Tigers ace Justin Verlander has a career 124-65 record with an ERA of 3.40. (Elizabeth Conley/Detroit News)
Over the long, barren winter from the last called strike of the World Series until the beginning of spring training, baseball is filled with debate and some controversy.
But there can be no argument about this vital subject: Pitchers are a different classification of athlete.
That is, if these creatures are to be considered athletes at all. And quite often they are silently ostracized by their teammates.
Pitchers are coddled; they are pampered. They are considered baseball's artisans.
Those of them who are starting pitchers work as quintuplets. The norm is that they are out of service four of every five days during the season.
And when they pitch, the number of times they throw is counted by adult men with clocking devices.
Shortstops and right fielders are not limited by pitch counts.
Pitchers are fragile — much more so than first baseman and center fielders.
The pitchers are so precious their tender arms are preserved in bags of ice cubes after every game in which they pitch. They are the first to receive the services of the team's masseur.
And always for the starting pitchers when the job gets too tough, they have other specialist pitchers available to rush into the games to rescue them.
Plus, the value of the specialist pitchers is so much that managers employ super-specialists who are withheld from the games until the ninth inning.
The general code of all major-league managers is never dare to use this super-specialist — known as the closer — in the eighth inning. Even if the bases are loaded, the incumbent pitcher is about to implode — and the hard-earned three-run lead is on the verge of disappearing.
Those are basic theories of the game.
And yes, the pitchers — even though they might appear in only one-fifth of the team's games — are paid fantastic sums. The best of them earn monies equivalent to sums paid to, say, the MVP third baseman — or the home-run slugging outfielder.
These are monies guaranteed over seven or five seasons — even if the precious arms might go bust on the Fourth of July. And the ice bag or something called Tommy John surgery cannot repair the shredded — priceless — arms.
There are reasons, of course, for this separation of pitchers and guys who toil daily in the field.
The pitchers are pampered and coddled because grizzled, leathery major-league managers tell us the craft of pitching is 75 percent of the game. This theory goes way back, far before Sparky Anderson and Tony La Russa revolutionized the pitching art with five-man starting rotations. It is before Sparky and Tony originated the quick hook to summon relievers with fresh arms to save the old ballgames.
Shoot, pitching being considered as 75 percent of the game became a cliché more than a century ago. Perhaps it spouted from the wisdom of John J. McGraw when he used Christy Mathewson and Iron Joe McGinnity on two days' of rest in the early 1900s.
The money wasn't so hot then. But the pitching was.
The value of pitching never changes no matter how much the sport of baseball does change.
The urgent need for quality pitching is such that the other day the Seattle Mariners awarded Felix Hernandez a contract worth $175 million over seven seasons.
And consider Hernandez — nicknamed King Felix — never has been a 20-game winner, or pitched in a World Series. Consider that Hernandez never even pitched in a playoff game.
If Hernandez is known as King Felix, what might we call Justin Verlander?
How about we call him excellent, the best of the best — the ace of aces?
Verlander is committed to another two seasons on his current contract, $80 million for five years, with the Tigers. Not peanuts. Not, also, in the salary league of King Felix with the risky new contract.
But we are going to spend a considerable amount of time imagining what the high-scale bidding would amount to if the Tigers don't sign Verlander anew before his free agency date. That would be following the 2014 World Series.
The Internet speculation already has begun.
A provocative piece on Sports Illustrated's website was headlined: "Kershaw, Verlander in race to be first $200 million pitcher."
An excellent debate. The Dodgers, with their new ownership's spree-spending mindset, have the wherewithal to pay Clayton Kershaw that much over, say, seven years. Kershaw already has a National League Cy Young Award on his resume.
And the Tigers, it is well known, are eager to outbid any rival for any player they seriously covet.
Kershaw's appeal is that he is young, turning 25 on March 19. And he pitches with his left arm. But he has missed starts because of a fragile hip.
Hernandez signed his new contract amid reports of a fragile elbow.
There isn't any such character as an Iron Pitcher in today's baseball. But if the word were in current descriptive usage it could be applied to Justin Verlander.
Nothing fragile about the guy.
Verlander is due to become an ancient of 30 next Wednesday. He is older — as well as more durable — than Hernandez, who turns 27 on April 8, and Kershaw.
Partly another Sabermetric professorial treatise, the SI web piece — authored by an obviously diligent Jay Jaffe — did offer plenty of salient facts about Verlander's superiority.
To wit: Jaffe's breakdown of Verlander's 2013 and 2014 salary of $20 million per season ties him for No. 17 among all pitching moneymakers. The likes of A.J. Burnett and John Lackey earn more. Verlander's tie happens to be with Anibel Sanchez, the pitcher the Tigers retained in a free-agency auction after the recent World Series.
Also: Iron Justin is only the second pitcher to win in a season — 2011 — the Cy Young and most valuable player awards plus lead a league in victories, strikeouts and earned-run average.
The only other guy to assemble such a perfecta in a season was a rather spectacular pitcher from a half-century or so ago — Sandy Koufax.
If King Felix Hernandez is worth $175 million for seven seasons, what could Justin Verlander be worth?
Just for debate, I did some research of my own.
Hernandez and Verlander both arrived in the major leagues in 2005. Justin was in for two spot starts, a pair of losses. Hernandez arrived in late season and went 4-4.
Now, Verlander has a career 124-65 record with an ERA of 3.40. Hernandez trails by a distance — 98-76 with an ERA of 3.22.
Each has won a Cy Young. King Felix — quite mysteriously — with a 13-12 record in 2010. The next year, Verlander won it with his 24-5 record plus the MVP double.
So far, Verlander has pitched two no-hitters. Hernandez pitched a perfect game last season.
As we prepare to start another go-around in 2013, my contention remains that baseball's most important statistic, obviously, is victories. Winning!
I have failed to figure out how the Sabermetric professors factor plain, old-fashioned victories into their WAR, ERA-Plus and assorted other stats.
Verlander has pitched the Tigers to two pennants. His record for postseason playoffs — divisional and league championship series — is 6-1.
True, Verlander is 0-3 in starts in the World Series.
Then again, King Felix pitches for the Mariners and, thus, carries a postseason record of 0-0.
Jerry Green is a retired Detroit News sportswriter.