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Justin Verlander’s MVP

November 21, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Justin Verlander throwing no-hitter, May 7, 2011

Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers was named the 2011 American League Most Valuable Player today. This wasn’t exactly a surprise, but it’s notable, as he is the first pitcher to be named the MVP since Roger Clemens in 1986. As you can see in the table included in the linked article, there was a time when pitching MVPs were common. From 1931 to 1945, pitchers were named MVP nine times (Lefty Grove, Carl Hubbell twice, Dizzy Dean, Bucky Walters, Mort Cooper, Spud Chandler, and Hal Newhouser twice). However, since then, pitchers were named MVP only seven times. There was Jim Konstanty in 1950; Bobby Shantz in 1952; a sixteen-year gap until the 1968, the famous year of the pitcher, when both leagues’ MVPs were pitchers (Denny McLain and, of course, Bob Gibson); Vida Blue just three years later, Clemens in 1986, and Verlander today.

I don’t have a lot at stake in this, but for what it’s worth, I’m in the group that believes pitchers shouldn’t be MVPs. Gibson in 1968? Well, maybe. What a season! But otherwise, forget it.

What I find especially frustrating is the distortion introduced into MVP balloting by the belief of many voters that the MVP has to be on a playoff team. The reasoning is that if a player can’t “lead” his team to the playoffs, other players, on playoff teams, must be more valuable, essentially by definition of the word “valuable.” This is a year when that distortion had a visible effect. Let’s take a look.

First, a review. In each league, MVP voting is done by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, two for each of the league’s teams. Since the American League has 14 teams (for now, until Houston moves over in two years), there are 28 voters. Each voter ranks up to 10 players, from first to tenth. A player gets 14 points for each first place vote, 9 for second place, 8 for third place, 7 for fourth place, and on down to 2 points for ninth place and 1 point for tenth place. Those first place votes carry an extra premium, thanks to the weighting.

In this year’s voting for the American League MVP, which you can study at either of the two sites I’ve linked to, Verlander was on 27 of the 28 ballots, with 13 first place votes, 3 seconds, 3 thirds, 4 fourths, 1 fifth, 2 sixths, and 1 eighth. This yielded 280 points. Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox was second with 242 points. He appeared on all 28 ballots, with 4 first place votes, 13 seconds, 4 thirds, 1 fourth, 4 fifths, 1 sixth, and 1 tenth.

Here’s the problem, or what I see as the problem anyway. The Red Sox collapsed in September, a historic collapse. But through no fault of Ellsbury’s, and even with their collapse, they were one pitch away from making the playoffs. Papelbon had two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth of the last regular season game (which we missed while eating at Poppy) and nearly got the out that would have put them into the playoffs. Let’s say they made it. I’m thinking that instead of Verlander getting 13 first place votes and 3 seconds to Ellsbury’s 4 first place votes and 13 seconds, they would essentially have been reversed. But let’s say even just four voters reversed them. Four voters who put Verlander first and Ellsbury second instead putting Ellsbury first and Verlander second. Had that happened, Ellsbury would have finished with 262 points to Verlander’s 260.

So, if I have this right, and I think I do, Ellsbury lost the MVP because Papelbon failed to throw one last strike against Baltimore in the bottom of the 9th of their final game (box score here). With Ellsbury suddenly reduced to being a member of a non-playoff team, and the other obvious MVP contender among everyday players, Toronto’s José Bautista, also on a non-playoff team, the holier-than-thou purists who had to uphold their theory that only players on playoff teams are worthy of being MVPs scrambled to elevate Verlander to the top of the ballot, costing Ellsbury and Bautista the MVP that one or the other deserved.

And that’s how a pitcher won the MVP for the first time in a quarter century. Verlander had a great season. He deserves recognition. And he got it, as the unanimous choice for the Cy Young award. But he shouldn’t have received the MVP.

Categories: Baseball
  1. November 21, 2011 at 9:23 PM

    Verlander pitched fantastic this year but the MVP should be for everyday players, not pitchers. Check out the rest of my thoughts on my blog: http://foultalk.wordpress.com

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