Tippy’s Corner VIII: Why Verlander and other Cy Young Winners Shouldn’t Be MVPs

Posted on November 24, 2011

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By John Lund

Justin Verlander was recently named the 2011 AL MVP to go along with his 2011 Cy Young Award. He became the first pitcher voted MVP since Oakland’s Dennis Eckersley in 1992 and the first starting pitcher since Boston’s Roger Clemens in 1986, leaving some heads shaking, including mine. Many baseball fans agree with this year’s decision from the writers of Major League Baseball, but I disagree. To me, the only reason why Verlander won this year’s award was because there was no clear-cut MVP in the American League.

Let me first say that Justin Verlander certainly deserved the AL Cy Young award based on his complete statistical dominance this year. Verlander posted a 24-5 record with a 2.40 ERA in 34 starts while striking out 250 batters in 251 innings. He led the American League in victories (24), winning percentage, ERA (2.40), starts, innings and strikeouts. It’s been years since a pitcher has posted such numbers and he was every bit deserving of the Cy Young.

The MVP and Cy Young are equally prestigious for the legacy of batters and pitchers, respectively. One should not be more important than the other. Will we think back to Maddux, Clemens or Martinez and think less of their careers because of their lack of MVP awards? Absolutely not. If picking pitchers is becoming a new trend for writers, we’ll look back to 1999, when Pedro Martinez went 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA and 313 strikeouts, but was left completely off the ballot by two writers, killing his chance of winning the award and lending credence to the assumption that starting pitchers would only be forced to settle for the Cy Young.

Despite their shared profile, the MVP is a different animal than the Cy Young award. Starting pitchers usually make a start once every four-five days, and because of pitch counts, usually don’t complete on average more than seven innings. Pitchers don’t even bat in the American League and pitchers in general barely have to field their position comparatively to their teammates. This isn’t to say that pitchers are lazy or aren’t part of the team. Pitchers give their all on the field and often times get a bad rap because they get four days off. However, the Cy Young award was created to end the argument that someone who pitches every five days can still get the same award as someone who plays every day.

All that being said, who should have won it this year? Ellsbury finished second in the AL MVP voting after a splendid performance at the plate. In addition to his .321 batting average, he slammed 32 homers, collected 105 RBIs, scored 119 times and had 34 stolen bases. Unfortunately for Ellsbury, Boston’s epic collapse, which was fresh on voters’s minds after the season,  killed whatever chance he had for the award. Jose Bautista, who finished third in voting, hit 43 homers, which were more than anybody in baseball. He also batted .302 and no one had a better slugging percentage than his .608. Unfortunately for Bautista, the Blue Jays mediocre 81-81 record didn’t help his cause. Curtis Granderson was next in line, with 41 home runs and league-highs in RBIs (119) and runs scored (136), career highs for him but not enough to make him a serious candidate for the award, largely due to his abysmal batting average (.262), at least by MVP standards. Verlander’s Tigers teammate Miguel Cabrera was fifth, and was simply too overweight to win the award. Just kidding.

With each position player having a glaring flaw in their candidacy, the writers basically gave Verlander the same award twice, and deprived someone else of getting the honor. The writers took the easy way out since no AL player was completely above the rest of their peers and made their teams better (though Ellsbury batted .348 in September, there was no saving the Sox). Verlander certainly made the Tigers better, but something was slightly hidden within his statistics. He went 19-3 against teams with records below .500, and only 5-2 against teams above .500. Maybe that’s a little too harsh, but the AL Central may not be the best place to prove yourself as elite enough to win an MVP. Pitchers are certainly worth recognizing, but someone who pitches once every four-five days shouldn’t take away from a player that may only get four-five days off total for a season.

Follow John on Twitter @lundinbridge

Posted in: MLB, Tippy's Corner