It can be argued that Justin Verlander deserved to win the 2011 American League MVP Award. Technically, that argument begins – and ends – with the fact that he did, indeed win the award. He’s the first starting pitcher to do so since Roger Clemens in 1986.
Verlander was sensational this past season. His historic campaign included a 24-5 record, a 2.40 ERA, a 0.920 WHIP, a no-hitter, and a Cy Young Award. Without Verlander, the Detroit Tigers don’t win the Central Division and are not a playoff contender. He was an invaluable cog in the 2011 Tigers wheel.
Did Verlander deserve to win the MVP Award? Yes.
Should he have actually won the MVP Award? Disputable.
Many will contend that a pitcher shouldn’t qualify for the award. Position players can’t win a Cy Young Award, why should a pitcher be allowed to win an MVP? After all, starting pitchers directly impact only about 35 games a season. This discussion has some validity to it, but one might also reason that a pitcher responsible for a quarter of their team’s entire win total is more valuable than an everyday position player who steps to the plate 600 times.
Historically, the word “valuable” can be difficult to define – especially by MVP voters.
Once upon a time, Yankees pitcher Ron Guidry and Red Sox starter Pedro Martinez put together two of the most dominant pitching seasons of all-time. Their efforts were comparable, if not better, than what Verlander accomplished this past year. While both won the American League Cy Young Awards in their respective seasons, neither one walked away with the MVP award – both finished second in the voting.
Check this out: in 1978, Guidry went 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA and a 0.946 WHIP. He struck out 18 Angels on June 17, and was the winning pitcher during the famous one-game playoff at Fenway Park, propelling the Yankees towards an American League Pennant and an eventual World Series Title. Guidry lost the MVP race to Red Sox Outfielder, Jim Rice.
Equally as dominant, Pedro Martinez manhandled the American League in 1999, going 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA and a 0.923 WHIP. Martinez started that season’s All-Star Game, struck out 5 of the 6 batters he faced, and won game MVP honors. Martinez lost to Rangers Catcher, Ivan Rodriguez in the league MVP voting that season.
Verlander was no more valuable to his Tigers in 2011 than Guidry was to the Yankees in 1978 or Martinez to the Red Sox in 1999. But, perhaps in 2011, voters have a better grasp on the meaning of the word “valuable.”
It might also have been circumstantial.
Verlander benefitted from a flawed group of position player candidates, including Jacoby Ellsbury (Red Sox), Curtis Granderson (Yankees), Jose Batista (Blue Jays) and Tigers teammate Miguel Cabrera. None were clear-cut winners, and each received first place votes, potentially paving the way for Verlander to sneak out on top.
Pitchers have been snubbed by MVP voters for years, yet Verlander shouldn’t have to pay the price for past mistakes. Perhaps this year’s voting is a sign of progress or forward thinking. Maybe it was just circumstantial.
Regardless, voters finally got it right in 2011, despite getting it wrong with guys like Guidry and Martinez in the past.
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