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Column: Verlander deserves AL MVP award

Nate Thompson • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:05 AM

Two MVP pitchers in the last 25 years? That’s absurd. It’s about time the disparity with pitchers taking home the MVP hardware changes when the votes cast by the Baseball Writers Association of America are unveiled in late November. If there’s anyone to give pitchers a fighting chance in what has become an award dominated by position players, it’s the Detroit Tigers’ Verlander.

When it’s all said and done, Verlander’s numbers this season may rival some of the best pitching performances in the past 20 years, notably Pedro Martinez’s 1999 season with Boston (23-4 record, 2.07 earned run average); and Randy Johnson’s 2002 campaign with Arizona (24-5, 2.32 earned run average).

Consequently, neither pitcher earned the MVP award in those dominating seasons, yet both won the Cy Young Award as their league’s best pitcher. That’s been the common argument among sports writers recently: a pitcher has an award specified for his craft already, but an MVP should be a player who is in the lineup and contributes to their teams’ success on a daily basis, not once every five or six days like a starting pitcher.

It was an easy argument against Johnson in 2002, when he was paired against Barry Bonds and his “injected” numbers. Pedro in 1999 was more controversial, as he finished runner-up to former Tiger Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, who at that time played for Texas. Martinez received more first-place votes than any other player in the MVP balloting, but lost out on the award because he was left off the ballot all together by two sports writers. They argued pitchers were not all-around players and shouldn’t be considered.

That type of thinking will likely hurt Verlander’s chances this season and give an edge to players such as the New York Yankees’ Curtis Granderson, or the Boston Red Sox’s Adrian Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury.

But can the voters say with a straight face that any of those three have been more valuable to their respective teams than Verlander to the Tigers? I believe the best way to judge a player’s worth for the award is to think how their team would fare without that player on the roster.

If Verlander was a used car salesman right now instead of the Tigers’ ace, there is no way Detroit would currently be 73-60 and sport a comfortable six-game lead in the American League Central. Verlander could carry the Tigers to the World Series this fall; without him, fans in Michigan would really be clamoring for the Lions’ season to start.

More importantly, Verlander is doing his best work when it matters the most — during the pennant race. His current streak of eight-straight victories is what clutch pitching is all about.

Granderson is putting up ridiculous numbers in New York, which brings up two questions: How much of that has to do with the Yankees’ stacked lineup around him; and why couldn’t he do the same during his years in Detroit?

Granderson is on pace for these numbers: 40 home runs, 100 RBIs, 30 stolen bases, 100 runs, and 10 triples. If he reached every category, we could call it the “Grandy Five,” because no other player in Major League history has matched that line.

But again, if he wasn’t roaming in centerfield in New York, would the Yankees really fall off the Earth? With Mark Teixera, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and the super-talented Robinson Cano, I’d say no.

The same goes in Boston, where the Red Sox lineup is stacked top-to-bottom. Does one player deserve more credit for MVP while playing on a team of stars?

Verlander, meanwhile, is the rock on an inconsistent Tigers’ staff. With 29 games left to play, he has an outside chance at reaching 25 wins, and hopefully, as a team, lead Detroit to around 90-95.

If one player is responsible for nearly 30 percent of their team’s total wins, who cares what position they play? Helping your team win is what being “most valuable” is all about.

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