Why Justin Verlander is the American League’s MVP

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.

Zach Wilt is the Founding Editor of BaltimoreSportsReport.com and host of the BSR Podcast. He's a loyal Orioles, Ravens and Capitals fan who is obsessed with baseball, loves traveling, In-N-Out Burger and Walt Disney World.

9 Comments

  1. Ross

    August 30, 2011 at 10:12 am

    I think this piece does a really good job of summarizing what a lot of fans think of the AL MVP, the Cy Young and Verlander this season. However, I’d like to shine the light on a couple different things:

    First off, Verlander has been really, really good this season. No one can debate that. He leads all AL pitchers in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) with 6.2. However, bSabathia has a similar WAR (6.1) that is within the margin of error for the statistic. So while more traditional statistics like Wins and ERA point to Verlander as a clear front runner for the AL Cy Young its important to note that statistics like K/BB, FIP and xFIP show his as a leader but by a thin margin. If any pitcher wins the MVP this year it should be Halladay. Due to an increased strikeout rate — and a severely depressed home run rate — Halladay may be on his way to posting the strongest year of his career. Luck hasn’t played much of a favor either since Halladay’s 2.56 ERA matches his 2.56 xFIP. He leads the entire NL in WAR with 6.9, Shane Victorino, Justin Upton, Matt Kemp and Troy Tulowitzki aren’t far behind. As for the AL I’d probably vote for Bautista. He leads both leagues in WARs by a significant margin (Bautista 7.9, Ellsbury 7.4, Pedroia 7.2, Granderson 6.7, Votto 6.6). The season he is having shares a lot of similarities to what Bonds was doing in the early 2000s.

  2. Jim from Dundalk

    August 30, 2011 at 10:42 am

    Where are all the O’s players names ?

    Don’t the O’s have anyone decent here , what is wrong ? Could it be ‘baseball is dead in Baltimore’ !

  3. Pat

    August 30, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    Although I think it’s somewhat crazy that Verlander could win the award this year, while Pedro’s 2000 season (8.88 K/BB?!) didn’t, there’s no point in continuing a stupid precedent. Verlander may have hit the perfect storm this year, the only legitimate candidates for the award are playing on two teams (the Yankees and the Red Sox).
    Ellsbury and Gonzalez are the leaders for the Red Sox, and they represent two different types of ball players. Ellsbury is a fantastic lead off hitter who has shown a surprising amount of power to go with his always stellar fielding and speed (42 SB). Gonzalez’s power numbers haven’t been as advertised, but his .345 average leads baseball, and his 103 RBI’s are second. These guys are going to steal votes from each other because although I think Gonzalez is the more important player for Boston, there’s a strong argument to be made for Ellsbury, which will lead to some stolen votes.
    The Yankees have the league leader in home runs and RBI’s, which usually means the trophy has more or less already been delivered. But there are rotten parts of Granderson’s resume. He’s 3rd in the American League in strikeouts behind Mark Reynolds and Adam Dunn. He hits .250 with RISP (Ellsbury hits .347; Gonzalez .342). And although he’s stolen 24 bases, he’s not particularly efficient at it, considering he’s been caught 10 times. There’s no denying that he’s having a very good season, but those are a few things that prevent it from being truly great. Verlander surpassed very good a long time ago.
    Probably the most overlooked important stat when it comes to Verlander is how he deep he goes into games. It’s because of this that the Tigers can limit their bullpen, which has been borderline awful this year (26th in baseball in percentage of inherited runners scored %, 22nd in bullpen ERA). The Yankees bullpen has overwhelmingly better numbers. There’s evidence that CC might be wearing down (August ERA: 4.95), whereas Verlander has still been outstanding in the midst of a pennant race (August ERA: 3.12). And the biggest blemish with CC is his 0-4 7.20 ERA vs Boston. Verlander’s ERA’s vs. New York (4.50), Texas (2.00), and Boston (1.72) show he’s at his best against the best.
    As for Bautista, I like him, he’s on my fantasy team, but since the All-Star break, Edwin Encarnacion has better numbers across the board. Tough to vote somebody MVP of the league when they’re the second most valuable player on their own team.

    • Ross

      August 30, 2011 at 3:01 pm

      Pat – I enjoyed reading your post. There are some parts of your reasoning I would quibble with but you are certainly entitled to your opinion and I appreciate your detailed rationale. However, one statement gave me considerable pause, ” [Its] Tough to vote somebody MVP of the league [Bautista] when they’re the second most valuable player on their own team [second to Encarnacion].” Have you found Encarnacion’s contributions to the Jays superior to Bautista this season? If so could you explain the reasons why you believe this? I see a very large gap between the two players both offensively and defensively.

    • Zach Wilt

      August 30, 2011 at 8:00 pm

      Wow I didn’t realize Granderson struggled that much in strikeouts. To be in the conversation with Adam Dunn should definitely take him off the board in my opinion.

  4. Pat

    August 30, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    Ross,

    Sorry, I really should have qualified that. For the first half of this season, Jose Bautista was the undisputed best offensive player in baseball. But what I meant to say was, in the second half, Edwin Encarnacion has been a more valuable player to the Blue Jays than Bautista. The argument can definitely be made about Bautista’s defense, which I understand is valuable, but it’s just above average, not amazing.

    To the naked eye, Bautista’s 2nd half line is .256/7/20 to Encarnacion’s .309/8/23. I know these measurements aren’t the most accurate, but it’s a start. Bautista’s 2nd half on-base percentage – a huge part of what makes him so valuable – is only 7 points higher than Encarnacion’s (.418 to .411), while Encarnacion’s slugging percentage is 46 points higher (.550 to .504).

    The culprit is mainly a bad July (.244, 0 HR, 9 K, 2 BB from July 14-31), but even his August numbers (.263, 7 HR, 14 RBI, .429 OBP, 23 BB, 26 K) just show him as a good player since the break, not an MVP worthy one in my opinion.

    • Ross

      August 30, 2011 at 7:51 pm

      Thanks for taking the time to reply and clarify, Pat. I appreciate it.

  5. Mark

    September 1, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    Again the argument comes up that it’s somehow the most valuable player to his team. Really this has never been (or very rarely been) the case. It’s simple the best player in the league award. I could maybe be convinced that it’s Verlander but my vote would go to Bautista. He’s having an amazing season and his OPS is 100 points above his peers.

  6. Steve

    September 1, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    One important thing to take from this article is that if a writer thinks Verlander should win over Granderson he MIGHT OUGHTA consider leaving Granderson completely off the ballot lest the New York writers steal the award for “their” guy this time. If they’d leave Pedro off the ballot in 1999 to give it to Pudge why wouldn’t they do it for their hometown guy, CJ?