So far in the MLB “Award Tour” here in The CHEAP SEATS, the rundown in awards season has been pretty straightforward: name a winner, qualify him and then show the almost there’s behind him. With today being the big flourish in the American League, the MVP, it would make sense to go in and do that formula up as big as possible again.
Well no dice. Just last week, I ran down Justin Verlander’s credentials when I went through the pointless exercise of appointing him as the best pitcher in the American League this year.
This was made “official” in the big sense of things yesterday when he was announced MVP of the AL by Baseball Writers of America as well, But well over a month ago, during the first week of the playoffs, when I cast my ballot for the Baseball Bloggers Alliance’s Stan Musial Award for the best player in the AL, I had little difficulty settling on Verlander for the MVP as well. And he won it from a few different angles.
I’ll qualify my biases here up front: I’m an ex-pitcher. I would rather watch a crafty 2-1 game any day than a final score that looks like a football game in the summer. It’s the best part of the game to me; the competitive, moment-by-moment chess match that pitching is. And this year, Verlander looked like Bobby Fisher…if he threw pawns and bishops 100 mph in the eighth inning.
But this time around, even if I hated pitchers more than Ted Williams, it’s undeniable that one was way ahead of the pack.
However, back to the point: his effort this season shattered the bias that a pitcher should win the Cy Young and a hitter should win the MVP….which is some of the craziest alleged logic in all of sports. Is a pitcher not a player (which is what comprises the “p” in M-V-P)? For all intensive purposes, the Cy Young is a ultimate silver medal in all of pro sports awards. It’s got a big name cred, but in the end it still plays second fiddle to the nod that a “Most Valuable Player” gets. So, by saying that a pitcher is not worthy of the MVP because “he doesn’t play every day” or “already has his award” is akin to saying that the best a pitcher can be is the second best player in the game on any given year.
I call shenanigans on that, and although it takes a tremendously dominant effort like Verlander gave this season, notching 24 wins on a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts, no player in the American League came close to making a difference on their more often and pulling them further away from the pack than he did for the Detroit Tigers, and isn’t that the true definition of an MVP?
In May, the Tigers were looking up at the Cleveland Indians & wrestling back the Kansas City Royals, when Verlander went Martian on all of baseball, and over the next four months, the club went 20-3 when he took the ball, and the Tigers won the Central by 15 games. Also during that stretch, he went undefeated during two months and during two of the three games he lost they were by one run, including a 1-0 loss in July. In June alone, he went 6-0 with a 0.92 ERA in 49 innings and struck out 54 to only 6 walks.
However, what makes it such a runaway for him is that no other player has anywhere close to case that says they should have the trophy on their mantle. I when I filled out the required 10 man ballot for the BBA’s Musial Award, it was much harder to select two than one, because the pack was just so full of the same type of guys, with the same qualifiers and disqualifiers to really have an honest shot at saying they made a bigger impact on the season than Verlander did. Here are the nine other guys on my ballot and why a viable threat is not emerging from this group (where they ended on my ballot in parentheses):
The Yankee pack – Robinson Cano (2), Curtis Granderson (5) & Mark Teixeira (9): The title says it all on why no one of this group deserves it over the other. They all played a vital role in the Yankees winning out the East. Granderson had a career year with 41 homers and 119 RBI, but Teixeira was right on his heels with 39 and 111 himself. Cano is the best overall player on the team, and his .302 average was 40 points higher than CJ’s average and 50 points better than Tex’s. In the end, how can you pick one from this group and not the other?
The Dead Sox – Jacoby Ellsbury (4) & Adrian Gonzalez (8): I’ll say it right now, if the Red Sox didn’t have that historic collapse and miss the entire playoffs despite being in the driver’s seat for much of the season, either of these guys would have been good choices. But in the end, after the impression of the Titanic this club did, there’s no way anybody involved can be called an MVP.
Best Players on the Best Team – Michael Young (7) & Adrian Beltre (10): Both had solid seasons and carried the Rangers at one point or another. But no team wins more ways than the Rangers do across the board, and they fall into the same grip that the Yankee guys do, albeit carrying a bit more weight at times.
The Teammate – Miguel Cabrera (3): He’s the best hitter in the game not named Albert Pujols, and he put up another effort while winning his first batting title this year. But Miggy wasn’t even the most impactful player on his own team, and that says a lot about what Verlander did. Tigers didn’t start playing their best ball until Verlander shifted into gear, not him.
The One Man Show – Jose Bautista (6): He had another epic season, but it didn’t pull the Blue Jays into above 4th place. Joey Bats has big, yet still empty, numbers until they start to equal a more competitive club up North.
So in the end, what’s it going to be? Disqualifying the most perfect storm season of any major player in the league based on the fact that he doesn’t swing a bat? No, can’t do it. In the end, the fact that it only took Verlander every fifth game to make the biggest impact in baseball says even more for his cause. In a year of an even field, with flawed candidates abound, one amazingly dominant effort did more to raise his team’s level of play than any other player that had a chance to do it on a nightly basis.
Nothing says most valuable pitcher player than that.
For more on why the pitcher isn’t a second class citizen in baseball, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.