Verlander Casts A Spell

When Roger Maris had the infamous asterisk* attached to his home run record because of the extra 8 games played in Maris’s time as opposed to Babe Ruth‘s time, Maris rightfully and indignantly said something to the tune of, “Which 154? The first 154? The last 154? The middle? A season’s a season.”

For the record, there was never an asterisk*; there was a 162 game season and 154 game season separation.

It’s a similar comparison to Justin Verlander and those who say that his mere job of being a pitcher and only participating in 34 games a season should eliminate him from consideration for the Most Valuable Player award.

But what about the games in which the other candidates Miguel Cabrera, Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson and Jose Bautista did absolutely nothing while Verlander was dominating for 27 of those 34 starts?

It’s impossible to quantify the importance of a particular player based on his position.

Would the Tigers have won 95 games without Verlander?

Of course not.

Because they had such a blazing hot streak of 12 straight wins in September and ran off with a weak division, the contribution of Verlander is being mistakenly muted.

Early in the season, when the Tigers were essentially playing Verlander Incanter (the French word for cast a spell—yeah, I’m going high-end; do something about it) that the rest of the starting rotation would provide something—anything—of use so the Tigers could win a few games that Verlander wasn’t starting, the team would’ve been buried without him.

Max Scherzer was inconsistent to start the season; Rick Porcello was mostly terrible; Brad Penny was Brad Penny; and Phil Coke was yanked from the rotation after 14 starts.

In conjunction with his production, the “where would they be without him?” argument is a viable reason to give someone an MVP vote.

The momentum from the leader of the staff grew so the Tigers were able to stay near the top of the AL Central and make mid-summer trades for Doug Fister, Wilson Betemit and Delmon Young to bolster a flawed team. On August 17th, they only led the division by 2 games and were 9 1/2 games out in the Wild Card; at that time, it was generally assumed that the Wild Card was going to come down to which team between the Yankees and Red Sox didn’t win the AL East. The dynamic changed drastically in September for everyone. For the Tigers, their playoff position was not assured until September despite winning the division by 15 games.

It’s not only about where the team and player ended, but how they got there.

The Tigers would’ve been nowhere without Verlander.

Once we accept that it wasn’t a situation of the Tigers being so deep that they were going to win that division anyway, Verlander’s value becomes stronger.

In their precarious position, the Tigers held the Ace every fifth day; on the morning of a Verlander start, they knew they had a great chance to win because of Verlander. Added to that overriding feeling of foreboding for his opponents and comfort for his teammates, he led the league in starts, wins, strikeouts, ERA, ERA+, WAR (and not just pitcher WAR, WAR period), and WHIP.

My criteria for MVP is, in no particular order: performance; importance; indispensability.

Based on performance, you can make the case for any of the top 5 finishers, but the final trigger for me in such a close race comes down to Velrander’s irreplaceability.

The Blue Jays were a .500 team with Bautista and they misused him by failing to get players on base in front of him and trying to steal too many bases for no reason to run themselves out of innings.

The Red Sox came apart in spite of Ellsbury’s heroics.

The Yankees would’ve found someone to play center field and hit well enough to account for not having Granderson and had the surrounding players to survive his absence.

The Tigers could’ve found a first baseman (perhaps Victor Martinez who was DHing) to play first base and gotten 25 homers from that spot and had better defense.

Given the difficulty in finding quality pitching, can anyone honestly say that the Tigers could’ve replaced Verlander’s innings? His dominance? His mere presence? And still been anywhere close to the 95 wins they accumulated?

No.

The MVP is not for everyday players alone because the pitchers have the Cy Young Award—that’s a faulty premise. The Cy Young Award is for pitching performance independent of team—that’s how Felix Hernandez won the award with a 13-12 record in 2010; the MVP is an all-encompassing award based on the team and the individual, and by that judgment, Verlander is the Most Valuable Player in the American League for 2011.

Period.

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  1. #1 by Robert on November 23, 2011 - 6:18 pm

    The Tigers won 64% of Max Scherzer’s starts, 68% of Rick Porcello’s starts and 73% of Justin Verlander’s starts. You could have replaced Verlander with a Porcello-caliber pitcher and the Tigers would have won 5% fewer games (of Verlander’s 34 starts) – a total of two less wins on the season. Hitting and luck carried the team. It’s not a strong argument that Verlander was irreplaceable.

    You discount Granderson because the Yankees would have made the playoffs without him. If the MVP has to come from a team that barely made the playoffs, then Evan Longoria or Ben Zobrist should be the MVP – clearly the Rays wouldn’t have made the playoffs without them. Even then there’s a problem with that reasoning – the playoff race was so close that the Rays wouldn’t have made the playoffs if you removed almost any one player from their roster, even a player who is just slightly above average. Sam Fuld ends up being more valuable to the Rays than Ellsbury was to the Sox, but Fuld wouldn’t make it onto anyone’s ballot.

    • #2 by admin on November 23, 2011 - 6:36 pm

      This is absolute nonsense. Counting the percentage of wins is a meaningless number based not on the pitcher’s performance, but whether they won the game. That’s not judging the individual, nor is it accounting to the myriad of factors of how Verlander pitched in comparison to the eminently hittable Porcello.
      As for the Granderson/Longoria/Zobrist stuff, I’m not sure where I should even start.
      Did I say that the “wouldn’t have made the playoffs without him” was the sole reason for Verlander winning the award?
      I said it was part performance; part indispensability; part irreplaceability in the team construct. Does Fuld meet those criteria? Does Longoria? Does Zobrist? Does Granderson? No.
      Verlander was replaceable? Okay. Go find someone who’ll pitch that way and you’ll be the next media creating a la Billy Beane. I’m not expecting its publication anytime soon.

      • #3 by Robert on November 28, 2011 - 4:14 pm

        Counting the percentage of wins is deliberately not evaluating just the individual. The small difference in outcome shows that both player’s success was largely due to other factors (hitting and bullpen), not their own performance. Justin Verlander had an excellent year and you’d think that’d make him irreplaceable, but it doesn’t.

        Justin Verlander had a good season but he accumulated 24 wins for the same reason Rick Porcello got 14 wins – the Tigers, as a whole, were a good and lucky team. If the drop from a 170 ERA+ starter to an 86 ERA+ starter would have resulted in two fewer wins (5% fewer wins over Verlander’s 34 starts), they could have easily reallocated Verlander’s salary to get two 86 ERA+ starters (one to replace Verlander, one to bump Brad Penny from the rotation) and they’d have done better overall.

        Justin Verlander had an excellent year but I don’t see the indispensability you’re talking about. You can try to justify it however you’d like, but it’s because he had 24 wins that made him a serious MVP candidate. His numbers weren’t historic (170 ERA+ is about average for the league leader) and he didn’t actually carry the team (the hitting and bullpen did). If the Tigers weren’t so lucky and Verlander had an 18-8 record while putting up the same numbers, he probably wouldn’t have finished in the top 3 for MVP voting.

      • #4 by admin on November 28, 2011 - 4:33 pm

        I love these statistically replaceable arguments without mentioning which pitchers they’re getting to replace Verlander and Penny.
        Whom were they getting?
        Did you check to see which pitchers were available to fill those spots? The Yankees were so desperate for pitching after the lost out on Cliff Lee that they put out an offer to a pitcher to whom they paid $40 million for absolutely nothing to return—Carl Pavano; then they signed Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon in the hopes that one could give them something; it turns out that both went above-and-beyond the call for them. The Yankees were lucky with Garcia and Colon, but it was the Yankees who could get away with two such replacement pitchers because of their bullpen and lineup.
        The Tigers were around a .500 team until August when they took off because of the acquisitions of Doug Fister, Wilson Betemit and Delmon Young; Verlander kept them alive for that long so they weren’t buried in the division so that nothing could’ve helped them.
        You mention the Tigers hitting as if it was good all season long—they came in fourth in the league in runs scored—but they cushioned that placement with late season barrages of three 10 run outbursts; a 12 run outburst; a 14 run outburst; and an 18 run outburst.
        You mention the bullpen, but that bullpen was Jose Valverde and no one else in the first half of the season; Phil Coke was starting and Joaquin Benoit was horrible until July.
        Verlander carried them; he kept them afloat; and he deserves the MVP.

      • #5 by Robert on November 28, 2011 - 9:46 pm

        I don’t need to figure out who could have replaced Verlander. We’re talking about a season that already happened so it’s all theoretical. Assuming that replacing Verlander with a slightly-below-average starter would have cost the Tigers two wins, they didn’t need much. Getting two starters is only one way he could have been replaced – batting, defense, or bullpen improvements could have easily covered the difference.

        The stretch where Verlander appears to be most valuable is mid May through June. In mid-May the Tigers were around .500, but from May 24 to June 30 the Tigers went 20-15 and were 8-0 in games Verlander started. Even this is deceptive – also starting May 24th, Al Alburquerque picked up 5 wins and 2 holds as he pitched 13 scoreless innings over 12 appearances (the Tigers went 9-3 in those 12 games). Also during this stretch Cabrera posted an OPS of 1.117 and Avila had a WPA of 1.495.

        It’s just a lazy assumption to say that Verlander carried the team because he had excellent numbers for the season. Cy Young quality numbers alone don’t often put pitchers in serious MVP contention. This seems like you’re just catering to the popular idea that Verlander carried the Tigers. I didn’t expect you’d agree, but thanks for trying to entertain the other point.

      • #6 by admin on November 29, 2011 - 7:02 am

        I see. It’s a lazy assumption to say that Verlander carried the team when you’re not even bothering to look for suitable replacements in the vein you suggest. It’s theoretical because it already happened.
        But it’s not particularly difficult to look back at what pitchers were available last winter—Cliff Lee, Carl Pavano, Chris Young, Aaron Harang, Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon—and tell me what you would’ve done had the Tigers not had Verlander.
        It’s this kind of thinking for which there’s no argument because you’re constantly moving the goalposts and referencing replacements as if they appear out of thin air without coming up with a concrete human who’s going to do the job that Verlander did.
        And since it’s theoretical, how can you reasonably equate what happened with what would’ve happened without Verlander as if it would’ve been an identical circumstance with the offense and bullpen?
        You can’t.
        It’s the same as saying because a runner was caught stealing and the next batter homered that the caught stealing cost the team a run.
        The pitch sequence would’ve been different; the hitter might’ve thought differently; the runner being on base does affect the at bat. It’s a no-win argument, especially since you’re not saying anything to refute my Verlander observation other than floating numbers that have no basis in reality.

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