Is Justin Verlander the most valuable player in the American League this season? It seems like a simple enough question, but of course it isn’t.
Even Verlander’s manager isn’t sure. Jim Leyland said earlier this month that pitchers shouldn’t be candidates for the MVP. Then he backtracked a bit.
Last month, Leyland declared: “I don’t think a pitcher should be the most valuable player. I’m not looking for arguments or controversy. I just think when a guy goes out there 158 times or 155 times and has a big year, an MVP type year I don’t think the guy that goes out there 35 times should be named over that guy.”
A day later, Leyland clarified his position a bit — “I will support Justin Verlander 110 percent for the MVP” — but reiterated his original feelings about games played.
So that clears things up.
Verlander is 22-5 with a 2.44 ERA. He leads the league in wins, strikeouts (232), innings pitched (229) and WHIP (that’s walks and hits per inning pitched) , too (0.91). He’s tied for the league lead in ERA. The Tigers are 23-8 when he pitches and are 15-3 when he pitches after a loss. He’s got a shot at winning 25 games; Bob Welch was the last two do that, in 1990.
The Baseball Writers Association of America is vague on its criteria, saying it is a judgment call by its voters. That means each person gets to decide for himself what “valuable” means. Is it more valuable to play in 155 games, or is it more valuable to win more than a quarter of your team’s games?
(Disclaimer alert: I am a member of the BBWA but do not have a vote for MVP and if I did, I couldn’t use it; Post writers do not vote for postseason awards. And I’m a Tigers fan, the result of my 10 years in Detroit.)
History is not on Verlander’s side. The BBWA began awarding the MVP in 1931. Since then, 10 pitchers have won the AL version of the award, including a handful of Tigers: Hal Newhouser (1944 and 1945); Denny McLain (1968) and Willie Hernandez (1984). Interestingly, the Tigers won the World Series in three of those seasons: 1945, 1968 and 1984. The last pitcher to win it was Dennis Eckersley (51 saves, 1.81 ERA) in 1992.
The first Cy Young Award was given in 1967. McLain, Hernandez and Eckersley all won the Cy Young the same year they were named AL MVPs.
The criteria for MVP may be vague, but here’s what I’d use to make up my mind if I were voting: On July 21, the Tigers and Cleveland Indians were tied for the AL Central lead. That night, Verlander began a 10-game winning streak that is still active. During that streak, the Tigers built a 10½-game lead in the Central. If they’re not running away with the division, they’re at least trotting.
Starting pitchers obviously don’t play every day, or nearly every day, as position players do. But when they play, they have a huge impact on the game. Bill Madden of the New York Daily News is among the writers who’ve pointed out that Verlander’s batters-faced stat is more than 200 greater than the plate appearances of his top opponents.
Is Verlander the most valuable player in the AL this season? Even though it’s still not a simple question, it’s always fodder for a good debate. I say he’s the most valuable player in the American League this season. We’ll see what the voters decide.