Doubled Teamed: The value of Verlander

September 8, 2011

What does it mean to be “most valuable?”  When it comes to MVP awards in sports, no one seems to know.  Perhaps that is why Major League Baseball American League MVP race is as deep, varied, and uncertain as it has ever been in recent memory.

Five position players have separated from the pack to establish themselves as firm MVP candidates: Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers, Adrian Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox, Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays, and Curtis Granderson of the Yankees. Even one pitcher, Justin Verlander of the Tigers, has garnered considerable attention for the award on account of his stellar season to date.

In determining the MVP from this field of six, consideration must first be given to the state of the team on which the player plays.  More specifically, how important has each player been to his team’s success?

All the candidates besides Bautista are on teams with firm footing either in first place in their division or in the wild card. Verlander and Cabrera have propelled the Tigers to a sizable first place lead in the AL Central with dominant August performances. Gonzalez and Ellsbury have been the best players on the Wild Card-leading Red Sox, and Granderson has had a remarkable season this year with the Yankees.

Statistically speaking, however, Bautista is having a better season than all other candidates, hitting over .300 with 40 home runs.  But the Blue Jays are a mediocre team with no chance at making the playoffs in the brutal AL East. Bautista’s presence has done little to elevate the Blue Jays, which should exclude him from the MVP discussion.

Of the remaining contenders, Cabrera ought be eliminated next, because although he is the most dominant offensive player on the playoff-bound Tigers, he is having a rather average year for his lofty standards.

As it has so many times before, the MVP race comes down to an argument between the Yanks and the Sox. Ellsbury and Gonzalez have both been dominant for the Red Sox, but both have suffered notable subpar stretches during the season—Ellsbury during the first half and Gonzalez recently.  While both have done more than enough to compensate for this minor dip in performance, the consistency of Granderson trumps them both.

Curtis Granderson is having a career year for the Yankees.  He started showing signs on his true multi-threat potential during his last year with the Tigers, a season in which he reached the elusive 20/20/20 mark in home runs, triples, and stolen bases.  This year, that potential has been realized, as Granderson has scored 126 runs while tallying 38 home runs and playing stellar defense.

Many people feel that only position players should be elibigle for the MVP award, and would give the trophy to Granderson. However, Tiger’s ace Justin Verlander is putting together a historically great year, and is certainly worthy of consideration as well.

Verlander has simply been the best pitcher in the MLB for just about the whole season, enabling the Tigers to essentially pencil in a win every five games.  He leads the American League in nearly every important statistical category for pitchers, including ERA, strikeouts, innings, WHIP, and wins.  Perhaps more important than individual stats, however, is Verlander’s “value” to the Tigers.  As of last week, the Tigers were just a .500 team in games Verlander did not pitch. He also has 14 wins in games pitched after a Tigers loss, demonstrating the confidence he injects into his team by gracing the mound.

While there is validity to the argument that the pitchers have their own award in the Cy Young, in a year where there is no clear cut position player MVP, a pitcher deserves full consideration.  In this case, Verlander is worthy of both the MVP and Cy Young awards because of his consistency and supreme value to his club. Take Curtis Granderson away from the Yankees and they do not skip a beat; take Verlander away from the Tigers and the franchise would already be out of the playoff race.  Pitchers have won the MVP award before, and given Verlander’s dominance, it’s time for a pitcher to reign supreme once again.

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