Let's say you work at a programming company. You work hard, everyday, seven days a week. You do coding, and you do it as good as any regular programmer out there. But then there's this other guy -- he does his work better than anyone does there's, but he only works one day a week. He's obviously important, and he excels at what he does. But if it came time to announce the Employee of the Year, would it really be fair for the guy who only works 35 times a year to win it over the best of the regular workers, who work 162 times a year?
Apparently so, if you're the BBWAA, who announced a few days ago that Justin Verlander had won the American League MVP. Verlander becomes the tenth pitcher to win an MVP and a Cy Young in the same season, and the first since Dennis Eckersley in 1992. He had an outstanding season and was easily the best pitcher in baseball. He was better at what he did than any player in the American League. But does that make him the MVP?
It all depends on what your definition of "valuable" is. If you believe that the MVP should go to the player who has the best season, it's feasible that Verlander should have won it. He did have the best season, and if Alex Rodriguez deserved to win it on a last-place Texas Rangers team, perhaps Verlander was rightfully awarded it, since the Tigers were a .500 team in games he didn't start. It's reasonable to say that they might not have been a playoff team without him.
At the same time, that same argument can be made ten-fold for the MVP candidates who were position players. No matter how good Verlander was in getting his team 24 wins, he helped them in only one out of every five games. It's hard to accept that a pitcher who contributes 20% of the time is worth more than the upper echelon of the position players, who play 100% of time, that Jacoby Ellsbury and Jose Bautista didn't do more for their teams in five games than what Verlander did in one. To his credit, Verlander may have picked the perfect circumstance to have the season he did. Ellsbury's team blew the largest September lead in baseball history, and Bautista's numbers come with a certain amount of skepticism because of how historically inexplicable they are, as well as the fact that he plays in Canada. Verlander lacked an MVP challenger who voters wouldn't have had reservations supporting.
And then there's the question of whether a pitcher should ever win the MVP, simply because the Cy Young has been designated as the pitcher's MVP, and giving someone the MVP and the Cy Young is somewhat redundant. Rather than rewarding the best pitcher and the best batter, giving both awards to the same guy sort of defeats the purpose of even having the Cy Young. After all, there isn't a Cy Young for batters. They can only win one award.
So, should Verlander have been the MVP? I tend to say no. He had a great season, but it wasn't historically great, and the few pitchers to win the MVP had all-time great seasons -- Bob Gibson in 1968, Sandy Koufax in 1963. I don't think he deserves the distinction of being the first starter since Roger Clemens in 1986 to win the MVP, since we've seen plenty of better seasons since then that weren't rewarded so lucratively. In 2002, Randy Johnson had a season where he went 24-5, identical to Verlander's record, and he finished with a lower ERA, more strikeouts and more innings than Verlander, and where did he finish in MVP voting? Seventh. And that pales in comparison to Pedro Martinez, who had a vastly better season in 1999, when he went 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA, a 0.92 WHIP and 313 strikeouts. And he even he didn't win the MVP.
Regardless, there shouldn't be animosity towards Verlander. He earned the award by being better than every pitcher by such a margin that the impression was left that he was on a level above everyone else, even the Bautista's and the Ellsbury's of the world. He won it by being better, even if he wasn't better than many of the pitchers who didn't win before him.
By the way, if you follow the continuity of this site at all, you're aware that in the last article, I incorrectly identified Jose Bautista as the AL MVP. It turns out, I had read a survey of SB Nation baseball writers instead. So, yeah... Me dumb.