It is time to play a sad, boring game. As much as I loathe this trick, it can be pretty effective. It is the Player A/Player B game, so bear with me.

  • Player A – 25.9% K Rate, 4.6% BB rate, 2.40/2.60/2.68 (ERA/FIP/xFIP), 66 RA, 6 complete games, 920 batters faced
  • Player B – 25.8% K rate, 5.9% BB rate, 2.40/2.99/3.12, 73 RA, 4 complete games, 969 batters faced.

Each of these men pitched for a runaway division winner and made key playoff starts.

One player (B) was the unanimous Cy Young and clear-cut Most Valuable Player. The other is Cliff Lee, a man sure to receive a grand total of zero MVP votes. Which is fine, there is a long list of worthy candidates for the award in the National League. It simply illustrates the power of the manufactured storyline.

When the Most Valuable Player of the National League is announced later today, Matt Kemp will win. Matt Kemp should win; he posted an amazing season, one of the best seasons by a center fielder in recent memory. His team went nowhere but that doesn’t matter this time. He is the most valuable player and that is how people will vote.

Just as Justin Verlander was widely acknowledged to be the AL MVP by the first week of August. He was doing it all alone, we were told. He dragged his team to the playoffs, despite the inclusion of four of his teammates on the MVP ballot, one of them finishing fifth in the voting.

Nope. Doesn’t matter. Verlander was the MVP thanks to his superlative season, a season so strong his team would have struggled to win the American League Central by 15 games without him. His impressive ERA stacked up very well against the rest of the league, posting a league-best 170 ERA+. That season was good enough to rank 20th in the American League since the last time a pitcher won the MVP in 1992.

It comes back, sadly, to wins. He posted a huge win total because he had a strong bullpen behind him and he received great run support. He made only six starts with 2 or fewer runs of support. He started eleven times when the offense game him six or more runs, and rather than pitching to the score like another Tigers legend, Verlander pitched incredibly well in those well-supported starts.

He threw nearly 90 innings against the Indians, Twins, and White Sox, three of the five worst offenses in the American League. That is more than the total innings he pitched against teams with winning records (82.1 IP).

But Justin Verlander dragged his team to the playoffs, or so the story goes. The praise chorus observed JV dominating opposing hitters (which he did) in a way that single-handedly pushed his team to the post-season (which he did not.) They won when he started (a lot), ergo he is the most valuable player.

This narrative does a disservice to many deserving players, players who don’t get the recognition because they don’t post garish win totals or play on teams with Miguel Cabrera.

It’s too bad. Does Cliff Lee — to say nothing of Clayton Kershaw or Roy Halladay — deserve more MVP consideration? I don’t know that he does. He, like the others, had a great season during a year of suppressed offense, so lots of pitchers had great years. Seasons of this magnitude were not unique to this season. There simply wasn’t enough in Verlander’s 2011 to say it was that much better than any of a dozen pitching seasons to say he deserved the MVP more than many other pitchers.

But he got it and it is his. Congratulations, Justin and my condolences to the many worthy pitchers and players overlooked in the name of a good story. Just when you think we’re getting somewhere, the need for stat nerd vigilance becomes all the clearer.

The obnoxious and strident among us must stand guard, pestering the BBWAA voters into doing the right thing as this awards seasons shows very little has changed. Left to their own devices, the results rarely reflect the action we saw on the field for six months. Which doesn’t grant much credibility to the awards at all, now does it?

Comments (12)

  1. Lot easier to win games with Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera in the lineup.

  2. So at this point, we should create a formula to determine the MVP. Take it away from writers and let a computer choose. Im sure of some of the mathematical whiz kids could put something together this afternoon for both the Cy Young and MVP.

  3. Michael…F#$@ing…Young…

    They really need a better system of doing this.

  4. Excellent post, Drew.

    The MVP award doesn’t need to be based on numbers, but some more logic would be nice. The vote for Michael Young just highlighted how ridiculous the process is.

    • But folks are only happy when the winner of the MVP or Cy Young is backed up by every advanced stat created in the last decade.
      I mean, if MLB (and every other pro sports league) does not care enough to define what the MVP award should be based on, not sure why we should worry about such trivial shit and try to better explain it

  5. On Fangraphs leader boards, if you sort by FIP, with minimum 200 innings in the last 30 years, you have to go to page 5 to find Verlander’s 2011. WAR you have to go to page 3.

  6. Fully agree. I don’t really have a problem with Verlander winning. It’s the story as to why he won that troubles me. “They wouldn’t have won the AL Central without him”. Well hey – they won the Central by 15 games. Verlander went 24-5, meaning if you want to use simple math, if you replaced Verlander with a guy who went 10-19, Detroit still would have made the playoffs. Jeremy Guthrie went 9-17 for Baltimore, yet probably still could have guided the Tigers to the playoffs…

  7. All that talk about the BBWAA evolving over the last few years with the Greinke and Felix votes…yeah, that was all bullshit. Win totals still rule all (provided you have a good ERA to go along with it).

    Still not quite sure why Kemp is likely going to win the NL MVP and Bautista didn’t. Their situations in their respective leagues couldn’t be any more similar.

  8. That is a lot of MVP vote posts on this blog.

    I didn’t realize anyone really cared about the MVP vote.

    • When you have the best player in baseball on your team, you care a little bit.

      • Well yeah. I can understand being pissed that Bautista didn’t win. And to that extent, I was angry as well. But getting miffed about Michael Young and the rest of it is beyond my level of caring.

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