11/21/11 8:33 PM EST
Verlander vote a tough call for some writers
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
"I think a starting pitcher should be eligible," Verlander said.
As it turned out, the majority of the voters felt the same. On Monday, Verlander became the first pitcher in nearly two decades to earn the MVP, garnering 13 first-place nods among the 28 ballots cast. Only one writer omitted Verlander from his ballot, but that hardly kept the pitcher from achieving this rare feat.
Verlander, who picked up the AL Cy Young Award last week, is the first pitcher since 1992 (Oakland's Dennis Eckersley) and the first starter since 1986 (Boston's Roger Clemens) to be named MVP. He did so with 280 points, beating Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury (242) and Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista (231) for the honor.
For the writers tasked with casting votes (two from each AL city turned in ballots, listing their top 10 choices in order), this unique season made for difficult decisions from top to bottom. The top, however, is where the biggest debate of all -- whether a pitcher should win -- came into play.
"This was excruciating," said Joe Christensen, a Twins beat reporter for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "But to me, Verlander just had one of those special years."
That is why Christensen was one of the 13 writers who listed Verlander first.
The others were Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe, Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star, Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune, Seth Livingston of USA Today, Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune, Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports, Hideki Okuda of Sports Nippon Newspapers, Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register, Jim Caple of ESPN, Ken Fidlin of the Toronto Sun, Lynn Henning of the Detroit News and John Shipley of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
"I'm happy that the voters acknowledged that [pitchers] do have a major impact in this game," Verlander said, "and that we can be extremely valuable to our team and its success."
Not all the voters felt that way, though.
Jim Ingraham, an Indians beat reporter for The News-Herald, was the lone writer to withhold Verlander's name. Ingraham was quick to note, however, that he did not cast a vote for any pitcher in any of the 10 possible placings, as his personal belief is that comparing pitchers to hitters simply is not fair.
"It's not that I don't realize how great Verlander is, because I obviously do," Ingraham said. "I just don't like the notion of comparing pitchers who pitch once every five days to position players who, the best of them, play virtually every day. Look, we saw this guy as much as anybody in the division. The guy's great.
"I was almost surprised when he didn't pitch a no-hitter in his starts. That's how much I think of him. I'm not an idiot here. I realize how great Verlander is. I just think, philosophically, it's apples and oranges between a position player and a starting pitcher in the MVP balloting."
Verlander did have one no-hitter -- against the Blue Jays on May 7.
Verlander -- only the second player in baseball history to capture a Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and Most Valuable Player award over his career -- finished this season with pitching's Triple Crown. He led the AL in wins (24), ERA (2.40) and strikeouts (25), as well as innings (251) and opponents' batting average (.192).
Christensen feels that Verlander had an impact on the Tigers even on the days he did not take the mound.
"[Tigers manager Jim] Leyland could basically exhaust his bullpen the days before Verlander pitched," Christensen said. "And that group would be well rested after he pitched. I also think a No. 1 pitcher's ability to stop losing streaks is just crucial to a team's psyche."
As it happened, Verlander went 16-3 in starts following a Detroit loss. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the most such victories since Philadelphia's Steve Carlton had 19 wins following a Phillies loss during the 1972 season.
That amazing statistic was one that jumped out for Morosi.
"Basically, he was the best stopper in almost 40 years for a team that won its division," Morosi said. "That's pretty good. Also, the fact that on the day that he started his 12-start winning streak, the Tigers and Indians were tied for first place. To me, he single-handedly, I think, was the difference."
That 12-start winning streak ran from July 21 to Sept. 18. Over that stretch, Verlander fashioned a tidy 2.28 ERA and helped Detroit surge to an AL Central crown that had seemed to be Cleveland's to lose earlier in the season. On July 21 the Tigers and Indians were tied. On Sept. 19, Cleveland was 13 games back.
While covering the Indians, Ingraham had plenty of firsthand looks at Verlander but still could not bring himself to vote a pitcher as MVP.
"Verlander started 34 games this year, which means that's 21 percent of the Tigers' games," Ingraham said. "So in 79 percent of the Tigers' games, Verlander didn't appear at all. In the NFL, would you vote for a quarterback for MVP if he only appeared in three games of the 16 games?"
Another Indians reporter, Sheldon Ocker of the Akron Beacon Journal, voted Verlander eighth overall, the lowest Verlander's name appeared on any ballot.
Plenty of other writers voted for Verlander but did not feel the right-hander's season warranted a first-place vote.
Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, for example, had Ellsbury first and Verlander fourth. Ellsbury appeared in 158 games and finished with a .321 average, 32 home runs, 46 doubles, 105 RBIs, 119 runs scored and 39 stolen bases. His team fell short of a playoff berth on the final day of the season.
"I looked at teams that were in the playoff hunt," Wilson said. "I looked at overall performance and how they performed in September. I thought what Ellsbury did in the leadoff spot and his overall game was excellent, especially for a leadoff hitter.
"I'm all for a pitcher winning the MVP, and I thought Verlander had a terrific season, but I don't think it was better than the season Ellsbury had."
Chad Jennings, a Yankees reporter for the Journal News, had Bautista first on his ballot. The Blue Jays' right fielder started for the AL in the All-Star Game, hit .302, launched 43 homers, collected 103 RBIs and drew 132 walks while posting a 1.056 OPS.
"If you believe a dominant starting pitcher should be MVP ahead of an elite position player, that's perfectly fair," Jennings told the Daily News. "I went the other way. I preferred a position player for several reasons, and when I made that decision, I put Verlander behind the five hitters who I believe had truly elite, MVP-type seasons.
"At one point I actually had Verlander at the top of my ballot, but I kept coming back to the fact that he only plays every fifth day. It's a tough call, because you realize that you might be completely wrong about this, but I kept wondering exactly how much value he provided in terms of wins and losses over the course of a season."
Erik Boland, a Yankees reporter for Newsday, had Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera first on his ballot, with Bautista second, Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano third and Verlander fourth. Cabrera won the batting title with a .344 average and recorded 30 homers, 48 doubles, 105 RBIs, 108 walks and 111 runs.
"In weighing the everyday guy versus the every-fifth-day guy," Boland explained, "when the everyday guy is that consistently good, I give the nod to the everyday guy. That doesn't mean I'm against a pitcher winning. Verlander wouldn't have been that high on my ballot if I did have an issue with that. But I think Cabrera got a little bit overshadowed this year by the push for Verlander."
Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News gave his first-place vote to Texas' Michael Young.
Across the board, it was clear that this was not an easy call for any of the voters.
"Going into the last week, it really changed almost every day," said Gonzales, who had Ellsbury second to Verlander on his ballot. "The last five days, it changed just about every day. But it always came back to Verlander. I think Verlander clearly dominated his position.
"The others were worthy candidates, but it always came back to Verlander being the dominant person in the American League."
Dominant to the point of being historic.
"His season was of an historic nature," Morosi said. "I would not have voted a pitcher first if it was merely an excellent pitching season."
And what if Ingraham had gone against his beliefs and cast a vote for a pitcher?
"Verlander would've been first," he said.