Detroit Tigers: Justin Verlander Is a No-Brainer AL MVP Candidate
Justin Verlander is running away with the American League Cy Young Award. Could he make off with the MVP too?
“I know hitters hate me. I hate them as well.”
That’s what Justin Verlander told ESPN The Magazine about his relationship with opposing hitters. His performance this season has spoken louder than his words ever could.
Only a pitcher that truly despises his opponents could systematically embarrass hitters the way Verlander has this season. He is calculating, vicious and unyielding, with an attitude as nasty as his stuff.
Traditionally, pitchers aren’t seriously considered among MVP candidates, but Verlander’s 2011 season cannot be ignored.
Best Pitcher in the AL
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Watching Justin Verlander dismantle a hitter is like watching a Great White shark stalk an unsuspecting seal. You feel for the victim, so cute, innocent and helpless. Yet at the same time, you root for the kill, unable to pull your eyes away from the captivating destruction.
Verlander’s average fastball checks in at 95.1 mph (per Fangraphs), but he’s more than capable of dialing it up over 100 mph when he needs a bit extra. He complements it with a disappearing change-up and a devastating curveball, both of which come in about 15-20 mph slower than his heater. Verlander can throw any of his pitches for a strike in any count, in any situation.
By just about any traditional statistic available, Justin Verlander has been the best starting pitcher in the American League. He leads the league in Innings Pitched, Wins, WHIP, Quality Starts and Strikeouts and is second in the AL in ERA.
Verlander also tops the league in quite a few non-traditional measures such as dropped jaws, bruised egos and general dominance.
The initial prerequisite for any real MVP candidate is that he must be the best player in his league at his position.
Wins Above Replacement
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WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is a measure of a baseball player’s total value, regardless of position. It accounts for offense, defense and pitching, all in one tidy little number. No statistic is all-encompassing, but WAR is a great place to start when evaluating MVP candidates.
Generally, starting pitchers fall below position players in terms of WAR. A starter that throws seven innings every five days doesn’t typically amass as much of a cumulative impact as a position player that gets four or five plate appearances every single night.
Here are the top five AL players in terms of WAR, according to Baseball Reference:
Jose Bautista 7.7
Justin Verlander 7.3
Dustin Pedroia 6.4
Jered Weaver 6.0
Jacoby Ellsbury 5.9
Verlander has distanced himself from all other American League pitchers and is hot on the heels of Jose Bautista for the overall WAR lead.
Any MVP candidate must have a stat line commensurate with his performance.
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Justin Verlander is putting together a season that hasn’t been seen in a decade. He’s on pace to finish 2011 with a WHIP under 0.90, an ERA under 2.30 and over 250 strikeouts. No AL starting pitcher has accomplished that feat since Pedro Martinez back in 2000.
On top of his impressive season stats, Verlander tossed his second career no-hitter in 2011. On a nightly basis, his overpowering stuff has conjured memories of baseball’s all-time leader in no-hitters, Nolan Ryan. Even outside of his no-no, Verlander has proven himself deserving of that comparison, posting three other outings in which he pitched at least eight innings and gave up two or fewer hits.
Both statistically and aesthetically, Verlander has put his indelible stamp on the 2011 MLB season.
A true MVP candidate must be one of the first players that comes to mind when recalling that season.
Detroit Tigers MVP
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The Tigers have finally started to pull away in the AL Central, but even with a six game lead as of Wednesday night, Detroit’s cushion is deceptively small. Over the course of the season, they’ve scored only four more runs than their opponents. By Bill James’ Phythagorean Wins formula (a statistic that calculates a team's expected win-loss record based on its run differential), the Tigers would be only 65-63 through Tuesday’s games. That record would place them just one game ahead of the second-place Cleveland Indians.
It’s tough to fully understand the reasons why the Tigers have so greatly outperformed their statistical expectations, but here’s one guess: Justin Verlander.
The Tigers are 12 games over .500 in Verlander’s starts. They are one game under .500 when any other pitcher starts.
Verlander has pitched at least six innings and thrown at least 105 pitches in every one of his starts this season.
Fourteen of Verlander’s 19 wins have come after his team lost the previous game.
He’s an ace, a horse, a stopper. Whatever term you want to use, Verlander has been it.
Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Alex Avila, Jhonny Peralta and others have all had outstanding seasons for the Tigers, but no player has been as important to this team as Justin Verlander.
An MVP is the player who is most valuable to his team.
Check and mate.