‘Hart of the Order’
By Sean Hartnett
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In 1992, Dennis Eckersley captured the AL MVP Award. After a long 19-year drought, a major league pitcher has finally done enough to win an MVP Award.
That man is of course, Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers who earned 13 of 28 first place votes and 280 points. Jacoby Ellsbury of the Boston Red Sox finished second in the voting with 242 points and Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays came in third place with 231 points. Curtis Granderson of the New York Yankees finished fourth with 215 points and Verlander’s teammate Miguel Cabrera was fifth place with 193 points.
Members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America made the correct choice by breaking away from conventional logic that suggests starters who pitch once every five days aren’t as valuable as everyday position players. Modern day statistics have proven Verlander’s worth to the Tigers as he edged out Jose Bautista in Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Verlander finished 2011 with a WAR of 8.6 compared to Bautista’s mark of 8.5.
Verlander hasn’t been the only deserving starter since Roger Clemens won the award in 1986. In 1999, Pedro Martinez registered a WAR of 8.4 above AL-leading batters Derek Jeter and Manny Ramirez who tied at 8.0. Neither of the three took home the 1999 AL MVP as Ivan Rodriguez was declared the winner. More recently, 2009 AL Cy Young recipient Zach Greinke posted an outstanding WAR of 9.0 compared to 2009 AL MVP winner Joe Mauer’s 7.9.
Of course, BWAA voters all have their own individual criteria for determining their votes. Some favor pure statistics while others take into account team performance, late season impact of each player in their division and wild card races and their own eyes. There really isn’t one single way to quantify the worthiness of an MVP candidate but new-age sabermetrical statistics like WAR are tools that can more clearly identify a player’s value to their team.
My opinion ahead of the voting was that there wasn’t much separating leading American League MVP candidate batters whereas Verlander was far and away the league’s most dominant pitcher. It was a truly remarkable season for Verlander who went 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA, while amassing 250 strikeouts over 251.0 innings pitched. His 0.920 WHIP led the American League as did his totals in wins, ERA, games started, innings pitched, strikeouts and ERA+.
Comparing Verlander’s WAR to Cy Young candidates shows just how better he was than his contemporaries in 2011. Second place voter-getter Jered Weaver finished with a WAR of 6.6 while third place James Shields and fourth place CC Sabathia registered respective WARs of 6.1 and 6.9. Separating Jose Bautista and Ellsbury was a bit easier as Bautista led Ellsbury in WAR by 1.3.
Verlander was not only the most dominant pitcher in all of baseball but I couldn’t have imagined the Tigers keeping pace with the Texas Rangers and Yankees without him. Detroit finished one win shy of tying the Rangers for the best record in the American League and two wins below the Yankees.
Although Verlander had hitters like Cabrera and Victor Martinez backing him, he single-handedly carried the Tigers’ rotation in 2011. The rest of the Tigers’ rotation arms were 4.40-plus ERA starters and Detroit’s offense had to overcompensate to earn many of their 95 victories when Verlander wasn’t on the hill.
Any way you slice it, Verlander clearly had a phenomenal 2011 season and played a huge part in the Tigers capturing the AL Central. He is indeed a worthy winner and I, for one, am glad to see a deserving pitcher given the MVP Award.
Was Verlander the obvious winner or was another candidate more deserving? Did Curtis Granderson receive too little votes? Share your thoughts and opinions below. Sean Hartnett will be covering the MLB hot stove all winter long. Send him your tweets @HartyLFC.