The great debate in baseball on August 30th is whether Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander, or any pitcher for that matter, should be the considered the most valuable player for his respective league. As of today, I am confident that no one means more to their team than Verlander and therefore think he stands alone in as the American League’s MVP.
This year, Verlander has a thrown two complete game shutouts, one of which happened to be a no-hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays, he was also the first pitcher to reach 20 wins this season and leads the league in innings with 215.2, strikeouts with 218 and is second in ERA (2.38).
In order to make my case for this argument, I must first analyze what it means to be the most valuable player. While there is no clear cut description and those in the Baseball Writers Association of America decide what it means to them, I can only give you my meaning for those three words. To be the most valuable player, I believe that the player not only stands alone in his league, but also on his team. The MVP does not necessarily have to carry his team on his back, but without him the team certainly would not be the same. Without Justin Verlander the Detroit Tigers wouldn’t find themselves six games ahead of the Chicago White Sox in the A.L. Central.
The American League has a number of valuable MVP candidates the season, so many so that I believe Verlander actually separates himself from the bunch. The two obvious candidates are Boston’s Adrian Gonzalez and New York’s Curtis Granderson. However recently Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and even Mark Teixeira have gotten people talking about who will take home the honor. While each of these players have had solid seasons, none of them mean more to their team than Justin Verlander. Curtis Granderson has proven to be a power hitter with his league leading 38 home runs, but he is not nearly as valuable to the Yankees as Verlander is to the Tigers.
Many fans feel that pitchers should not be in the same category as the guys that step up to the plate four times a game because they only work one of out of every five games. That isn’t entirely true. Mike Lavery of The Baseball Page points out that sometimes pitchers have more impact on the game than batters.
In 1999 Pedro had 23 wins a 2.07 ERA and a WHIP of 0.932. He finished 2nd in the MVP voting because a couple New York writers left him off the ballot completely. That season he got out 639 batters, that’s not how many he faced, that’s how many he got out. Ivan Rodriguez, who won the MVP, had 600 at bats total, hit 199 times and walked 24 times. So Pudge Rodriguez was only successful 223 times, as opposed to Pedro’s 639 times. I understand that baseball is designed to make pitchers successful more than not, and batters unsuccessful, but I’m just showing that pitchers actually do affect the season at least as much as a hitter. You should also consider that a batter influences one ninth of the lineup while a pitcher influences one fifth of a rotation.
Lavery points out that that it takes multiple batters to drive in a run, with the exception of solo home runs and that pitchers almost completely control their own fate. The “one out of every five days” argument also isn’t clear cut as an ace like Verlander affects the games before and after him with the duration of his performance and the stress he puts on a bullpen during a series.
It takes a rare pitcher to win the MVP and Cy Young Award, but I think in 2011 Verlander will be the first guy to do so since Dennis Eckersley in 1992. The market is flooded with hitters, but no one has dominated the game in his position or for his team like Verlander.
Zach Wilt is the founding editor of BaltimoreSportsReport.com. You can follow his random thoughts on twitter @zamwi.