Is Justin Verlander MVP worthy
Since 1956 only nine pitchers had good enough numbers and meant enough to their teams to win both the Cy Young and the MVP awards.
Of the nine, six starting pitchers have won both awards in the same season, Don Newcombe, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Denny McLain, Vida Blue and Roger Clemens. Justin Verlander’s 2011 campaign is well on pace to achieve history.
Through 29 starts Verlander is 20-5 with a 2.38 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and a five to one K/BB ratio all in 215 and 2/3 innings. I think it’s pretty safe to say that currently nobody in the middle of the playoff race means more to their team than Verlander. If he could pitch every night, he would. The Tigers are 20-9 when Verlander pitches and 53-51 when he doesn’t. JV means more to his team then Pamela Anderson’s breasts did to Baywatch.
Since there are still 27 or so games left in the season, let’s assume Verlander continues to pitch at his current pace. He would end up, in 35 games started, 24-6 with a 2.25 ERA, 270 Ks compared to 51 BB, a 0.87 WHIP, five complete games with two shutouts, including one no-hitter.
Baseball is one of those generational games that translate because of the numbers. Aside from the steroids era it’s the same game with not too many rule changes ^1.
So let’s hop in the DeLorean, get it up to 88mph and take a look at the starters who accomplished the feat.
1956: DON NEWCOMBE
Ebbets Field had the dimensions of a little league field out to the corners, 348 to left and 297 to right. On its way out to center is where the wall took a manly turn, out to left center, 393 ft. and a modest 376 out to right center. Ebbets Field also had a unique notch in right center where the bleachers ended and the scoreboard started. The pie shape cutout extended and extra 19 ft reaching all the way to 395 ft. With shallow left and right field foul poles Newcombe still found a way to shut hitters down. In 1956 he went 27-7 in 38 games and led the National League in wins and winning percentage with .794 ^2. Now before athletes became pussified, especially pitcher, they often threw complete games. Newcombe threw 18 of them along with five shutouts. He was fifth in the entire majors with a 3.06 ERA. Newcombe’s 1956 season is extra special because he won both awards when only one was given out between both leagues.
Waiting in the wings on the ’56 Dodgers was a 20 year-old Brooklyn kid named Sandy Koufax. Koufax threw in only 16 games that year and had yet to turn into the dominant three-time Cy Young Award winner.
1963: Sandy Koufax
Six years after Walter O’Malley broke the heart of every Brooklyn fan, Koufax was doing what he did best, striking people out. 1963 was the first of three out of four years that Koufax would win the pitching Triple Crown, wins, Ks and ERA ^3. Koufax led the NL with 25 wins, a 1.88 ERA and 306 strikeouts. Koufax also tossed a no-no against a San Francisco Giants team led by three legitimate MVP candidates Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda ^4. The Dodgers beat their arch rival 8-0. Koufax would become the first pitcher to win the Cy Young Award unanimously.
Five years later Denny McLain would be the first pitcher to win the MVP unanimously.
1968: Denny McLain and Bob Gibson
This was a magical season for two reasons, no pitcher will ever do what McLain did that year, and two pitchers won both the Cy Young and MVP. Aside from releasing a studio record that featured him playing the organ ^5. McLain would go on to win 31 games, the last pitcher to do so. McLain stared 41 games and got a decision in every game, like Verlander, McLain played with a great mix of talented players around him. Al Kaline was the only other player worthy of Hall of Fame honors among his teammates. Even with this fact these players who knew how to play together and win.
Gibson’s ’68 season was absurd. He went 22-9, with a 1.12 ERA, a record for a pitcher that threw 300 or more innings. Gibson threw 28 complete games with 13 shutouts. Some will argue that Bob Gibson is the reason why the height of the mount was lowered from 15 inches to 10 ^6. From June 2 to July 30, Gibson allowed only two earned runs in ninety-two innings pitched. His ERA over that period was 0.20 ERA. Gibby was so good he threw 47 consecutive scoreless innings during this stretch, at the time the third-longest scoreless streak in major league history. With two dominant pitchers on opposing sides it is no wonder both teams met in the World Series.
The two pitchers would meet in game one and it would be Gibson would got the best of McLain and the Tigers. Gibson struck out 17 batters and set a World Series record that still stands today. McLain threw five innings, gave up three hits, three runs, two earned and struck out three. Gibson struck out 17 gave up five hits and threw a complete game shutout. Gibby also got the best of McLain in game four. In the end the Tigers clawed their way back from a 3-1 deficit behind not the arm of McLain but Mickey Lolich. Bob Gibson would be the last pitcher to win the National League MVP.
1971: Vida Blue
Blue is the youngest member and only southpaw of this elusive club. At just 21 years-old and his first full season in the majors Blue shut opponents down in the spacious pitcher friendly Oakland Coliseum. “Vida’s one of those kids who come along one in a lifetime,” then A’s pitching coach Bill Posedel said in a 1971 Time Magazine interview. “He throws awful hard, and the only thing you don’t know is if his arm is ready for it.” Says A’s manager Dick Williams: “I’d like it keep him in a glass case between starts.”
Much like Verlander, Blue was known for his slow starts to games. He often got into trouble early but seemed to settle down after the first inning. Blue never did anything tricky; he knew what he had and knew how to use it. He had three basic pitches that he relied on to get the job done. Blue repertoire consisted of a curveball, change-up and fastball that then A’s catcher Dave Duncan called “overpowering.” Blue threw 24 complete games with eight shutouts in 1971. He had a 1.82 ERA with 301 Ks in 312 innings with 88 walks. After Blue it would take 15 years for another starting pitcher would win both the MVP and Cy Young.
1986: Roger Clemens*
As far as I’m concerned everything Roger Clemens did in baseball is a lie. Come on Roger you can’t expect the public to believe it was only Vitamin B12 being stuck up your butt. He cheated and that’s that. Pete Rose bet on games but always played with heart and integrity. If he is banned from the game so should everybody who was on the juice ^8. For shiggles let’s look at The Rocket’s numbers anyway. Clemens started out the ’86 season by going 14-0. Clemens also set a major league record by striking out 20 against the Seattle Mariners ^7. Clemens led the AL in wins with 24, he had four loses. He had a 2.48 ERA and had 238Ks in 254 innings.
2011 is shaping up to be a special season for Justin Verlander. After looking at the previous pitcher to win both awards it’s clear to see that Verlander has all the credentials. Every pitcher had an ERA lower then 2.50 and took their team to the next level, whether it be their first division title, pennant, World Series appearance or title.
Some people would argue that the CY Young is the MVP for pitcher and they shouldn’t win the actual MVP. But what if the most valuable player on your team is the pitcher? Verlander clearly has this year’s AL Cy Young locked up. He was the first pitcher in the majors to 20 wins and has an ERA of 2.38 and is .10 points behind Jared Weaver with a chance to win the Pitching Triple Crown. What else does JV need to do for people to be convinced he is the most dominant player this season? Does the guy need to be pitching blindfolded and smoking a cigarette.
The question is: is Verlander MVP worthy. The only real competition to me for JV is former Tiger Curtis Granderson. I know some of you are saying “what about Jacoby Ellsbury?” Well to me Granderson has much better numbers in fewer games played and less at bats. Granderson is hitting.277 and leads the league in runs scored (121) home runs (38) RBI (107) as well as leads the AL in triples (10).
The next questions we have to answer is: “would the Yankees be in the position they are now without Granderson?” On a team with A-Rod, Jeter, Robbie Cano, Mark Teixeira and on a team where six guys have over 15 home runs, I believe that answer is yes. Yet look at the huge drop off after JV on the Tiger’s pitching rotation with Porcello, Fister, and the failed experiment of Phil Coke ^9. Granderson had some good, great season in Detroit but never exploded like this. He benefits from a very short porch in Yankee Stadium. Granderson has more at bats on the road and less home runs.
Of Verlander’s five loses and four no decisions, six of them have come by three runs or less. Verlander has all of the criteria to win the MVP this year. His ERA is on par with the six starting pitchers who have done so, he has thrown a no-hitter (the second of his career) and could potentially win th Triple Crown. Every time one of these six guys came to the mound you knew they had a chance to do something special. The six pitchers who won both awards were responsible for more than ¼ of their teams wins ^10. Currently the Detroit Tigers are 73-60. Verlander single handedly won almost 28 percent of those.
You can’t even argue that Verlander benefits from playing in a pitchers park because he has been just good, if not better on the road than he has been at home. JV is 11-2 with a 2.56 ERA on the road compared to 9-3 with a 2.18 ERA at home.
The Tigers are in the middle of a playoff race and if the team is going to get to where it wants to be, everybody is going to have to ride the arm of Justin Verlander to get there.
1-Instant replay is a joke, the fact that people want to expand it and allow for challenges is ridiculous…The game is slow enough without managers challenging every time a player is called out at first. Human error is what makes baseball great, it’s part of the game and has been for centuries.
2- It didn’t hurt that he played with three all stars that year, Roy Campanella, Jim Gilliam and Duke Snider, two of which were future hall of famers. Other hall of famers on the ’56 Dodgers included a declining Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson who was in the last year of his career.
3-Walther Johnson was the first pitcher to win the Triple Crown three times. He did it in 1913, 1918 and 1924.
4- Mays, McCovey and Cepeda were well in the prime of their careers; combined in 1963 they hit a .332 average, scored 318 runs, hit 116 bombs and plated 302 runners. Koufax also outdueled another future hall of famer in Juan Marichal.
5- Another former Detroit athlete proficient at playing the piano but not much else, Joey Harrington.
5A-And another former Detroit athlete who may or may not have been able to play the ivory, Grant Hill.
6- Excerpt from a 1969 William Leggett Sports Illustrated article, “The mound was lowered to try to help return hitting to baseball, since 1968 was completely owned by the pitchers. Highlighted by the excellence of Denny McLain, who won 31 games for the Tigers, and also by Bob Gibson of the Cardinals, who pitched 13 shutouts, pitchers took charge from the very beginning. Only by putting on a strong surge late in the season did Carl Yastrzemski of the Red Sox lift his batting average to .301, the lowest figure to win a batting championship in the history of the game.”
7- The ’86 Mariners were a horrible team. They had one all-star, Jim Presley and had two names on the roster worth knowing, Harold Reynolds, who is by far the best analyst in baseball and Danny Tartabull who finished 1986 5th in Rookie of The Year voting.
8- The worst excuse I have heard was to get back from an injury faster.
9- Phil Coke probably could have came to the games plastered after doing a keg stand and been as effective as a starter as he was sober. Just saying it was that bad.
10- The six teams won a total of 585 games, with the award winning pitches winning 26 percent of those. Those guys were responsible for ¼ of their teams wins.