By Mike B
On Monday, the Baseball Writers of America will announce their selection for the 2011 American League Most Valuable Player. In the waning days of the regular season, when debate over who should win this award was burning hot on PTI and internet sports outlets, I promised my man The Oracle a guest post arguing for Justin Verlander as MVP: a rare feat should it happen, given that a starting pitcher hasn’t won since 1986, when presumably pre-steroids Roger Clemens carried the BoSox to an AL Pennant.
At the 11th hour, I’m finally making good on that promise. But I’m not going to offer my argument with The Oracle’s flair for statistical finesse. As much as I love poring over old Bill James Abstracts, it’s never been my style. Lord knows, I root with my heart more than I defer to the calculator.
So here is my argument then: Justin Verlander had better win the AL MVP this year because the damned BBWA owe Tigers fans.
That’s right. It’s a debt long overdue. Because the Motown faithful have been getting the screw job for nearly a quarter century now, every time they have a horse in the final leg of the league of the MVP race. And let’s face it, it’s not an award based on who has the best statistics. If it were, we could leave the process to those algorithm-savvy cats from the Society for American Baseball Research. I’ve no doubt those gleeful Moneyballers would gladly feed numbers into their desktops and crown a winner in a computer print-out on the season’s final day. Instead, the MVP award has always been an honor left to a set of shifting standards and baseball-writer voodoo, and Tigers fans have been on the losing end of this nebulous method since 1987.
A brief recap, if you’re not convinced?
Item one: 1987. Alan Trammell hit .343, with 28 homers (before A-Rod juiced up what we expect power numbers from a shortstop to be) and 21 stolen bases, and fine defense, and commendable leadership. He led the Tigers to the AL East championship in a dramatic come-from-behind run against the Toronto Blue Jays in the season’s final week. The Blue Jays’ candidate, George “Don’t Call Me Jorge” Bell, was awarded the MVP honor by the BBWA, likely because of his impressive 47 home runs. And yet, Bell stunk it up down the stretch. Was he valuable as the Jays squandered their lead? Hardly. But he has the award, and Trammell has to be contented ever after with a close second-place finish.
Item two: 1990-1991. Cecil Fielder, hit 95 home runs in two seasons, including 51 in 1990, back when 50 home runs really meant something. (Nobody in baseball had done it, after all, since George Foster back in the 1970s.) But Fielder lost to Rickey Henderson in the MVP race, presumably because he didn’t come from a pennant-winning team and Henderson did, the 1990 A’s, who went on to lose the World Series to the Reds. Fair enough; I understand. The chief criterion among voters is this: MVP, winning team. Right. Got it. And yet, the following year, Fielder put together another magnificent season, only to see the standards slide away from the privileging of pennant-winners. Cal Ripken won in 1991, as you recall, on a team that did not win a division championship.
Now, there have been other Tigers second-place MVP finishers along the way. In 2007, Magglio Ordonez was the runner-up after leading the league in hitting at.363 and amassing a gaudy 139 RBIs. But he lost to Alex Rodriguez, who hit more home runs and batted in more runs. A-Rod played for the ever-competitive Yankees, and Ordonez was on a Tigers team that fell well short of pre-season expectations. Three years later, Miguel Cabrera, a perennial candidate, fell second to Josh Hamilton of the Rangers, despite being nearly neck-in-neck in OPS. Hamilton, who missed a significant amount of playing time, was the winner, ostensibly, because he came from a division-winning team, the Rangers, and Cabrera did not. So, again, voters seemed locked-in on the idea that the MVP must be someone who led a team to a title.
Well, in 2011, Justin Verlander did. We all know the Tigers would look much more like their hapless AL Central counterparts without JV on the mound every fifth day. But more importantly, was there any player who generated more excitement this year in the American League every single time he took the field? Verlander was statistically dominant; he gives oodles of money to charity; he’s charming in interviews; and he led the Tigers to their first division title since 1987, the year Alan Trammell was mercilessly robbed by the BBWA.
So it’s payback time.
When the ballots are tallied and the award is announced at the start of next week, Tigers fans had better be rewarded with an MVP winner finally.
If not, you can count on me, baseball-fanatic and admittedly biased Tigers fan, to start petitioning the league to give these awards over to the sabermaticians and their IBM mainframes after all.