17 August 2011
The last time a starting pitcher won their league’s Most Valuable Player award was 1992 when Dennis Eckersley won it out of Oakland’s bullpen. The last starting pitcher was Boston’s Roger Clemens in 1986. So clearly pitchers never get much credit as far as MVP goes as hitters do. Maybe it’s time to change that. What Justin Verlander has done in Detroit may end up having historic implications. Traditionally the best pitcher in the league receives the CY Young Award. The best hitter receives the MVP Award. That right there is the problem. Pitchers have their own award, as should hitters. What if a hitter isn’t the most valuable player in the league? What if the Most Valuable Player in the league pitches for the Detroit Tigers? Those esteemed baseball writers with MVP votes- pay attention.
After Jered Weaver’s poor outing his last time out, as well as CC Sabathia on a mini-slide, Justin Verlander (in my humble opinion) is the clear cut choice for the American League’s CY Young Award winner. In the three pitching Triple Crown categories (wins, ERA, and strikeouts), he leads in wins (18 to Sabathia’s 16) and K’s (204 to Felix Hernandez’s 174), and is second in ERA (2.31 to Weaver’s 2.13). I really don’t even think that there can be a discussion for any other starter- Justin Verlander is just head and shoulders above his competition.
The thing about the MVP award is that it is a misnomer. I personally believe that there should be three major awards per year: the best pitcher (CY Young Award), the best hitter (make it and call it something catchy and fitting like the Willie Mays Award), then the Most Valuable Player. Take the National League in 2006. Ryan Howard had a terrific year, well deserving of the Willie Mays Award, but how valuable was he to the Phillies? The Phils won 85 games and lost the division by 12 games (though they finished only 3 games out of the Wild Card). So who should have been the MVP that year? Albert Pujols. In the hitters version of the triple crown (average, home runs, and RBIs), he finished 3rd in the league in batting (.331 to Freddy Sanchez’s .344), and 2nd in HR (49 to Howard’s 58) and RBI (137 to Howard’s 149). Howard had a better offensive season than Pujols that year, and is well deserving of my Willie Mays Award. But Pujols’ Cardinals won 83 games, the division, and (although it has no bearing on the award voting) eventually the World Series. Albert Pujols in 2006 was more valuable to the St. Louis Cardinals than Ryan Howard was to the Philadelphia Phillies. But wait, where would the Phils have been without Howard? In my opinion, it doesn’t matter. The Phillies did not make the playoffs and in October 2nd place and 5th place both go home.
Which brings me back to Verlander. Detroit’s starting pitching staff this year is…not great. They rank 10th in the AL in ERA (4.21) and K’s (530), and 7th in IP (745.1). The starters do rank 4th in wins (51) but wait! Take out Verlander’s 18 and that leaves you with 33. Verlander has just over 35% of the pitching staff wins, and more remarkably, almost 28% of his team’s total wins. Where oh where would the Tigers’ pitching staff, not to mention the entire Detroit Tigers team be without Verlander? Let’s analyze Verlander’s fWAR of 6.2. Let’s also count only his decisions, and say Verlander has directly affected 23 games, 18 wins and 5 losses. So if we take his 18-5 record and replace it with that hypothetical “replacement player,” you have Pitcher X with a record of 12-11. Directly relate that to the team’s W-L of 65-57 and you have a team with a record of 59-63. If we keep the Cleveland Indians (60-58) and Chicago White Sox (61-60) records the same, that puts the Indians in 1st place, 3.0 games up, and the White Sox .5 games behind them, 2.5 on us. And that assumes that Pitcher X wins the games that Verlander won against these division rivals. If Verlander isn’t a Detroit Tiger, the Tigers sit in 3rd place in the AL Central, 3.0 games back, and 4.0 games under .500.
Yes, Justin Verlander is that good and he is that to the Detroit Tigers. He is the most valuable player in Detroit this year. But what about the rest of the league? The general consensus of MVP candidates include Boston’s Adrian Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury, New York’s Curtis Granderson, and Toronto’s Jose Bautista. To reiterate the main point of this article, MVP stands for Most Valuable Player, not best hitter. We need an award for that. Because this year Curtis Granderson would be the recipient of the Willie Mays Award (feel free to disagree, but that is not the point of this post). Now let’s look at individually how important each player is to their respective teams, relying on both Fangraph’s WAR (I’m not the biggest fan of the WAR stat but here it is appropriate) as well as my humble opinion.
Jose Bautista, fWAR 7.2- Wow is this guy amazing. Everyone knows his story, coming from nameless obscurity to hit 54 HR in 2010, and leads the AL with 35 this year. His 7.2 WAR leads all big league players. With him the Blue Jays have a 62-60 record, without (remember according to Fangraphs) a 55-67 record. That has no bearing on their standings whatsoever- still 4th in the AL East. But unfortunately for him, come October the Toronto Blue Jays will be home, not playing in the postseason, so his MVP candidacy is severely hurt. He is phenomenal, and the face of baseball north of the border, but most valuable in the league? No.
Adrian Gonzalez, fWAR 5.0 and Jacoby Ellsbury, fWAR 6.3- I combine these two because they play on the same team. I really don’t need to even examine the Red Sox records without these extraordinary players for this reason- be honest Sox fans. How valuable can one specific player be when you have two legitimate (and most likely) Top-5 MVP finishers?
Curtis Granderson, fWAR 5.3- Here I think lays Verlander’s real competition for MVP. With his 5.3 fWAR the Yankees hold a 1.0 game lead in the AL East with a 74-46 record. Take out those 5 wins, and the Yankees are now 69-51. That drops them out of the East lead. But they would still lead the Wild Card by 4.0 games over the Rays. So while the Grandy-Man is valuable to the Bronx Bombers, they still make the playoffs. Easily it seems.
Blue Jays- no playoff hopes with or without Joey Bats. Red Sox- two is too many to be “valuable” and still in the playoffs without either of them. Yankees- best hitter in the AL wears pinstripes and still in the playoffs. Detroit Tigers- sub .500 team and don’t make the playoffs. AL CY Young Award Winner- Justin Verlander. AL Willie Mays Award Winner- Curtis Granderson. AL MVP Award Winner…I don’t get an MVP vote but if you just look at truly how valuable Justin Verlander is to the Tigers, then those who do have a vote really need to make the right choice.