Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Verlander Steals MVP

Verlander won the AL Cy Young and MVP
Justin Verlander is a great pitcher, possibly a future Hall-of-Famer, who enjoyed a great season that will probably go down as the finest of his career.

But he should not be the 2011 American League Most Valuable Player.  I said all along that Joey Bats, Grandy, or Tacoby Bellsbury deserved this thing, and that picking Verlander would be a mistake. 

I can understand why many voters were swayed by Detroit's fireballer, tabbed by many as this year's trendy pick in a race without a clear frontrunner.  He's the classic American pitcher-here's my heater, hit it if you can-who can still dial it up to 100 in the eighth and ninth innings.  He dominates batters, goes deep into games, threw a no-hitter, and gets plenty of strikeouts.  I get it.  But his season is not more special or valuable than recent years by Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Roy Halladay, Jake Peavy or Johan Santana, none of whom (other than Pedro, who got robbed by Ivan Rodriguez in '99 after compiling one of the best seasons by any pitcher ever) were seriously considered as MVP candidates.  Heck, you could argue that Verlander wasn't far and away the most valuable player on his own team, which had legitimate candidates in AL batting champ Miguel Cabrera (fifth), Alex Avila (twelfth), Victor Martinez (sixteenth), and I would even show some love for Doug Fister and Jose Valverde.

But alas, now he is the first starting pitcher to win an MVP since a young Roger Clemens busted out for the star-crossed 1986 Boston Red Sox.

And the argument that there was no slam-dunk candidate holds little water with me.  Runner-up Jacoby Ellsbury had a special season, socking 32 homers and knocking in 105 runners out of the leadoff spot for Boston.  Who does that?  He earned a Gold Glove in centerfield, led the league in total bases and extra base hits and ranked in the top five for almost every single offensive category, stole 39 bases, came up with big hits down the stretch as Boston choked away its Wild Card lead and most importantly, played every day.  What more could you ask for from a player?  Yet he received just four first place votes.  Same goes for third place Jose Bautista, who led the bigs in homers, walks, slugging, OPS, OPS+, and baseballs bruised but was rewarded with only five first place votes. Joey Bats was far and away the best player in all of baseball up until the All-Star break, and managed to produce despite not getting anything to hit. Curtis Granderson had a monster season in the Bronx and was basically Ellsbury with more big flies and runs/RBI but a lower batting average and fewer steals.  He picked up the slack for Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira, consistently tearing the cover off the ball while his teammates struggled and ended up with three first place votes to show for it. 

 The trouble was that Boston and New York are so talented that their stars split votes; Ellsbury probably would have won if Adrian Gonzalez (seventh) and Dustin Pedroia (ninth) hadn't been so darned productive, and Granderson (fourth) would have had a shot if Robinson Cano (sixth) didn't put up such great numbers, but that's what happens when you play for great teams.  It's a double-edged sword because they're surrounded by great hitters so their numbers look nicer, but voters give them less credit.  But Verlander seemed to escape this perception even though he pitches for a good team with a good lineup in a park with a spacious outfield, several key advantages for a starting pitcher.  His closer didn't blow any save opportunities, so most of his leads remained intact after he left close ballgames.

I just want to know who in the world put David Robertson (twenty-second with one point, tied with Josh Hamilton) on their ballot.  He had a great season setting up Mariano Rivera and rebuilt the bridge that Rafael Soriano burned to the ground, but give me a break.  I could give you a hundred guys (Nick Swisher, David Ortiz, Howard Kendrick, the list goes on) more valuable than him.

But that's MVP voting at its finest.

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