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?