Tuesday, November 22, 2011

If I Had a Vote

You all had a temporary reprieve from baseball posts, but here's another one (most likely the last one of the off-season, barring big moves or nothing else to write about).

Let me make myself clear right off the top. I do not think Justin Verlander should have been awarded the American League MVP (especially after seeing that Clayton Kershaw finished a distant 12th in the NL), but I do think he should have been eligible. In the past few days, I've had excellent Twitter exchanges with Jose Cruz (@cruz22), Eric Smith (@eric__smith) and Paul Jones (@paul__jones) about whether or not pitchers should be eligible for the MVP - I said yes; it wasn't a common opinion.

There are several arguments as to why pitchers should not be able to win the MVP. The most common of these arguments is that pitchers are awarded the Cy Young - the "MVP" for pitchers. My counterargument to that is that hitters have the Hank Aaron Award. Granted, the Aaron does not have nearly the history that the Cy Young does, and it's not voted on in the same way, but I'm sure the hitters find it no less significant to win it. There are also Silver Sluggers and Gold Gloves for both position players and pitchers, so let the MVP represent the player having the most valuable season; regardless of how you define "valuable", pitchers can certainly be it.

Also, consider that, although a starting pitcher may only appear in 35 games or so, he'll have to face upwards of, probably, 900 batters. He's also responsible for fielding his position - which, for the record, Verlander doesn't do particularly well - and controlling the running game. Catchers get a lot of credit or take a lot of flak depending on their caught stealing percentage, but pitchers are also responsible for that. Pitchers may not be out there every day, but when they are, every single play starts from their arm when they're on the mound - a right fielder can't say that.

So, yes, pitchers absolutely should be eligible to win the MVP, but they really need to have a spectacular season to deserve it. Verlander had a great pitching season this year, but not a great overall season - he was helped quite a bit by the fielders and the bullpen behind him. Taking nothing away from him, he just happened to have a great year in a year with a high number of other great years.


Now, onto the "Who should be MVP?" debate. My votes would have gone Bautista-Cabrera-Ellsbury in the American League and Kemp-Braun-Fielder in the National League. The NL was obviously very close, with the exception of Braun and Kemp being flipped, but the AL had a monkey wrench thrown into it by Verlander's victory and Cabrera's under-ratedness. The common reasoning for Verlander and Braun's victory was that they lead their teams to the playoffs. It's always kind of bothered me that that pretty much said that the best player in the league were always on the best team.

But, that is apparently how the voting works. Since 1961, there have been 50 MVPs (I didn't include the 1994 season, as there were no real playoffs) in the American League and 51 in the National League (Willie Stargell and Keith Hernandez shared the award in 1979). On only 29 instances (10 in the AL and 19 in the NL) has the MVP not "lead" his team to the postseason. There were also only two instances where both leagues had MVPs that didn't extend far into October. There are the occasional anomalies (Andre Dawson in 1987 leaps to mind), but, for the most part, playoffs generally means MVP votes.

But even then, I am confused. There were 3 Boston Red Sox in the Top-10 - let's pretend they were a "playoff" team, as they came within 1 game. How do you splice between their contributions? There were also two Tigers and two Yankees. Two Phillies, two Brewers, and two Cardinals were among the NL's Top-10. How much impact did they have individually, and how much did they affect one another's play?

But I digress, and must go to bed after salting the driveway and praying to the Weather Gods to not die on the way to work tomorrow. To summarize: pitchers can be MVPs, and I don't care if they get to the playoffs or not, and I'm happy to debate it with you.

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