The 2011 American League Most Valuable Player Award should be awarded to Justin Verlander.
A pretty farfetched assumption given that the last pitcher to receive an MVP award in either league (American or National) was Dennis Eckersley in 1992 for the Oakland Athletics.
MVP awards for pitchers have become increasingly rare recently, mostly supported by the argument that since pitchers don’t play every day (or close to every day) they should not be considered. But let’s look at the stats for the Verlander argument.
The Detroit Tigers won the AL Central with a 95-67 record. Verlander accounted for 24 of those wins. That translates to 25 percent of the team’s total wins. An astonishing statistic; one out of every four Tiger wins can be traced back to Verlander on the mound.
Verlander started 34 games for Detroit and won 24 of those appearances, meaning the Tigers won more than 70 percent of the time they had Verlander on the mound. The guy was an absolute machine.
Verlander’s 24 wins was easily the highest in the American League, five wins more than the New York Yankees’ ace CC Sabathia (who notched 19), despite the Yanks better offense (867 runs scored compared to Detroit’s 787 runs scored).
The Tigers’ ace also led American League pitchers in the following categories:
Games started: 34 (four others tied with Verlander)
Innings pitched: 251
Earned Run Average: 2.40
Opponent’s Batting Average: .192
Opponent’s On-Base Percentage: .242
Opponent’s Slugging Percentage: .313
The list goes on and on.
Now, I’ve had friends argue with me about the points I make above, saying that despite Verlander’s evident dominance of the American League, he also plays on a fantastic offensive team, which is true.
This was evidenced by my rather weak argument earlier that the Yankees scored 80 more runs than the Tigers’ offense, leading me to subtly imply that Sabathia should have had more than his 19 wins. So allow me to back this up.
There’s a statistic in baseball called “Run Support Average” for pitchers, which translates to the average amount of runs a given pitcher’s offense gives him every time he starts.
Verlander, despite the Tigers' great offense, ranked 28th in the American League in run support average. Twenty-seven other American League pitchers got more run support per start than Verlander —including —wait for it… that’s right! CC Sabathia!
Sabathia received the 12th best run support in the American League during the 2011 season. His offense scored 6.98 runs per game in his starts. Verlander’s run support was more than an entire run lower at 5.69, and the guy still had five more wins than Sabathia!
Guess who else had more run support per game than Verlander. His teammate, Max Scherzer.
Scherzer received a WHOPPING 7.89 runs per game in his starts (good for fifth best in the American League). He was second on the Tigers in wins during the campaign with 15. Are you kidding me?? This guy got, on average, over two runs per game in run support more than Verlander, and Verlander still beat him in the win column by nine wins?
Alright, I’ll calm down. You don’t need me to tell you that Scherzer is no Justin Verlander, but still, it’s worth noting that while having to dominate every game for his team, Verlander got to watch teammates receive more run support and underperform.
(Side note: I say teammates (plural) because Tigers starter Brad Penny (11-11 5.30 ERA) ranked 11th in run support for the American League with 6.99 runs per game, and Rick Porcello, yet another Tigers starter, got the third most run support per start in the AL (8.80 runs per game), and had a 14-9 record… I love stats).
So yes, the Tigers had a great offense during the 2011 regular season, but it showed up more often for Porcello, Penny and Scherzer than it did for Verlander.
The bottom line is that Verlander’s team counted on him to go out there every five games and get a win for his team, which he did 70 percent of the time.
Sure Curtis Granderson hit 41 homers for the Yankees in that pillbox they call a stadium, and Jacoby Ellsbury had a monstrous comeback year from an injury-plagued 2010 season (.321 average, 32 homers, 105 RBI, 39 stolen bases) and is in the MVP discussion despite the Red Sox's historic September collapse in which they ousted THEMSELVES from the playoffs.
Sorry, I’m a Red Sox fan, writing that last bit still stung even though we’re almost at Thanksgiving AND the Yankees lost, but I digress…
Justin Verlander should be the American League MVP for the 2011 season. You won’t convince me otherwise.
Update: Justin Verlander has officially been named the American League MVP.