Last week Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland was asked by a couple of Detroit radio personalities if pitchers should be eligible for Major League Baseball’s MVP awards. His answer:
I don’t think a pitcher should be the Most Valuable Player. I’m not looking for arguments or controversy I just think when a guy goes out there 158 times or 155 times and has a big year, an MVP type year I don’t think the guy that goes out there 35 times should be named over that guy.
To me right now if you really wanted to look at it who is our Most Valuable Player? Is it Verlander or at this point today under all circumstances is it Alex Avila? You can make a case for what this kid has gone through.
I’m certainly not taking anything away from Verlander and I’m not trying to change the voting I just think there should be a Most Valuable Pitcher and a Most Valuable Player. I think that will eliminate the talk about a pitcher being MVP.
He later clarified his statement as it pertained to Justin Verlander:
I will support Justin Verlander for the MVP to the hilt. I want to make that perfectly clear. The question that was asked of me was if I thought a pitcher should be the MVP. And my answer to that is no. But under the way the system is, I certainly will support Verlander to the hilt.
Perhaps the manager doth support (to the hilt) a bit too much here, but that’s not the point of this post. What I’m wondering is whether or not pitchers should be considered for MVP awards. This was touched on a bit in last week’s Ten Stray Thoughts On A Friday where I dismissed the reasoning that Leyland uses here by showing that starting pitchers have more of an impact on one game than any position player can have over five full games.
Overall, a starting pitcher can face more than 1,000 batters in a season, a position player will typically be involved in less than 700 plate appearances. As much as we decry the usefulness of pitching wins on this blog by suggesting that they’re not responsible for so many aspects of an individual game, starters remain responsible for a larger percentage a game than any other player. And over the course of a full season, that adds up to as much as 30% more than the most a position player can do, despite the difference in games played.
Having said that, I do believe that the MVP award shouldn’t go to a pitcher. They already have a role specific award with the Cy Young, and based on what we just went over, I would probably go along with the idea that the best starting pitcher in the league should also win the MVP award every year. That’s why I think it’s only fair that eligibility be officially divided between pitchers and position players.
It’s worth noting that in 1956, the very first year that the Cy Young Award was handed out, Brooklyn Dodgers starter Don Newcombe won it along with the National League MVP Award. It didn’t happen again until 1968 when St. Louis Cardinals starter Bob Gibson and Denny McLain of the Detroit Tigers won both of their respective leagues’ Cy Young and MVP awards.
In 1971, Oakland’s Vida Blue won both, and ten years later, Rollie Fingers with the Milwaukee Brewers became the first reliever to walk away with both a Cy Young and MVP, despite only facing 297 batters. Three years later, Detroit’s Willie Hernandez won both awards, somehow managing to throw more than 140 innings without starting a single game.
In 1986, Roger Clemens with the Boston Red Sox was awarded both, as was Oakland Athletics closer Dennis Eckersley in 1992, despite only facing 309 batters. Eckersley was the last pitcher to win an MVP award, and this is most likely due to a voting trend rather than unworthy pitchers. Clemens, Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson all had MVP calibre seasons after 1992, but lost out in the voting to position players each time.
While a case can be made by current standards for Barry Bonds beating Johnson out in 2001, 2002 and 2004, and it’s arguable whether or not Roger Clemens was better than Ken Griffey Jr. in 1997, there is no doubt that Pedro Martinez was more worthy of being celebrated as the most valuable player, both in terms of his team and overall, than Ivan Rodriguez in 1999 and Jason Giambi in 2000.
If I had an MVP vote, I don’t think I’d be able to shake that recent bit of history. I’d constantly be asking myself: If Pedro Martinez wasn’t deserving of the MVP Award in 1999, how can I possibly justify giving it to Pitcher X in 2011 or beyond? Perhaps Pedro, more than any other factor is the reason why Major Leaguue Baseball should make the de facto rule for the last twenty years the future rule for the next twenty.