I don’t believe in taking many hard-line stances. Every moment is unique, every situation is fluid, circumstances change, emotions are unpredictable.
So when I hear otherwise intelligent folks say that pitchers should not ever win a Most Valuable Player award, I want to set my hair on fire.
Most years, this isn’t quite such a pressing issue. While there’s always one or two pitchers who seem to be world beaters — Zack Grienke in 2009, Roy Halladay every year since 2004, for example — there are typically one or two hitters in each league having career years, propelling their team to the playoffs, perhaps even marching towards history.
But not in 2011, and not in the American League.
Justin Verlander had arguably the most impressive season a pitcher has had in more than a decade, leading the junior circuit in ERA (2.40), strikeouts (251), ERA+ (170), WHIP (.920) and, of course, the all-important wins (24). He also threw his second no-hitter and flirted with others.
Not that there weren’t great seasons at the plate to be had. Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Gonzalez were their typical brilliant selves. Curtis Granderson carried the Yankees to the best record in the league. Jacoby Ellsbury broke out for a 30-30 campaign. Jose Bautista led the league in home runs and posted 1.056 OPS.
In another season, one of them would’ve been fairly handed the award. But most seasons don’t feature a pitcher throwing this well, this dominantly.
The Classical had a fantastic story comparing Verlander’s year to Pedro Martinez’s 1999 campaign, a season that cemented Pedey as my favorite pitcher of all time. Like the author, I felt as though every start was a chapter in history. But while the Tigers pulled some good seasons out of their hitters, the Red Sox had Nomar Garciaparra, and that was about it. Brian Daubach was the cleanup hitter most of the season. That illustrates the situation well enough.
Pedro led the league in just about everything — his ERA+ was an astounding 243. He topped it the next season at 291. He struck out everyone, he pitched with cockiness and flair, and he threw the three best pitches in baseball — no one could match his fastball, curveball or changeup at the time.
But, of course, two writers who didn’t deserve their ballots left him off entirely, shunning the idea of value as a pitcher. How valuable could a pitcher be if he only pitches once every five days?
Please. Look at any pennant winner, and see if that team didn’t have an ace, a pitcher who carried the team whenever he took the mound. Just last season, the Giants won on the strength of a fantastic pitching staff. Chris Carpenter carried the Cardinals this season. On and on, you know how this goes.
Without Verlander, the Tigers could have easily ceded the division to Cleveland. Verlander wasn’t just incredible this season, he was the most indispensable member of the Tigers, of any winning team in the A.L.
Here’s hoping, when the MVP is announced, that the writers fill a long gap and give the award to a starting pitcher for the first time since 1986.
Every season is different, nothing is rigid and pitchers are valuable. Sometimes, it’s okay to admit it.