In this video, Ken Rosenthal says that he’s “not buying” the talk of Justin Verlander winning the American League Most Valuable Player this season.
He kicks off his argument by claiming that Verlander might not even be the most valuable player on his own team, citing first baseman Miguel Cabrera and catcher Alex Avila.
Indeed, all three gentlemen should receive MVP votes (and he didn’t even mention All-Star shortstop Jhonny Peralta) but Verlander leads his team very comfortably in both versions of Wins Above Replacement:
WAR - Baseball Reference
WAR - Fangraphs
Now, naturally, it would be silly to just pick MVP by blindly plugging a player’s raw numbers into a computer and having it spit out a result (though at least that way, we wouldn’t have ridiculous and completely indefensible results). But I look at that chart and feel fairly confident that Verlander is at least the most valuable Detroit Tiger.
Rosenthal continues with an assertion that, given a choice, he would always take a position player over a pitcher for MVP, due mainly to the fact that a starting pitcher will throw in around 35 games whereas a position player will play in 140 or more.
That seems to be a commonly held notion.
No starting pitcher has won MVP since Roger Clemens won in 1986 (though Dennis Eckersley got it in 1992, when he saved 51 games).
Not Pedro Martinez in 1999 or 2000, when he dominated the steroided-up American League harder than anyone ever has. Not Greg Maddux or Randy Johnson or Johan Santana. Not even Orel Hershiser the year he shut down the National League for 59 consecutive innings.
Why is that?
Take the man in question, for example. Justin Verlander has faced 803 batters this season, meaning that he has already dealt with more at-bats than any batter will possibly have this year.
Compare him to New York Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson, another MVP candidate, who has had 565 plate appearances of his own (through Thursday, 8/25). Sure, Granderson has been about 50 percent better than the average batter (based on his 154 OPS+).
But Verlander has held the average American League batter to rate statistics of .185/.233/.296 over more plate appearances. That’s right, he has made your league average American Leaguer look like Jeff Mathis at the plate.
There’s a reason that pitchers are awarded wins and losses (with which they are foolishly compared to their peers). It’s because a starting pitcher has more potential control over the game than any other individual on the field.
Even if they only pitch in one-fifth as many games, they have the capability of being five times as important as their teammates on the days that they do pitch.
If I was picking an MVP, I would choose Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays, who has had an absolutely historic year at the plate. He is head, shoulders, and probably torso above the rest of the American League. However, there is a very clear precedent of giving the award to a man on a playoff team.
In the last 15 years, just one American League MVP has been awarded to a player on a non-playoff team (Alex Rodriguez in 2003). That is, of course, a whole other debate, but since MVP isn’t clearly spelled out, it’s at least a defensible position.
And if the award must go to a gentleman on a playoff team, I can think of no better candidate than the ace of the Detroit Tigers and the best pitcher in baseball this season, Justin Verlander.