|MVP-worthy Jacoby Ellsbury|
Verlander, as a starting pitcher, appeared in 34 of his team's 162 games, winning 24 and losing 5. He played a key role in the Tigers' success although, as I wrote last year (Winning Isn't Everything), the number of wins credited to a pitcher is not the most important statistic in assessing a player's value. (Verlander, for example, was greatly helped by a team that supported him with five or more runs for 14 of his wins and a bullpen that didn't blow a lead for him all season.)
Using the more modern metric, WAR (wins above replacement), Verlander's 7.0, was less than worthy non-pitchers, including Jose Bautista, Miguel Cabrera, Jacoby Ellsbury and Curtis Granderson. Verlander's impact on his team simply was not comparable to some of the position players who took the field every day.
As you can probably tell by now, I take the minority view that with very rare exceptions, the MVP should go to a position player and not a pitcher. Pitchers already have their own award -- the Cy Young. And a great non-pitcher is usually more valuable than a pitcher who plays every fifth day. At minimum, it is difficult to compare their relative worth.
Which brings us to the meaning of "Most Valuable Player." Is it the player who had the best year or one who helped his team the most, or some combination of the two? How can a player on a mediocre team be considered Most Valuable? Who knows? But I take the view that the MVP should go to the player who had the best individual season, which often coincides with having contributed to his team's success. I don't think a player who had a truly outstanding year, however, should be disqualified for having the misfortune of palying on a lousy team.
For pitchers to win the MVP, it should require something extraordinary, like what occurred in 1968, known as "The Year of the Pitcher," when Denny McLain won 31 games for the Tigers and Bob Gibson had a microscopic 1.12 ERA for the Cardinals. MVP Vida Blue had a deserving year in 1971 (24 wins, 1.82 ERA) particularly given the absence of any overwhelming offensive player. But in 1986, the Yankees Don Mattingly should have won over Roger Clemens, the last starting pitcher before Verlander to win the award.
Relief pitchers are even less deserving of the MVP in my opinion, particularly given how I feel about the "save." (See Save It.) How does Rollie Fingers (78 innings pitched, 6 wins, 28 saves) win the MVP in 1981 over the A's Ricky Henderson, who dominated the league, leading in hits, runs scored, stolen bases and capturing a Gold Glove? Or the Tigers' reliever Willie Hernandez and his 32 saves in 1984, winning despite remarkable years by Mattingly and the Orioles' Eddie Murray. And sure, Dennis Eckersley had 51 saves in 1992, but in how many of those games, which he came in for one inning, would his team have won anyway? How about the season Kirby Puckett had that year, leading the league in hits and total bases, or Frank Thomas, who put up monstrous numbers.
This year there were several candidates who deserved the MVP over Verlander. The Blue Jays' slugger Jose Bautista played for a .500 team, but he hit .302, led the league with 43 home runs and a gaudy .608 slugging percentage, and edged out Tiger Miguel Cabrera in combined slugging and on base percentage. If I were to go with a Tiger, by the way, I would go with Cabrera who led the league in batting and on base percentage.
But it was Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox who should have won the MVP. He put up incredible numbers: 32 home runs and 39 stolen bases, while hitting .320, scoring 119 runs, knocking in 105, and winning a Gold Glove to boot. Had the Red Sox not fallen apart down the stretch, he probably would have won the award easily. But the team's historic collapse wasn't Ellsbury's fault as he hit .358 with eight homers in the last month of the season.
Verlander should enjoy his richly deserved Cy Young. But the MVP should have gone elsewhere.