SPORTS WATCH
No Question, Verlander Deserves the A.L. MVP Award
by Gus Jarvis
Nov 24, 2011 | 609 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When you have an ace starting pitcher whose success on the mound not only wins the games he starts, but also puts the team in a position to win the games he doesn’t even play in, that starting pitcher should be recognized. So I must congratulate all those voters who got it right this year by naming Detroit right-hander Justin Verlander the American League’s Most Valuable Player.

And, of course, congratulations to Verlander for winning the MVP award as well. He certainly deserves the award, no question about it.

Verlander, who led the league in wins, earned run average and strikeouts, won the American League Cy Young Award this year as well. According to the The New York Times, Verlander is the only American League pitcher to reach 24 wins and 250 strikeouts, with an E.R.A of 2.40 or lower since the designated hitter came into the league backing 1973.

It’s not uncommon for a pitcher to win the MVP award. Since 1931, pitchers have won the MVP 20 times. The most recent was Oakland reliever Dennis Eckersley, who won it in 1992. The last starting pitcher to win it was everybody’s favorite liar, Roger Clemens, who won it back in 1986. I’d say over the past 10 years at least, the topic of pitchers winning the MVP has become more and more of a debate.

For some, pitchers should just be relegated to winning the Cy Young Award only. It’s the award that recognizes the best pitcher in the American League and the National League. Since pitchers start a fraction of the games that most players start in a season, some believe that pitchers really shouldn’t have the opportunity to win the MVP. They believe the Cy Young Award is for pitchers and let’s leave it at that. How can a pitcher be awarded a team’s “most valuable player” when he sits on the bench most of the time? Verlander answered that question.

Verlander went an impressive 24-5 this season with Detroit, playing 128 games without Verlander on the mound. Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury, who was second in MVP voting, played in a hell of a lot more games than Verlander, but had only 729 plate appearances. I say only because in Verlander’s 29 starts, he faced 969 hitters. Some might say this is comparing apples to oranges; I say it’s comparing apples to apples. Ellsbury had to stare down a pitcher 729 times over the course of a season. Verlander had to stare down 969 hitters.

Verlander’s name appeared on 27 of 28 ballots this year, with only Jim Ingraham of the The News-Herald leaving his name off. Ingraham told The Times that he had trouble voting for a player who played in so few of the games compared to the rest of the candidates. Joe Christensen of The Minneapolis Star Tribune was one who not only put Verlander on his ballot, but at the top of the list.

“I feel like it has to be a special year for a pitcher to win, and he has to really separate himself,” Christensen told The Times. “To me, Verlander did that. I feel like he kind of put the Tigers on his shoulders. When they were treading water, it was like his start – and then four other days.”

As noted in The Times’ story, before May 7, when Verlander threw a no-hitter, the Tigers were 15-18. Over the next 90 games, Detroit went 17-3 when Verlander was on the mound, and 33-37 when he wasn’t. Verlander kept the team in contention until Aug. 17 (where they had a two-game division lead), when the entire team caught fire and went 30-9 to win the division. Without Verlander, the race to the division title may have been out of reach early on. That’s the kind of effect a pitcher can have on an entire team. A starter like Verlander can keep the dream alive even when times aren’t so spectacular.

Perhaps the most visible effect a great starting pitcher can have on his entire team is by allowing the bullpen to rest during his starts. A team struggling to remain at the top of a division needs to have at least one starter to go at least eight innings on a regular basis to give the relief pitching a rest. It’s so valuable. Not everyone can be like the Phillies and have three big name starters on the mound for a killer rotation. So when a struggling pitcher only makes it four innings, and the bullpen is decimated, everyone needs rest. That’s when a guy like Verlander comes in, throws eight innings, and gives everyone a night off. This is so important when the season starts to get long, stretching into the dog days of summer.

Needless to say, an ace like Verlander also puts a halt to losing streaks when other pitchers are struggling, as well. Most managers know that every team will face a losing streak of some sort. Keeping them short and sweet is paramount in a tight division race. Verlander did that all season long. With all this in mind, Verlander sort of ended the debate as to whether or not a pitcher should win the MVP or not. He won, and he hopes he starts a new trend where the pitcher is seen as the best player on the team.

“I think this set a precedent,” Verlander told The Times. “I’m happy the voters acknowledged that we do have a major impact in this game and we can be extremely valuable to our team and its success.”

While I do hope that Verlander set a precedent by winning the MVP this year, I wonder what the role of steroids, or lack thereof, plays in all of this. For the past 25 years, when there were no MVP pitchers, baseball was in the midst of the so-called “steroid era.” No wonder no pitchers were awarded during that time. I wouldn’t be surprised if a starting pitcher never went a night without facing a batter who wasn’t juiced up. The steroid era was a tough time for pitchers, no doubt.

I guess with Verlander setting a precedent in combination with the downfall of the steroid era, MVP pitchers may be a recurring theme in years to come.
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