Philosophically, it makes sense to say that pitchers are eligible for the Most Valuable Player award. It’s just that prejudice has been institutionalized into the voting process where people have come to value everyday players more than they do starting pitchers because they throw only once every five days.
I tend to lean toward the everyday player myself over pitchers, but this year it seems that Justin Verlander, the Detroit Tigers‘ ace, is probably the appropriate winner of the American League MVP award.
Verlander was terrific in leading the Tigers to a division title and he put up extraordinary numbers that guaranteed him the Cy Young Award. Some say that pitchers shouldn’t be considered for the MVP because they already have their own award, and that’s a perspective to think about, but not a hard and fast rule that is law. One reason the discussion tilted in favor of Verlander this season is because few position players turned in dominant performances.
In some ways, the MVP compares to the Heisman Trophy, emblematic of the best player in college football. There is a Jim Thorpe award for the best defensive back. The Outland trophy goes to the best lineman. The Davey O’Brien Award goes to the best quarterback. A quarterback can win the Davey O’Brien Award and the Heisman. But instead of the narrow view that a pitcher shouldn’t win the MVP there is a narrow view that either a quarterback or running back with mind-boggling statistics is always going to win the Heisman.
Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury did have an MVP-caliber season, but I bet Boston’s September collapse cost him the award. As fantastic as Ellsbury’s all-around play was, where was he when the Red Sox needed someone to hoist the team on its shoulders and save the day? Remember, the Red Sox needed just one more victory and they would have been in the playoffs. I’m thinking if the Red Sox had survived and reached the playoffs, Ellsbury would have taken home the trophy.
This is how Verlander’s stats stacked up: He finished 24-5 with a 2.40 earned run average and 250 strikeouts, all three of them the top marks in their categories in the league. He also pitched a no-hitter. The win total was the most in the majors in 21 years. Great stuff.
This is how Ellsbury’s stats stacked up: He cracked 32 home runs and complemented them with 39 stolen bases. He drove in 105 runs and scored 119. Power and speed. And he was an excellent defender in center field.
Most valuable is in the eye of the beholder and except in unusual circumstances the MVP winner comes from a winner. Normally that player plays for a division or league champion and that typically makes a difference to voters in close calls. The Tigers made the playoffs and the Red Sox didn’t. Bonus points for Verlander.
Verlander’s reward marks the first time in a quarter of a century a pitcher captured the MVP award. The Red Sox’ Roger Clemens did so in 1986.
In all of the debate for this year’s AL award I never heard anyone mention Mariano Rivera, the Yankees’ closer. This year New York was short on starting pitching and captured what is routinely called the toughest division in baseball with a patch-work rotation and unusually heavy reliance on the bullpen. Given the circumstances, the shortage of pitching on a playoff team, Rivera’s value was magnified more than it has always been, and that’s saying something. He owns the Major League record for saves and he is definitely headed to the Hall of Fame.
It would have been a reasonable argument to suggest Rivera, who posted a 1.91 earned run average and 44 saves, an the award winner. Relievers get less respect than starters in MVP votes most of the time, but where would the hard-hitting Yankees have been in 2011 without Rivera anchoring the bullpen?
Other guys had good years, from Jose Bautista with Toronto to Curtis Granderson with the Yankees, but the only serious candidates in my mind were Verlander, Ellsbury and Rivera. That’s the 1-2-3 order I would have voted them in.