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The news earlier this week that Justin Verlander had won the Most Valuable Player created a bit an uproar throughout the world of baseball, after all there had been a relative understanding that pitchers had their own award with the Cy Young, whereas MVP belonged to everyday position players. An examination of the participating of a starting pitcher in the baseball regular season shows that Verlander had just as much of an impact as any everyday player, if not a greater impact on his team in terms of value. In New England, we can make a comparison between the success of Verlander this past season and that of Pedro Martinez in 1999, who did not take home the MVP trophy despite a very similar statistical season.
Baseball experts and analysts across the country have standpoints on all sorts of the issues that makes the sport perfectly imperfect. With the 2013 movement of the Houston Astros to the American League West and the consequential adjustments to schedules and playoff formats, more discussions will rise as to how Major League Baseball should format their league. The debate to whether starting pitchers are deserving of an MVP award is inevitably raised with Verlander this season. Starting pitchers are immediately deemed less valuable to a team because they only pitch once every five games, as compared to position players who get multiple at bats everyday and play defense to help their team win. Starters winning MVP are also very rare, the last to do so was Roger Clemens in 1986, making position players winning a norm.
A closer look at what value really means in baseball shows that perhaps pitchers should win the award more often. The easiest way to do this is to think about the impact of one at bat. A hitter gets up to bat three or four times every game and makes some impact on the game, but not as much to impact the outcome as much as the starting pitcher does. It is logical to think that even the best hitter on a team makes the equivalent impact of a starter on a given day in about three or more games. Hitters are not as important or valuable to teams as pitchers, and that is seen when teams are built around a strong starting staff.
Therefore, the value of a position player everyday is nearly equal to that of a starting pitcher every five days. Another way to look at this comparison is to think of the only commons statistic between the two sides, which is plate appearances or number of batters faced by a pitcher. In 2011, Verlander faced 969 hitters, whereas a position player like Jacoby Ellsbury, who finished second in MVP voting, only batted 732 times at the top of the Boston order. It is even easier to accept pitchers as MVP candidates when thinking about the other ways they affect the game. In 2011, Verlander pitched four complete games, which means four games in which the Detroit bullpen was given a day off, and in 26 starts he completed at least 7.0 innings. Position players can’t come close to that type of value, as Verlander’s success comes alongside the pitchers behind him getting rest to become even more effective. There should be little doubt he is worthy of his title, but looking at his situation compared to Pedro Martinez in 1999 shows similarities and major differences.
In the 1999 season, the New York Yankees swept away the Atlanta Braves in the World Series for their second championship in a row. Catcher Ivan Rodriguez of the Texas Rangers took home the American League MVP award after a terrific season in which the Rangers won the West with a 95-67 record, 8.0 games ahead of the second place Athletics. On the other hand, the Red Sox won the AL Wild Card with a 94-68 record and were led all season by the right arm of Pedro Martinez, who took home the Cy Young award. His 23-4 record and 2.07 ERA in that season are easily comparable to that of Verlander, who finished 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA in 2011. In fact, most of the stats for each pitcher are similar, yet Martinez finished second in voting and Verlander actually won the award. Their differences come when looking at true value and the realization that the comparison between the two starts with the fields of players they competed against.
Pedro Martinez wasn’t snubbed from MVP voting in 1999, he simply finished second behind Rodriguez. In fact, Martinez received one more 1st Place Vote than the Texas catcher, and only finished 13.0 Vote Points behind him. The more interesting study is that of Verlander, who simply exceeded his competition in every way imaginable. He pitched 251.0 innings and struck out 250 batters, all the while only walking 57. He surrendered 24 home runs, which is higher than expected for a Cy Young winner, but only allowed 73 total runs, meaning base runners against him were rare. In fact, his 0.920 WHIP was the smallest WHIP to lead a league since Pedro had a 0.949 WHIP in 2005 with the New York Mets. While players like Jose Bautista and Curtis Granderson put up great seasons to finish towards the top of the MVP race, Verlander truly outdid them all and earned the right to be only the second baseball player ever to have won Rookie of the Year, Cy Young, and the Most Valuable Player awards, and he’s only 28 years old.