Quick! What do Roger Clemens, Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley, and Willie Hernandez all have in common?
Wait for it.
Waittttt forrrr itttt.
They each won Major League Baseball’s prestigious Most Valuable Player Award. As pitchers.
These have been the only four players to do this since 1971- which was 42 years ago. The game of baseball, and life in general, has changed monumentally since then- players train harder, eat better, know more about baseball, and are flat out better than their predecessors. But there are still similarities, and one of them is the mindset that pitchers aren’t as valuable as every day position players.
While this makes a certain amount of sense, there are always exceptions to every rule. For instance, in 1986 Roger Clemens posted a 24-4 record with ten complete games, a MLB leading 2.48 ERA, and the best WHIP (0.96) in baseball for the Boston Red Sox. Clemens was voted the 1986 American League MVP, despite the fact that Don Mattingly batted .352 with 31 homers and 113 runs batted in. Clemens actually had a teammate that year, Wade Boggs, who led the league in batting average and on base percentage, and also posted an MLB best 8.6 WAR (wins over replacement). Boggs finished third on his OWN TEAM in MVP voting, behind Clemens and Jim Rice.
Clemens was spectacular that year, but was he a more valuable asset to the Boston Red Sox that year than Wade Boggs? Boggs was the premier third baseman in the league at the time, and played in 149 games and racked up 207 hits in ’86. Clemens appeared in 33 games, only 20% of the squads contests.
Justin Verlander is the best pitcher in baseball. He has an explosive 98-100 mph fastball, a fierce 12-6 curveball (that he throws for strikes) and a devastating change-up that seems to defy gravity. He is on pace for a 25-6 record, a 2.38 ERA, 268 strikeouts, and a 0.90 WHIP. In other words, he’s having a better season than ’86 Clemens.
The only problem? He has some competition, namely folks from the American League East.
Adrian Gonzalez is batting .345 with league highs in hits and runs batted in for the first place Red Sox.
Jacoby Ellsbury is batting .312 and is on pace for 41 doubles, 28 homers, 100 RBI, and 44 steals as the lead off man in Boston.
Curtis Granderson is on pace for 45 home runs, 128 RBI, and a ridiculous 148 runs scored for the Bronx Bombers.
Jose Bautista is crushing the ball for a fourth place squad- hitting at a projected .312 BA, .452 OBP, 45 HR, 101 RBI pace.
So is Verlander more valuable to his team than these men are for theirs? It all depends on your philosophies. A pitcher can single handedly win a game for his team by pitching a gem, whereas it is difficult for a batter to win games by himself. But a batter plays in 85-90% of his teams games, and a pitcher simply cannot do that. Plus, pitchers already have an MVP award of their own that batters are ineligible for: the Cy Young. Would it be fair for a pitcher to garner both awards? It’s no doubt that the Tigers wouldn’t be division leaders without the efforts of their ace, but wouldn’t the Red Sox be even more negatively affected if they had to replace Dustin Pedroia with Jed Lowrie for 150 games?
There is no right or wrong answer. Each voter will have to ask himself these basic questions and make an educated decision himself.
Even if he does not win the award, Justin Verlander has cemented himself as a superstar, Detroit’s ace, and a 2011 MVP candidate.