Keidel: Unjustified Justin Verlander

By Jason Keidel
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Since it’s Thanksgiving Eve, and you’re clearing your cubicle at noon, I’ll spare us the spiritual strain of Penn State. (Feel free to join the tornadic debate under my Monday column, with comments 200-deep upon last look.)

Let’s keep it fast and facile, so that even I can fathom it…

On the day of great gratitude, I think back to the first year I followed baseball: 1977. I watched and worshiped Reggie Jackson. Even today the hair spikes all up my neck when I recall his three homers off three pitchers off three pitches in the World Series. Then Jackson capped his classic Fall Classic a month later when he won the Cy Young…

Or was it Jim Rice? Rod Carew? Thurman Munson?

It feels reasonable to ask, given baseball’s warped world of awarding pitchers hardware designed for hitters. Or, if not designed, implicitly intended.

Yes, we know it’s tougher to buy or burnish an ace than a first baseman, but that’s not the point. Verlander (24-5, 2.40 ERA, 250 SO) started 34 games this year, less than a quarter of his club’s total contests. How can he be more valuable than his own teammate, Miguel Cabrera, who played 161 games, hit .344, with 30 homers and 105 RBI? (Not to mention his league-leading 48 doubles.)

Yes, we know Cabrera is a mammal of dubious mores, but that’s not the point, either. He’s a beast with a bat, and Detroit would not have made the playoffs without him. He had nearly 200 hits (197), which impacted far more games than Verlander’s 34. Simple. Right?

“The Tigers don’t make it to October without Verlander!” you shriek.

And you’re right. But it’s safe to assume Verlander’s replacement would have won about 14 games. I know, I know, you say when Verlander starts he spares the bullpen by pitching more innings (251) than his peers, and thus his value is even greater. But not only did he appear in just 34 games, he had 4 at-bats all season. His impact was limited to one function: throwing a baseball.

“Check out Justin’s stats, dude! He’s got a whopping, 8.6 WAR!”

At the risk of sounding like the very geriatric grouch I swore I’d never become, clinging to the old days and ways like a lifeline, but are all stats overly salient simply because they’re new? There’s no doubt Justin is justified in winning the Cy Young, and perhaps any other award. Just not the MVP. Why didn’t it stop there? Because baseball geeks had to prove a point, flaunt their newfound baseball calculus?

And I hate to use the most obvious argument against Verlander (number of games played) but just because it’s regurgitated it doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

Since hitters can’t win the Cy Young, why can pitchers win the MVP? What’s the point of having a Cy Young when pitchers can win the MVP? We can end this argument very easily. Eliminate the Cy Young Award. Make the MVP the baseball version of “Survivor.” Only one man remains on the island (or diamond, if you prefer.)

I’m not pining for pinstripes. Sure, former Tiger Curtis Granderson commanded more respect than he got, as did Robinson Cano, but I don’t care who wins the MVP, as long as he swings, fields, and throws his way to the award. I dig the premise that the MVP should take his team to the playoffs, thus erasing Jacoby Ellsbury, Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia (can you smell the serial Boston bias?) and Jose Bautista from the ballot, though I’m not married to the notion.

It almost feels like an idea goes viral on occasion, building a bizarre, irresistible momentum until the voters pull that lever out of reflex. “Let’s vote Verlander!” seems to be this year’s hiccup. “We haven’t slotted a starter for the MVP since Clemens in ’86 and, surely, we can’t let that juicer be the enduring image!”

Clayton Kershaw, who had every bit the brilliant season – and even won a Gold Glove, something Verlander missed – didn’t win the NL MVP. That award was bestowed upon Ryan Braun, a great player on a division winner. Isn’t that still how we do things? Matt Kemp had a better season, but his team didn’t. I know, Braun is hardly Roberto Clemente in the outfield, but the impulse to link the league’s best teams with their best players is still sound. And I’m unaware of any riots over a robbery.

Sometimes an argument is simple, no matter how muddled and complex we make it. If Pedro in his prime couldn’t win the MVP, then Justin isn’t justified.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours…

Feel free to email me:

Was Verlander the right choice for AL MVP? Make your case in the comments below…


  • JK

    I know I can’t convert you, Sully. But I’m just throwing this out there…

    In 1999, Pedro went 23-4, with a 2.07 ERA and 313 STRIKEOUTS. Didn’t win the AL MVP. In 2000, he went 18-6, 1.74 ERA, 284 SO. Didn’t win the AL MVP. In 2002, he went 20-4, 2.26 ERA, 236 SO. Didn’t win the AL MVP.

    In 1978, Ron Guidry went 25-3, 1.74 ERA, 248 SO. Didn’t win the AL MVP. In 1985, Doc Gooden went 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA and 268 strikeouts. Didn’t win the NL MVP. In 1990, Bob Welch went 27-6, 2.95 ERA. Didn’t win the AL MVP.

    In 2002, Randy Johnson went 24-5, 2.32 ERA, 334 SO. Didn’t win the NL MVP. The year before, Johnson went 21-6, 2.49 ERA, 372 SO. Didn’t win the NL MVP.

  • Sully

    We agree to disagree on this one…
    I felt Verlander made the biggest impact. Sometimes the MVP IS a starting pitcher.

    I understand the argument against it.
    I just don’t happen to agree with it.

    KILL HIM!!!!

    • JK

      I know where you live, Mr. Sullivan.

    • JK

      Look at the list of pitchers I posted above. Except for maybe Welch, all of those seasons were better than Verlander in 2011. Why no MVP?

      And I don’t get why we have the Cy Young if pitchers can win MVP. Isn’t the purpose of the Cy Young to recognize stellar pitching while the MVP is for more permanent performers, like hitters and fielders?

  • Ken Roxbury

    I just don’t cate about individual awards in baseball. Cano and Granderson were both legitimate MVP candidates but the Yanks went out in the first round. Win the World Series. That’s the one I care about as a fan.

  • Jonas Altman-Kurosaki

    I see where you’re coming from, man. I’m one of those that would’ve picked Verlander for MVP, for the exact reasons that you listed – mainly that his team would’ve been nothing without him. Miguel Cabrera has been excellent every year for the Marlins and Tigers, but that hasn’t meant real success for either with the exceptions of ’03 and ’11. This may spark some anger, but in my opinion, Verlander was this year to the Tigers what Mariano is to the Yankees: a sure thing. Yes, Scherzer won 15, Porcello won 14 and Penny somehow won 11 (and lost 11), and Doug Fister was lights-the-heck-out when he came to Detroit. But Verlander, his 24-5 record, low ERA and ridiculous (these days) innings total brought the type of confidence to his ballclub every fifth day that is hard to find elsewhere. They say pitching wins ballgames, and for the Tigers, it certainly did.

    This debate can quickly go the way of others that we’ve had, when a past case seems to justify this one. The one I’d like to point out is, coincidentally, also from Detroit: Willie Hernandez. In 1984, the year the Tigers started out 35-5 and won 104 games (check those numbers, they might be a bit off), Hernandez won both the Cy Young and MVP as a closer. Though he saved something like 33 of 34, that total didn’t even lead the league, and his ERA was around 1.7ish. Is that good? For sure. Cy Young-worthy? Maybe… Cy Young and MVP-worthy? Nah. But he won it all the same, and if that guy could win it (and that team had plenty of guys that performed offensively – Trammell and Gibson come to mind), Verlander certainly deserves it this year.

    Speaking of Gibson, he won the ’88 MVP for the Dodgers and he hit .290 with 25 HRs and 76 RBI. But beyond the stats, he brought character to that Dodgers team that led them into the playoffs and beyond, setting up that insane, historic moment against Eck.

    Now I realize that bringing up previous winners doesn’t quite qualify as a sound argument for Verlander, but the point I’m driving at is that sometimes, pure stats don’t tell the whole story. I hate using the word “intangibles” because Jeter fans have beaten it so far into the ground that it’s got to be in China by now, but the confidence and winning attitude that Verlander brought to his team every start was certainly something that rubbed off on his teammates. That combined with his unanimously Cy Young-winning stats qualify, in my opinion, Verlander as MVP.

    • Robert Richardson

      Leave Jeter alone! lol

  • JK

    I respect your view, Paul, but you distort my argument. Look at the list of pitchers I provided a few inches below this comment. Perhaps all of them had better seasons than Verlander had in 2011, yet none of them won the MVP. Care to explain why?

  • Paul R

    Simple flaw in your argument Jason. The award isn’t called the Best Hitter Award. It’s called the Most Valuable Player Award. And when a pitcher is as good as Verlander, he can certainly be more valuable than a hitter even if the hitter plays more games. That’s because a pitcher can do more to single-handedly dominate any one game her pitches much more so than a hitter can in any one of his games.

  • Kurt Spitzner

    And we all know who is responsible for things going in this direction in baseball now don’t we and his initials oddly enough are BS!

    • JK

      Selig’s hands are filthy over the Steroid Era, but at least he got his sport some labor peace. The NBA should take notes.

      • Robert Richardson

        What’s the NBA?

        • JK

          They’re some rogue league, Robert, in Pakistan, I think. I’ll send you a link.

      • Kurt Spitzner

        All the teams still aren’t profitable so I disagree at the amount of credit you give him at this juncture.All his cronies make money,swap teams,and make it be where those who inhabit those large markets can no longer afford to go see the games in purpose.All the players make more money no matter where they play but what has that really done for the fans or the owners of the teams who do not flourish?
        These individual awards and the amounts of them have taken away from the game as much as the dh and divisional play to the massive extent its exists today and have made it very commercial but not cost effective to the little guy,so what has BS done for me lately?

  • Kurt Spitzner


    • JK

      I dig it, dude. I was four when the DH was introduced in 1973, so it’s really all I know in the American League. And while I know you’re a purist, it’s doubtful the DH will become defunct anytime soon. And I couldn’t agree more about eliminating pitchers from MVP voting. Seems obvious to everyone but MLB that the CY Young is specifically for guys who can’t qualify for MVP. And I still don’t get how a guy who plays 34 games is more valuable than someone who sweats every summer, playing 160 games.

  • JK

    In 1999, Pedro went 23-4, with a 2.07 ERA and 313 STRIKEOUTS. Didn’t win the AL MVP. In 2000, he went 18-6, 1.74 ERA, 284 SO. Didn’t win the AL MVP. In 2002, he went 20-4, 2.26 ERA, 236 SO. Didn’t win the AL MVP.

    In 1978, Ron Guidry went 25-3, 1.74 ERA, 248 SO. Didn’t win the AL MVP. In 1985, Doc Gooden went 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA and 268 strikeouts. Didn’t win the NL MVP. In 1990, Bob Welch went 27-6, 2.95 ERA. Didn’t win the AL MVP. In 2002, Randy Johnson went 24-5, 2.32 ERA, 334 SO. Didn’t win the NL MVP. The year before, Johnson went 21-6, 2.49 ERA, 372 SO. Didn’t win the NL MVP.

    • Kurt Spitzner


    • Jonas Altman-Kurosaki

      Yeah, that’s pretty tough to argue with. All I can say is that sometimes, the voters love pitching and sometimes they don’t? Really, I don’t know.

  • Robert Richardson

    I really thought that Miguel Cabrera was going to get MVP. I’m scratching my head on this one.

    • JK

      Agreed, Robert. And look at all the seasons I just listed sans MVP hardware…

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