In any given baseball game, the pitcher holds the most responsibility toward the outcome. The first player that usually takes the blame for a loss is the starting pitcher.
So why is it that we have not seen a starting pitcher win Most Valuable Player since Roger Clemens did so in 1986 for the Red Sox?
You could say it is because the MVP is held for position players, but when was that precedent set? The Most Valuable Player Award is held for the one player whose team would not have had the success they had if not for the performance of said player.
In that case, why is it that people simply wave off the notion that Justin Verlander is a legitimate contender for AL MVP? The thought process behind the MVP award has become so skewed with debate about over-rated sabermetrics like WAR (wins above replacement) that it has become difficult for a pitcher to win the award.
So what was so different 25 years ago that made it logical to give Clemens the award but makes it so illogical to give it to Verlander now in 2011?
For all you stat junkies, let’s compare the numbers of Verlander in 2011 to Clemens in 1986 and you will see that they are eerily similar.
25 years ago Clemens took the award while posting a 24-5 record, with a 2.29 ERA, 244 strikeouts and 65 walks through 33 starts.
Justin Verlander’s 2011 numbers read like this; 23-5, with a 2.38 ERA, 238 strikeouts with only 57 walks through 32 starts and at least one more remaining.
Some might make an argument that 1986 was a year where there was less offensive production, but you would be wrong if you made that argument.
If you look at the voting, Don Mattingly came in second posting a .352 average, 31 HRs, 113 RBI and somewhat similar to Adrian Gonzalez (.338, 26 HR, 111 RBI). Jesse Barfield finished fifth, batting .289 with 40 HR and 108 RBI and doing so for the future World Series Champion Toronto Blue Jays unlike Jose Bautista who is posting similar numbers for the somewhat less relevant Blue Jays in 2011.
If the Most Valuable Player Award were based purely off of stats, it would be an easy choice. Jose Bautista has been the most outstanding player in baseball this season. However, this is the Most Valuable Player, not the most outstanding. This leaves it up to the Baseball Writers Association’s interpretation of what it means to be “valuable.” Certainly, without Bautista you could make an argument that the Blue Jays would be duking it out with the Orioles for last place in the AL East.
But is being 16 games out really that much different than 31 games out at this point in the season?
Other arguments for the 2011 AL MVP include of Curtis Granderson, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Adrian Gonzalez. I would even throw Miguel Cabrera in the mix. Granderson has had a magnificent season for the Yankees, but it is the Yankees, and they are expected to be in first place.
Ellsbury is hands down the Comeback Player of the Year and only a few homers away from the 30-30 club, but the Red Sox have been an offensive machine. The same argument goes against Gonzalez.
Cabrera is posting magnificent numbers in 2011 but it is easier to win ball games when every fifth day you only need to score one or two runs to win the game.
The thing that makes Justin Verlander stand out above other pitchers that have made runs at the MVP the last 25 years is the rest of his pitching staff.
Granted, the Tigers acquisition of Doug Fister from Seattle may have created the best 1-2 rotation going into the playoffs, but for the better part of the season the Tigers rotation has been nothing more than subpar.
Leaving out Doug Fister’s 5-1 over 6 starts, the Tigers rotation goes as this; Max Scherzer: 14-8 with a 4.27 ERA in 30 starts, Rick Porcello: 14-8 with a 4.86 ERA in 28 starts, and Brad Penny: 10-10 with a 5.19 ERA in 28 starts. Verlander is the only pitcher in the staff that has been there all year that is posting an ERA not just under 3 but under 4.
Even with Verlander, the starting rotation as a whole has an ERA above 4. Yet somehow, the Tigers are dominating the AL Central and it is because just about every fifth day you can pencil in at least 7 innings and most likely a win.
Just in case you really care about sabermetrics, Verlander’s WAR of 7.8 is second in the American League to only Jose Bautista at 8.1. So there you have it. Justin Verlander fits every bill to win the American League Most Valuable Player and the Baseball Writer’s Association needs recognize it.
It does not matter that Verlander does not play every day. Without Verlander, the Tigers do not make the playoffs. That right there is the definition of Most Valuable Player.