There comes a time in a man’s life when he must stand up for what he believes. After hearing yet another wave of talk about how Justin Verlander ought to win the American League MVP award, today is that day. I say no.
Sorry Justin, but while I believe you and all of your supporters could make a great argument for why you are one of the most valuable players on your team and in the league, it is not possible to compare the impact a position player has on the team to the impact a pitcher has. And most importantly, pitchers have their own damn award — the Cy Young — which Verlander won unanimously on Tuesday.
Now, you could say I am slightly biased — Jacoby Ellsbury is indeed my homeboy–but just hear me out.
The last time a pitcher won the MVP was in 1992, when Hall of Fame reliever Dennis Eckersley saved 51 games with a 1.91 ERA for the Oakland Athletics. The last time a starting pitcher won the award was when Roger Clemens went 24-4 with 238 strikeouts and a 2.48 ERA in 1986.
So there is some historical precedent for the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to give the men on the mound some love. But I’m going to be honest–those days are over, and I have to believe it’s because they eventually came to their senses and realized that as great a season as a pitcher has, the times they are a-changin’.
And this is not to knock Verlander’s contribution to the team, because he certainly was a valuable asset for Jim Leyland’s ballclub.
Not only did the flame-throwing right-hander lead the league in wins, but he was also first in winning percentage (.828), ERA (2.40), innings (251), strikeouts (250) and WHIP (0.920).
Those are Clemens-esque numbers, and behind Verlander, the Tigers won 95 games and the AL Central division title for the first time in 24 years.
But I will not stand idly by while Verlander, a great and humble guy by most accounts, butters the media up with his “aw, shucks” charm.
Hall of Fame hitters already fail two-thirds of the time. They have to go out and play nine innings of defense, 162 games a year. Sure, they get to take plays off, while pitchers are subjected to scrutiny on every pitch for six innings. But to make position players have to compete with a guy who has a direct impact on the game just once every five days is simply unfair.
You cannot tell me that Justin Verlander deserves the MVP more than even his own teammate, Miguel Cabrera, who hit .344 with 30 home runs and 105 RBI while playing an underrated first base for the Tigers. The difference between Verlander and a pretty good starting pitcher, as compared to the difference between Miguel Cabrera and a pretty good first baseman is not comparable.
One of the biggest arguments I have heard for Verlander is that this year was “special” for him. But while I agree with that description, that doesn’t make him an MVP, that makes him the Cy Young. Pedro Martinez had perhaps the greatest single season ever by a starting pitcher in 1999 — going 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA with an unreal 313 strikeouts and 0.92 WHIP. That’s stupid good.
And yet, he fell 13 points shy of Ivan Rodriguez in the MVP race. (To be honest, Manny Ramirez should have won that MVP because his 44 HRs, .333 BA and 165 RBI was really stupid good.) Which is why I feel safe saying that the history of the award tells us that pitchers should stick to the thing they do best–pitching.
They have a wonderful award for this very reason, and Verlander won it in a landslide rather deservedly this year.
“Coming from your peers makes it all the more special,” Verlander said of that honor. “I think with all the talk about, ‘Should a pitcher be able to win MVP or a top player award?’ I think it shows a lot of support for my fellow players to be able to vote me for that. I think it means a lot. When it comes from your peers, the guys you’re playing with, the guys you’re playing against — it’s special.”
But “those guys” deserve to have their day, because this was no down year for several hitters. All Ellsbury did was put together a breakthrough season that was as impressive as that of any position player in the game.
Boston’s leadoff man hit .321 with 212 hits, 32 homers, 105 RBIs and a league-leading 364 total bases. He also stole 39 bases all while playing Gold Glove defense in centerfield.
Though the Red Sox had a historically poor finish, becoming the first team to blow a nine-game lead in September, Ellsbury was the reason his team still had a chance to make it to the postseason in Game No. 162. He hit .358 with eight homers and 21 RBIs during a time his team needed him most.
That is what an MVP should do, not just be the “stopper” every five days you get the ball. The Tigers also had Doug Fister, who was actually more impressive than Verlander down the stretch with a 1.79 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and an 8-1 record after coming over via a trade with the Mariners.
If you don’t like Ellsbury, why don’t you try a helping of the Grandy Man, or take a look at Mr. Bautista in Toronto, or A-Gon in Beantown? Any of them has had a great enough season to overcome doubts.
I’m ready for the angry hordes who say that the award shouldn’t be exclusive to position players and that the words “most and valuable” apply to Verlander like “Tim Tebow and winner.”
But I sincerely hope that Mr. Verlander can sit back and applaud for whomever it is that does win when the award is announced on Monday, just like he did for the 129 games in which he did not throw a pitch this season.
Miles also believes that a defensive players should not be able to win the Heisman, but that’s just because he’s still bitter about Charles Woodson beating out Peyton Manning. Send him your thoughts at email@example.com and check him out on Twitter @smilesbsmith.