Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander was announced on Monday as the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award winner. The right-hander had one of the best seasons we have seen in years from a pitcher. He finished 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA, and he led the league in wins, ERA, strikeouts, WHIP and batting average against. And for that, he was this year’s Cy Young Award winner. But MVP?
To fully understand this, we must ask the question what does it mean to be the league’s Most Valuable Player? Many feel like that title goes to the best player on the best team. Others say it goes to the person who simply had the best stats in the league. In my eyes, it is the combination of both. The league’s Most Valuable Player is the man who statistically is most responsible for his team’s success. And that player’s team must be successful, unless his season is far and above every other player in baseball (example: Alex Rodriguez in 2002). And there is really never a case where a guy that only plays every five days can achieve this.
Verlander was dominant in 2011, but not quite ’02 A-Rod. He had a big lead in every statistic except the most important one, which is ERA. Los Angeles Angels pitcher Jared Weaver ERA was just .01 lower (2.41) which tells me he pitched almost just as well as Verlander. Take away the fact that the Tigers had one of the best offenses in baseball, or the fact that Tigers closer Jose Valverde didn’t blow a save all year, and Weaver could be this year’s Cy Young winner.
And then there are the other candidates. The top five in the MVP race finished like so:
Of the five, the only two names that are legitimate superstars are Cabrera and Bautista. Although Cabrera led the majors in batting average (.344), his 30 home runs, 105 RBIs and 111 runs scored put him behind at least one of every hitter on this list. Bautista led the majors with 43 home runs and an astounding 132 walks. But his average took a big dip near the end of the season (was hitting .324 on Aug. 2 and finished at .302) and his team finished 16 games out of first place in the AL East.
That leaves Ellsbury and Granderson as the only two real candidates. Ellsbury had the best season of his career. His line read like so: .321 AVG, 32 HR and 105 RBI, along with 109 runs, 212 hits, 39 SB and a .928 OPS. He finished in the top five of every one of those categories except RBIs and was tied for sixth in that.
Granderson also had a career-year with a line that read : .262 AVG, 41 HR and 119 RBI, along with 136 runs, 155 hits, 85 BB, 25 SB and 10 3B. While the batting average wasn’t quite near the top of the league, his power numbers put him in a class of his own. He lead the AL in both runs (by a wide margin) and RBIs and was one of only two players (Bautista) with 40 home runs this season.
While, in the end, I feel Granderson is the most deserving of MVP this season, you can’t wrong with Ellsbury either. So, why Verlander this year? Because neither man is a star. Before this season, both Granderson and Ellsbury were considered good players but not exactly guys opposing teams really worried about. With only three players in the AL having standout seasons, it is simply a better story to give it to the dominant, well-known pitcher rather than one of the small-time names that play on big-market teams.
If it were up to me Verlander finishes third in the voting with Cabrera and Bautista, in that order, rounding out the top five.