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Keidel: Unjustified Justin Verlander

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(credit: Harry How/Getty Images)

(credit: Harry How/Getty Images)

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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: Keidel.Jason@gmail.com

www.twitter.com/JasonKeidel

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

 

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