August 27, 2011
Look at the statistical leaderboards for pitchers and Verlander's name is near the top of almost every category. He's first in strikeouts (212), first in innings pitched (209 2/3), first in WHIP (0.88), and first in opponents' batting average (.185). His 2.28 ERA ranks third. His more advanced statistics back those indicators up.
When Verlander pitches, the Tigers' record is 20-8. In the games he hasn't pitched, they're one game over .500 (52-51).
Losing streaks don't last very long in Detroit, either, thanks to the Tigers' ace. Verlander is 14-3 after his team has lost a game.
That performance has started talk that Verlander should be strongly considered for the American League Most Valuable Player award. ESPN's Buster Olney has been become a particularly strong advocate, saying Verlander would top his ballot if the vote were held today.
No one has had a better seat to watch Verlander this season than his manager, Jim Leyland. As a direct beneficiary of his ace's dominance, it'd be natural to assume that the Tigers' skipper would proudly wear a "Verlander for MVP" button, right?
In an interview with WXYT (97.1 FM in Detroit), Leyland stubbed out the Verlander MVP like one of his beloved Marlboro cigarettes, saying he didn't think pitchers should win the award. Via SportsRadioInterviews.com:
"I have a different viewpoint than that. I think there should be a Most Valuable Pitcher and Most Valuable Player. I don't think a pitcher should be the Most Valuable Player. I'm not looking for arguments or controversy I just think when a guy goes out there 158 times or 155 times and has a big year, an MVP type year I don't think the guy that goes out there 35 times should be named over that guy."
Let's put aside the "Most Valuable Pitcher" thing — that's who the Cy Young Award goes to.
Leyland's far more valid point concerns whether a player who's appeared in 28 games for the Tigers this season could possibly be considered more valuable than one who's played in 129 games, such as Miguel Cabrera(notes).
Cabrera leads the Tigers in batting average, home runs, RBI, on-base percentage and OPS. Where would Detroit be without him batting cleanup?
Or what about Alex Avila(notes), the position player Leyland went on to mention in that interview? His .926 OPS is second to Cabrera. And if Wins Above Replacement is your metric of choice, Avila's 4.9 WAR is ahead of Cabrera's 4.4.
However, Verlander's WAR is 6.3. Only Roy Halladay's(notes) 6.9 is higher among major league pitchers, which is one reason why some are touting him for NL MVP consideration, as well. But should WAR for pitchers and position players really be weighed equally?
As surprising as it might be for Leyland to talk down one of his player's MVP chances, his core belief rings true. A pitcher would have to put together an absolutely exceptional season to win the MVP. Especially these days, when numbers and advanced metrics receive much more scrutiny.
It's not unprecedented, of course. Dennis Eckersley — a relief pitcher — won it in 1992. Roger Clemens won it in 1986. There's even precedent in Detroit, where Willie Hernandez was MVP in 1984 as a closer for the Tigers.
A pitcher winning the MVP award has more sizzle to it, because we don't see it that often. Even in Detroit, Cabrera's excellence has become routine enough to almost be taken for granted. So Verlander's breakthrough carries that much more appeal.
But there are too many other players putting together excellent offensive seasons for Verlander to stand above them. The Boston Red Sox alone have three candidates, including Adrian Gonzalez(notes), Jacoby Ellsbury(notes) and Dustin Pedroia(notes). Jose Bautista(notes) is once again posting stellar numbers for the Toronto Blue Jays. Verlander's former teammate, Curtis Granderson(notes), is also in the mix.
Sorry, J.V. — the skipper has this one right.