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Verlander is AL MVP, so far

August 19, 2011

Justin Verlander has been absolutely filthy this year. He threw a no-hitter in May against the Blue Jays, one of the most dangerous offenses in MLB. He gave up fewer runs (5) than games started (6) in June. He’s given up more than four runs in a game only once, way back on May 24th. He’s completed at least six innings in every start this year. He has the best opponents’ OBP in the majors, at .233. Jered Weaver is next, at .253. He’s the front-runner for the American League Cy Young award. He should be the front-runner for the American League Most Valuable Player award.

There’s no clear-cut definition for MVP voting. It’s not the Most Valuable Hitter award, although hitters usually gather a vast majority of the votes. Is it the MVPOAPT (Most Valuable Player On A Playoff Team) award? Usually, but not always. Is it the MVPROTR (Most Valuable Player Regardless of Team’s Record), aka Best Player overall, award? Sometimes.

But most of the time, regardless of team record, the award goes to a hitter. The last pitcher to win an MVP award was Roger Clemens in 1986. Verlander is on pace to match or better many of Clemens’ season-leading stats from his MVP year. Now I’m not saying Verlander will be better than Clemens when all is said and done this season. What I am saying is that, in terms of value to his team, Justin Verlander has been more valuable than Jacoby Ellsbury,  Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson, Jose Bautista or any other number of players anyone has thrown out there.

If you take any one of those players I just listed above off his respective team, said team would be no worse than one position lower in its division’s standings. The Yankees would still be above Tampa Bay and in the Wild Card lead if they didn’t have Granderson. The Red Sox would also still be above Tampa, who’s 8.5 games behind the Sox now, if one of Pedroia, Ellsbury or Gonzalez weren’t on the team. Toronto would still be in fourth place in the tough AL East if Joey Bats wasn’t smashing homers for them.

However, if Verlander weren’t on the Tigers? Phew. They’d easily be in third place, behind the mighty Indians and White Sox, and the Tigers would be a lot closer to the fourth-place Twins than they would be Cleveland or Chicago.

Verlander has 18 of the Tigers’ 66 wins this year, and the Tigers have won 19 of his 27 starts. The Tigers have outscored their opponents by 38 runs this year in games that Verlander starts. In all other games they are -47 in run differential. Verlander has given up more than three runs in only one start of his that eventually turned out to be a Tigers’ loss. Verlander gives the Tigers a very good chance of winning every time he takes the mound. Verlander’s ERA in his five losses this year? 3.38. It’s not his fault he’s got five losses.

In games that Verlander has pitched this year the Tigers are 19-8, a .704 winning percentage, which is higher than either New York’s or Boston’s total season win percentage. Verlander has been the one constant on an otherwise yawn-inspiring Detroit team. He’s shown up from day one this year, as evidenced by his quality start no-decision against the Yankees on opening day.

Even though he’s having a very good year, Pedroia didn’t bat above .255 in either of the first two months of this season. Ellsbury batted .266 in April and is batting .261 so far in August. Gonzalez hit one home run in April and is batting .240 in August. How good would Granderson’s numbers be if he wasn’t batting mostly second or third in the powerful Yankees’ lineup, which has allowed him to have almost as many at-bats with runners on (220) than without (232)? Grandy’s having a great year – a career year – but a lot of his stats are a product of his park, teammates and lineup spot.

Unlike these position players whose RBI and run numbers are sky-high because of their teammates driving them in and being on base, Verlander is working his own magic by himself. Rarely does he have his bullpen bail him out of a jam. He leads the majors in pitches, 122 more than anyone else, and innings pitched.

So far, any argument anyone has or can throw in Verlander’s direction as to why he shouldn’t be the AL MVP is moot. He’s been as consistent as anyone since opening day. He’s not putting up great stats on a crappy team; his team is in first place, and if Verlander wasn’t on the Tigers they would be nowhere near the pennant race. With all apologies to Miguel Cabrera, Verlander is easily the best player on the Tigers – pitcher or hitter.

And he has been the best player in the American League this year – pitcher or hitter – and if he keeps it up, he should be recognized for it.

From → MLB

One Comment
  1. Vin Reich permalink

    You don’t have to agree with the argument that a player who appears in 33 or 34 games shouldn’t be the MVP, but it is hardly moot.

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