Ubaldo Jimenez: Can a Pitcher Still Win the Most Valuable Player Award?

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Ubaldo Jimenez: Can a Pitcher Still Win the Most Valuable Player Award?
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

The Colorado Rockies have a player with whom they are 14 games over .500 when he plays, but four games under .500 when he doesn't play. In games in which he appears, the Rockies have a winning percentage of .888; in games in which he does not, their winning percentage is .471.

With this player in the lineup, they are two games out of first place in the NL West. Without him, their season would be over.

This only begs the question: shouldn't this player be the National League Most Valuable Player?

The answer would appear to be yes. Until, that is, you realize that the player is a pitcher, Ubaldo Jimenez, the ace of the Colorado Rockies' pitching staff.  

Then the answer is not so clear.

The notion of a pitcher winning a Most Valuable Player award is not unprecedented. Indeed, the first ever American League MVP (as voted upon by the Baseball Writers Association of America) went to Lefty Grove of the Philadelphia Athletics.  

Carl Hubbell and Dizzy Dean combined to win three of the first six NL MVP awards, and Detroit Tigers pitcher Hal Newhouser is one of the few players ever to win back-to-back MVP's, which he did for Detroit in 1944 and 1945.

But that was all before the invention of the Cy Young Award.

From 1931 to 1956, when the first ever Cy Young Award was handed out, pitchers won 11 MVP's out of a total 30 total MVP's given out. Indeed, the first ever Cy Young Award winner, Don Newcombe, was also given the NL MVP that same year.

Nevertheless, once the pitchers had their own award, awarding MVP's to pitchers went out of vogue. After Newcombe, the next NL pitcher to win an MVP was Sandy Koufax in 1963, followed by Bob Gibson in 1968.

And no National League pitcher has won an MVP since Gibson in that 1968 season.

The AL has been a slightly different story. For whatever reason, MVP voters fell in love with AL relief pitchers, as three of them have won AL MVP's—Rollie Fingers in 1981, Willie Hernandez in 1983, and Dennis Eckersley in 1992.

No pitcher has won a Most Valuable Player award in either league since Eckersley.

This non-pitcher bias in the MVP voting has not been without controversy. In 1999, Pedro Martinez enjoyed what has generally been considered one of the greatest pitching seasons of all time. At the height of the Steroid Era, Pedro went 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA and 313 strikeouts for the Boston Red Sox, winning the Triple Crown and posting some of the best percentage stats the game has ever seen.

What's more, the AL featured roughly 15 different hitters who were all in a scrum for best hitter in the league. That Pedro should be the league's MVP was agreed by everyone. Everyone, that is, except for New York's George King and Minneapolis' LaVelle Neal, two sportswriters who decided pitchers shouldn't be eligible for the MVP and left Pedro off of their ballot completely.

After one of the two or three greatest pitcher seasons of all time, Pedro Martinez did not win the AL MVP in a muddled field full of era-inflated hitters.

So what hope does Ubaldo Jimenez have?

Actually, Ubaldo does have some chance to win the NL MVP in 2010, for the following reasons:

1. Pedro:  In the same season that Pedro was robbed of the AL MVP, Rafael Palmeiro also famously won a Gold Glove at first base. The problem with this is, Palmeiro only played 28 games at first base in 1999, spending the vast majority of the season at designated hitter.

The result of the Palmeiro Gold Glove, though, is that it hasn't happened again. The managers and coaches remember the incident with embarrassment, and have been more mindful of their voting ever since.

The same, in theory, is true for a pitcher winning the Cy Young.  What followed the Pedro Snub was rancorous debate on the issue of whether a pitcher should be able to win the Cy Young and, one can only hope, the voters have learned their lesson.

One can only hope.

2. Ubaldo :   Ubaldo is 15-1 at the All-Star Break. This is absurd. In the event, however unlikely it may be, that Ubaldo can continue his pace, he'll be somewhere between 28-2 and 30-2 by the end of the season.  

If ever a pitcher were going to win an MVP, I think that a 30-2 record might propel them to it.

3. The Colorado Rockies:  Imagine, for a moment, that this AL West race comes down to the final weekend, as it appears right now it might.  

Imagine that Ubaldo, the only pitcher for the Colorado Rockies who has showed up in 2010 and, perhaps, the only guy on the Rockies entire roster even having a stand-out season, takes the mound on the final weekend or even the final day and delivers his team to either a division title or even a wild card birth.

Make the case that he doesn't deserve the award. You can't do it.

4. The Year of the Pitcher: As noted above, the last pitcher to win the NL MVP was Bob Gibson in 1968. This is no coincidence; 1968 was the ultimate Year of the Pitcher, the most hitting-depressed season since the Dead Ball Era.  

In a year in which pitchers dominated, the BBWAA writers picked the best two and honored them, also awarding the AL MVP to a pitcher, Denny McLain.

Fast-forward to 2010, and we are having another Year of the Pitcher, particularly in the NL. In a season in which no hitter has really jumped away from the pack, it is perfectly reasonable to think a pitcher could come away with the NL MVP.

So it is possible. Whether or not it will happen remains to be seen.

And don't get me wrong—Ubaldo could go 7-7 with a 3.50 ERA in the second half of the season, end up 22-8 with a high twos ERA, and not even win the NL Cy Young, let alone the MVP. There are lots of good pitchers in the NL this year, and an argument could be made that guys like Josh Johnson, Roy Halladay, and Adam Wainwright are even having better years than Ubaldo right now.

But if Ubaldo keeps up his current pace and ends up with somewhere around 27 to 30 wins for a Colorado team that squeaks into the playoffs, then I think it is entirely possible that he could win the NL MVP.

And not only is it possible. It would be the right choice.

 

Asher B. Chancey lives in Philadelphia and is a co-founder of BaseballEvolution.com .

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