One of the top headlines in the middle of an otherwise bland Tigers-Twins series, came from the comments of Tigers skipper Jim Leyland about his ace’s MVP candidacy. It was an otherwise innocent comment while meeting with media in the visitors clubhouse, but the following backlash highlighted what a flashpoint Justin Verlander’s MVP candidacy has become and will continue to be over the remainder of the season.
During FOX’s national broadcast of Saturday’s Tigers-Twins game, Ken Rosenthal of FOX highlighted the criteria that has been placed forward for each writer to take into account when looking at each player for this year’s MVP award. Of the few criteria to take into account, offensive production and number of games played, were mentioned as two of the top categories for judgement. While this criteria alone would seem to negate Verlander’s ability to receive baseball’s top individual honor, the fact is that the award recognizes the player who is most valuable – position player or not.
Looking at the top individuals considered for this year’s AL MVP award – two of the three are Boston Red Sox having years that look just shy of the performance Miguel Cabrera was able to place together last season. If you were to take Adrian Gonzalez or Jacoby Ellsbury away from the Red Sox, the team would still be competing at a high level and in playoff contention. If the Tigers staff had Phil Coke as a fifth starter instead of Verlander, the team would likely be trailing Cleveland or Chicago by seven games. While the pitching position is the only position to directly have a statistic tied to victories, Verlander’s ability to stop losing streaks in their tracks is really the difference between mediocre and great.
I don’t agree with Leyland’s estimation that a “most valuable pitcher” award needs to be set up to address pitchers like Verlander that add great value for their teams. Ideally this is what the Cy Young award addresses – a pitcher that is directly creating victories for their team by keeping ball games close, while creating impressive statistics in the process. Winning 20 games and having a sub 2.40 before September has started is an incredible feat, but where Verlander’s MVP candidacy especially shines is demonstrated in the team’s ability to have a lead and open up some space away from the rest of the AL Central.