Does Verlander Deserve the AL MVP Award?

After a long night of tossing and turning, trying to decide whether Justin Verlander is deserving enough of the 2011 American League MVP award, the decision was too much for us to handle. So we wrote two different arguments – one defending his receipt of the award, and the other protesting it. In the end, you the fans will decide whether you think that Verlander should be the one with the AL MVP award.

[ad name=”GAS-Blog-Banner”]

The Case against Verlander’s AL MVP

The Case for Verlander’s AL MVP

Justin Verlander winning the 2011 American League Most Valuable Player Award has been the one major blemish on an otherwise amazing baseball season.  No pitcher has won the award since Dennis Eckersley in 1992, and no starter has won it since Roger Clemens in 1986, which makes Verlander’s achievement an historic one. But it wasn’t the right decision.

Tough to Define Value

The handing out of individual awards for team sports is always sure to stir up controversy but this particular instance makes it doubly so.  Defining the “Value” of an individual on a team roster where nine players have essentially the same number of opportunities to succeed or fail can be difficult.  For example, a player could bat over .400 with runners in scoring position for the season, but if the players in front of him do not get on base with regularity, he will have a hard time leading the league in RBI. You could say that because his RBI totals were lower than that of others in the league, that he wasn’t as valuable as those ahead of him.  To put it briefly, the value of an individual on a team is only as good as the ability of his teammates to provide him with said opportunities.

Benefits of Playing on a Contender

Since the Cy Young award was introduced in 1956, 10 pitchers (7 AL and 3 NL) have won the MVP award for their respective league.  There is nothing in the rules of MVP voting that says that pitchers aren’t allowed to win, but wasn’t it strongly implied with the creation of the Cy Young?  Even if a pitcher didn’t give up a single run all season long, they would still depend on their offense to score in order for the team to win.  Verlander’s job was to stop the opposing team from scoring, and while he did that well, you cannot tell me that his win totals would have been as high if he wasn’t on the 4th highest scoring team in Major League Baseball.  Put Verlander on the Mariners or the Giants who put up pitiful offensive totals and I would wager that Verlander might not win 20 games, despite his stellar pitching.  For that reason, I don’t think that a starting pitcher should ever be a candidate for MVP.  How valuable can they be when their most direct impact on a game (wins) is still up to the mercy of their team’s offense.

Part-Time Employee

If someone does their job meticulously, finishes all the work that is on their agenda for the day, but only shows up to work on Mondays, are they really as valuable to a company as someone who does their job meticulously, finishes all the work that is on their agenda, but works 5 days a week?  Sure, a pitcher’s job is more important the success of a team than any other individual player, but all of that is negated in the long run by the fact that they only impact roughly 20% of the games on the schedule, whereas a position player can impact roughly 90% of their team’s games.

We aren’t here to say that Verlander isn’t a great pitcher, and didn’t have one of the better pitching seasons that we’ve seen in a long time, but let’s remember that we already recognized him for that award when we gave him the Cy Young.  Let’s keep the MVP in the hands of the position players.

When we compare Verlander’s impact on the Tiger’s season compared to that of other top vote-getters, we see that Justin comes out the clear winner.  Think I’m wrong? Let’s dive into the numbers.

Innings Pitched Compared to At Bats

Justin Verlander threw for 251 innings during the 2011 season.  The Tigers’ pitching staff as a whole was out on the mound for 1,440 innings.  Verlander’s piece of the pie equates to roughly 17.4% of his team’s innings.  The best comparison to innings pitched from a batter’s perspective is At-Bats.  Taking a look at two of the top runners up in the AL MVP voting, we see that their impact was not nearly as high as Verlander’s.  Jacoby Ellsbury of the Boston Red Sox had 660 at bats this season.  His team as a whole had 5,710.  Ellsbury accounted for roughly 11.6% of his team’s at-bats.  Miguel Cabrera, another top vote-getter had 572 at bats, while the whole team had 5,563 at bats. Cabrera accounted for 10.3% of his team’s at bats.  Even though Verlander only took the ball once every 5 games, he was, percentage-wise, a bigger factor for the Tiger’s pitching staff than any other player was for their respective offense.

Runs vs. Wins

This comparison hopes to take a unique data sets and get them to a more comparable state.  A pitcher’s win total is a good indicator of their team’s success, even though it can be tainted in either direction by the bullpen blowing leads or a potent offense making up for a less than stellar pitching performance. Regardless, it is the best metric we have to go off of. Verlander accounted for 24 out of his team’s 95 wins, putting his pitching wins at 25% of the team’s overall win total.  Compare that to the offense that each player contributed to their team’s bottom line and we can see some amazing disparity.  If we take Ellsbury’s 119 runs scored, add in his 105 RBIs and subtract his 32 homers (we don’t want to count those runs twice), we are left with 192 runs that he had directly scored or drove in.  The Red Sox scored 875 runs in 2011, giving Ellsbury 21.9% of that total.  Cabrera’s 111 runs and 105 RBIs minus his 30 homers gives him 186 runs he scored or drove in.  186 out of his team’s 787 runs gives him 23.6% of the total. Both players fall behind Verlander’s percentage of wins compared to the team.

Missing Something?

Sure, there are intangibles that often get overlooked from both pitchers and position players.  It is tough to gauge the impact of Ellsbury who plays a demanding defensive position and plays it well.  We also can’t account for the times that Cabrera or Ellsbury moved runners into scoring position or made a game saving defensive play.  Just like we can’t account for the times when Verlander stepped in to stop a losing streak, or struck out the side to give his team the spark they needed.  At the end of the day, the MVP award is based on tangible figures and there is little doubt that Verlander had more of a direct impact on the season as a whole than any other player did this year.  Given the fact that he had one of the best seasons that a pitcher could possibly have and did it on a playoff baseball team leaves little room for argument that he deserves this MVP award as much, if not more than any other players who received votes.

So Does Verlander Deserve the Award? Leave Your Argument Here


  1. Hey Aaron,

    I already made my argument on why he should win the MVP and I’m very glad that the sportswriters agreed with me:-)

    Happy Thanksgiving!


    1. Even though I was opposed to him winning the award, I found that the arguments for him being the rightful recipient were a lot easier to write than those opposed. He had a huge impact on that team and was the anchor of a pitching staff that would probably be below average without him.

      At the end of the day, I can’t really come up with anything good as to why he shouldn’t have won it.

Comments are closed.