In 2011, Verlander became the first Tiger since Bill Gullickson in 1991 to win 20 games, and the first big leaguer since Curt Schilling (2002) to reach 20 wins before the end of August.

AL MVP 2011: Justin Verlander

Well, here we go again. The argument for infinity. Is it legitimate to award a pitcher the Most Valuable Player trophy, particularly the AL MVP 2011? There are as many arguments for–as against–this premise.

Monday, November 21st, 2011, saw the best pitcher on the planet, the Detroit Tigers’ Justin Verlander, win the AL MVP Award, one of a small handful who have ever won both the Cy Young and MVP crowns. Obviously, the baseball community is divided on whether a pitcher should even be allowed to win an MVP Award.

In 2011, Verlander became the first Tiger since Bill Gullickson in 1991 to win 20 games, and the first big leaguer since Curt Schilling (2002) to reach 20 wins before the end of August.

In 2011, Verlander became the first Tiger since Bill Gullickson in 1991 to win 20 games, and the first big leaguer since Curt Schilling (2002) to reach 20 wins before the end of August.

The advocates for such a travesty say, “If the Cy Young Award winner is the most valuable player for a team, then he should be allowed to win the MVP, too.” The “No Way!” crowd says, “A player who only takes the field every 5 days cannot be more valuable than an everyday player who has a career year!”

Eckersley was ranked #98 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players and was nominated as a finalist for the Major League Baseball "All-Century Team." In 2004, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

Eckersley was ranked #98 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players and was nominated as a finalist for the Major League Baseball "All-Century Team." In 2004, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

One of the controversial stats is the “W.A.R.” or Wins Above Replacement calculation, a stat that many voters use to show a player’s value. While the stat is important, there is some question regarding the apples-to-apples protocols on the way this stat is applied, on the one hand, to position players, and then, to pitchers. These nay-sayers have a point. It appears that there may be a slight prejudice in favor of pitchers. Then, the context for this argument is still controversial.

The discussion gets even more heated when the protocols start to include relief pitchers. Look what the Tigers’ great closer, Jose Valverde, did this year. An astonishing achievement, but he didn’t do well in the Cy Young or MVP voting. Yet, Dennis Eckersley (1992) and Willie Hernández (1984), have won both the Cy Young and MVP crowns–as relievers. In a given year, a career effort by a relief pitcher can eclipse the league’s starting pitchers’ best stats, thereby, also allowing a relief pitcher the chance, under the current rules, to win the MVP. Then, there is the controversy over whether a relief pitcher should be allowed the Cy Young Award! The problem, or, the beauty of all this inconsistency is that some pundits like it–while others would prefer more structured protocols.

In 1984, Hernández converted 32-of-33 save opportunities and lead the league in games pitched and games finished.

In 1984, Hernández converted 32-of-33 save opportunities and lead the league in games pitched and games finished.

There is a field of thought that the protocols for evaluating pitchers–and position players–should be calibrated more differently than now. To wit, values for relief pitchers, starting pitchers, and position players–and the relationship of those values to team performance should be tweaked in a more “realistic” manner. Of course, many feel that only position players should be eligible for the MVP Award. This writer leans toward that direction… at least a little bit. The statistics tend to support that viewpoint… almost every year.

In 1986, Roger Clemens won both the Cy Young and the MVP Awards, the last starting pitcher before Verlander to do so. Many of us then thought Don Mattingly should have won that year, especially when you add in “Donnie Baseball’s” Gold Glove defensive skills.

In 1915, 1916 and 1917, Grover Alexander (pictured above) won the triple crown. The other pitchers to do so in consecutive years were Lefty Grove (1930 & 1931), Sandy Koufax (1965 & 1966), and Roger Clemens (1997 & 1998).

In 1915, 1916 and 1917, Grover Alexander (pictured above) won the triple crown. The other pitchers to do so in consecutive years were Lefty Grove (1930 & 1931), Sandy Koufax (1965 & 1966), and Roger Clemens (1997 & 1998).

In Verlander’s defense, he won pitching’s Triple Crown (single season leader in Wins, E.R.A. and K’s), a very rare achievement. Since 1893, there are less than two dozen hurlers who have ever done it. Grover Cleveland Alexander won this elusive Award an amazing 4 times. Unreachable?!

Now, to show good sportsmanship, our heartiest congratulations to Justin Verlander, a player who does things the right way, for a truly remarkable season. Yet, our view of the MVP would have thrown more votes to players such as Adrian Gonzalez or Michael Young, position players who are clutch performers on both offense and defense.

What is your viewpoint? Let us know in the comments section and chime in on Twitter here.

  • batboy

    This is a tough one.  I tend to prefer that the Cy Young award should be the best pitcher’s reward…position players, after all, are ineligible for this award!  So it seems logical that position players should have recognition that is apt for them which pitchers cannot access.  But I really would prefer that each skill/position be given its respective recognition (so no one is left out) via various awards (hitting, fielding, etc.), but, in addition, that a single player would be considered the best in the sport (rather than just within the confines of his particular skill or position).  So, therefore, I believe a case can be made for an overall MVP, regardless of position.  Disallowing this kind of recognition for starting pitchers simply because they must be rested a number of games seems like an unfair and irrelevant restriction.

    • http://fromdeeprightfield.com/ Paul Gillespie

      Your points are valid. Yet, it appears that some statistical imbalance is necessary in order to place a pitcher ahead of a position player. Perhaps a new calibration comparing pitcher value to position player value would be well served. On the other hand, how about Cy Young for pitchers–MVP for position players? Shouldn’t that work?

  • Maschek

    How do this year’s position players stats compare to that of a typical MVP? Seems like no one really stood out offensively to help transcend their teams in the AL. I’m ok with the choice this year.

    • http://fromdeeprightfield.com/ Paul Gillespie

      The position player stats look good across the board. This year is unusual in that there are more good AL position player years than the last couple of years. Even though Verlander had a scintillating year, and won the Cy Young Award as he deserved, it is challenging to award him more value than Gonzalez or Young when it comes to the MVP.

  • bttplano.com

    No matter what position, if you perform above and beyond, example subject above as Verlander. All is a mute point, triple crown, who else achieved such success????? This is all the beauty of baseball, great freakin !!!!!! CUBS BASEBALL.

    • http://fromdeeprightfield.com/ Paul Gillespie

      Many in the reporter community agree with you–that superior performance finds its own level of acknowledgment.