's because he did it in the American League East, where the opposing offenses are superior and the ballparks are, on a whole, hitter-friendly.

"This was a very, very tough decision," Morosi told me Wednesday night, while making a lengthy, spirited and convincing case for his final vote. "There's just something different about that division."

The AL Central, in comparison, is widely regarded as the weakest division in baseball.

Two of the teams in the AL East, the Yankees and Orioles, made the playoffs. And the other two, the Blue Jays and Red Sox, have no shortage of offensive firepower.

"When you pitch in those parks, Yankee Stadium, Camden Yards, Rogers Centre, Fenway Park," said Morosi, "one mistake very frequently results in a home run."

Combine that with the fact Price pitched for the team with the weakest offense in the division, and his numbers, Morosi said, are more impressive. Those included a league-best 20 wins, and a 2.56 ERA, making him the first pitcher from the AL East to win an ERA title since Pedro Martinez in 2003.

Against AL East foes, Price was 10-2 with a 2.50 ERA; against teams with winning records, 13-3 and 2.27.

Verlander, meanwhile, had three fewer wins and a higher ERA (2.64), but also was the workhorse in the race, throwing a league-high 238.1 innings while striking out a major league-best 239.

In that regard, Morosi conceded, "sheer numbers" tend to favor Verlander — the Detroit right-hander also was 6-1 against teams that made the postseason, by the way — but he said the writers are charged with finding "context" in a player's season. It's why awards aren't just handed out based on statistical achievements. (Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young after going 13-12 in 2010.)

"At the end of the day, numbers are important," Morosi said. But he prefers to look "big picture."

Some critics say Verlander was penalized for his team's poor defense, but Morosi correctly points out the Rays infield was, at times this season, a game of musical chairs, with 10 different third basemen (who combined for 33 errors), nine second basemen (12 errors) and four shortstops (23 errors).

Morosi also dispelled any notion he voted for Price to win his first Cy Young as sort of a "lifetime achievement" nod, nor was he out to deny Verlander back-to-back Cy Youngs.

In fact, Morosi noted, this is the first time he's not voted Verlander first on a ballot he has cast. Morosi voted for him for 2006 rookie of the year, and 2011 MVP — the latter a vote much like this year's Cy Young, requiring a lot of inner debate and outside-the-box thinking.

"There are different opinions, different perspectives, writers do things different," Morosi said. "I don't dispute the numbers say Verlander. And I'm not saying Verlander would've been the wrong choice."

When the ballots all came in, this year's Cy Young race ended up being the closest since voting was expanded to allow writers to include more than one name on the ballot in 1970.

That didn't really surprise Morosi, who, as he recalls, got nearly a 50-50 split in his own unofficial polling of players, managers and coaches.

What wasn't nearly as close, he said, was the take of players and coaches he talked to about the MVP debate. There, Morosi said, Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera cleaned up over Angels rookie Mike Trout.

Did the writers agree? We'll see on MLB Network, shortly after 6 p.m. tonight.

WRITERS WHO VOTED DAVID PRICE FIRST

Mel Antonen, SI.com

Bill Ballou, Worcester (Mass.) Telegram & Gazette

Shi Davidi, at large

Martin Fennelly, Tampa Tribune

Gerry Fraley, Dallas Morning News

Scot Gregor, Arlington Heights (Ill.) Daily Herald

John Hickey, at large

Dennis Manoloff, Cleveland Plain Dealer

Michael Martinez, FoxSportsWest.com

Jon Paul Morosi, Fox Sports

Bill Plunkett, Orange County Register

Ken Rosenthal, Fox Sports

Joe Smith, Tampa Bay Times

Dave Van Dyck, Chicago Tribune

WRITERS WHO VOTED JUSTIN VERLANDER FIRST

Daniel. Barbarisi, Wall Street Journal

Rob Bradford, WEEI.com

Joe Christensen, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Ken Fidlin, Toronto Sun

Ben Goessling, St. Paul Pioneer Press

Lynn Henning, The Detroit News

Jim Ingraham, (Willoughby, Ohio) News Herald

Bruce Jenkins, San Francisco Chronicle

Chad Jennings, (White Plains, N.Y.) Journal News

Sam Mellinger, Kansas City Star

Jorge Ortiz, USA Today

Joe Posnanski, SI.com

Larry Stone, Seattle Times

WRITERS WHO VOTED FERNANDO RODNEY FIRST

Drew Davison, Fort Worth Star Telegram

tpaul@detnews.com

twitter.com/tonypaul1984

Jon Paul Morosi says David Price's AL East is a tougher division than Justin Verlander's AL Central. / Robin Buckson / Detroit News