For MVP: Justin Verlander and Matt Kemp (No…Ryan Braun)

If you accept the premise that Felix Hernandez really was the American League Cy Young Award Winner in 2010, then the conundrum is solved as to who is the American League MVP in 2011.

The premise of a pitcher with a won-loss record of 13-12, who led his league in only one standard category, is that the Cy Young goes not to the most valuable pitcher, but to some kind of statistically “best” one. We can argue forever about whether that’s the way it should be (I don’t think so) or if, even accepting the premise, Hernandez really fulfilled the requirement (I also don’t think so). But the arguments are academic and the precedent is set.

Thus, whatever award can go to the “most valuable” pitcher it is not the Cy Young, and by process of elimination it necessarily must be the MVP. Before the Cy was established in 1956, this was an accepted premise that was applied for starters (Lefty Grove) as early as the first year of BBWAA voting in 1931, and for relievers (Jim Konstanty) as early as 1950. If you were a pitcher, and your team rode you to whatever success it achieved, you could be the MVP.

Seems to me that after the Hernandez victory it’s a little clearer, in fact. If the Cy Young can go to a guy whose only exposure to the pennant race was watching on MLB Tonight, then the guy in the middle of the thing has to get thrown into the MVP consideration.

And that’s Justin Verlander.

You can argue that Miguel Cabrera has had an excellent season, and Victor Martinez, too. Jose Valverde has shed his past unreliability to become a bullpen rock. But the Tigers are where they are because Verlander won 24 games. Period. The Tigers have one twenty-homer man (Cabrera), one 100-RBI man (Cabrera), one six-steal man (Austin Jackson, 22), one nine-hold guy (Joaquin Benoit), two .300 hitters (Cabrera and Martinez), and, until Doug Fister came along, they had one pitcher with an ERA under 4.30 (Verlander).

He’s a one-man team.

All of the other American League candidates are flawed. Bautista hit home runs but is going to finish around 12th in RBI. Granderson may lead the majors in Homers and RBI but his awful secret is that over the last 30 days he’s batted .215 and struck out once in every three at bats and is one of the primary reasons the Yankees should be considered decided underdogs in the ALDS. Gonzalez has had a spectacular year in Boston, but frankly, the Red Sox disaster owes to much more than the fact that their pitching staff is broken.

It’s a perfect storm in the American League voting: no clear position-player winner, and a good division winner carried from start to finish by a pitcher. Verlander should be the first starting pitcher chosen MVP since Roger Clemens in 1986 – but I’m not counting on it.

To me, the National League is a lot less clear. The argument for Matt Kemp, Triple Crown Winner, is inarguable. The problem becomes if he finishes third in batting, or “a few” homers or RBI away from something not done in the National League since 1937 and in either league since 1967 (and remember, even that year Carl Yastrzemski tied for the home run crown – I like to note that Frank Robinson was the last pure winner in 1966).

My argument to this point has been that one other statistic has made Kemp the MVP even if it’s just close on the Triple Crown. He has stolen 40 bases. Consider Jose Canseco’s MVP season in 1988: league-leading 42 homers and 124 RBI, plus he finished fourth with 40 steals. So far this looks a lot like what Kemp may end up with. Except Canseco hit just .309, to finish ninth. Kemp seems a lock to finish third or better in the 2011 NL Batting Race.

It’s a compelling argument, until you consider that Ryan Braun is leading that batting race, and is only five homers and ten RBI behind Kemp, and second to Kemp in runs scored, and will finish seventh or eighth in stolen bases – and all of it, in the crucible that is a pennant race.

If I had a vote – and they will give me one when hell freezes over – I would have to wait until Wednesday’s boxscores are in. A year ago Kemp was on the verge of ruining his career, and he’s done what he’s done in a near vacuum (although Andre Ethier wasn’t a bad foil in the batting order), and in the chaos of the nightmare season at Chavez Ravine. But, as much as I hate to say that the MVP should be decided in the last three days of the season, I’d really need Kemp to win the Triple Crown – or miss it by thismuch – to vote against the guy who put up parallel numbers in the heat of the race.

Oh? Cy Youngs? Anybody who doesn’t vote for Kershaw should be banned for life from major league ballparks. He’s going to win the pitching Triple Crown (K, ERA, Strikeouts) with no support. The American League is Verlander, has been for awhile.

But perhaps the most important thing the writers can do is convene a meeting this winter in which they specify eligibility and criteria for these awards so we don’t have to go through this every freaking year.


  1. LEe Carney

    So Kershaw gets the vote cos he did it with no support, but Bautista gets penalised because the guys batting in front of him were unable to get on base (RBI support) strange logic

  2. Nick Carlson (@Nick_C_C)

    I heard on the broadcast for the Detroit-Baltimore game that “poor” Jeremy Guthrie was getting “only” 4 runs a game and that’s why he had so many losses.
    Shoot, if Cain, Lincecum, and Bumgarner got that support, they would all be 20 game winners and the Giants would have clinched by Labor Day!

  3. Patricia Powell Couvillion

    Amen! Convening a meeting, being specific and setting criteria could solve more than just baseball awards. The planet could be saved! Thanks, Keith.

  4. Justin

    If Bautista hit in the Yankees lineup, and had the exact same season, he’d have about 150 RBI. Would that make him the MVP? I imagine you’d say so. So how logically does being on a different team change that? Why does the team surrounding him matter at all?

    He does lead the majors in on-base percentage and slugging, as well as just about every advanced offensive statistical category. He is, even without the “RBIs”, the better hitter in baseball. Having a better year than Kemp (who should be the NL MVP, I agree), too, on a team that will play as many October games as the Dodgers will. Surrounded for half a season by a lineup that included Corey Patterson.

    On Verlander, the Tigers have a 12-game lead in the Central. Meaning replacing Verlander with, say, a 15 game winner, would leave the Tigers in… first place in the Central by 3 games? I mean, if Scherzer went 0-24 rather than 14-10, the Tigers wouldn’t make the playoffs, either. Does that make him the MVP? I just think your logic is deeply flawed.

  5. Sam

    I agree with all your picks, Keith, but maybe not for the same reasons. I don’t think Verlander is a one-man team. Cabrera is one of the best hitters in the game and Martinez was hitting (maybe still is hitting) .400 with RISP. Last I checked, Valverde hadn’t blown a save. The Tigers have the best catcher and a lot of hitters who are either at .300 or near it. Still, Verlander’s numbers are MVP-worthy. As for the NL, Braun and Fielder are inseparable. Either make them co-MVP or look at someone else. Think of all the good pitches Braun sees because Fielder is behind him– nobody ever pitches around Braun to get to Fielder. Meanwhile, Fielder’s protection is Casey McGehee having a very bad season. I’ve watched Kemp a lot this year (so I could listen to Vin Scully) and he is without doubt the best player in baseball. He does it all. He’s indestructible. It seems like he’ll barely hit the ball and it’s a double or even a home run, and if it looks like it’s going to be a single he’ll stretch it into a double. He’s a man on a mission. But I like what my other favorite Keith said yesterday on SNY (Keith Hernandez that is)– Joe Girardi should get consideration for Manager Of The Year. Though I guess Yankee fans are probably back on his case after last night.

  6. I Love KO

    Hey KO — great post as always. Yanks ALDS underdogs — are you surprised they made it to the playoffs? ROFL, great pick — you are the kiss of death!

  7. jhitts

    I’ll echo the sentiment that the Tigers are NOT a one-man team, although I think Verlander still should win the MVP. You’ve conveniently left out a few guys. Like, for instance, Johnny Peralta, who is also hitting .300 (.301 actually… but how’d you forget him?) and has an .825 OPS. Also, Alex Avila has come out of nowhere to become the best catcher in the majors. He’s hitting .295.

    So it’s not like there’s just one guy on offense doing all the heavy lifting. The Tigers, after all, have scored the fourth-most runs in the AL.

  8. Michael Green

    A very thoughtful post. Now, I’m a Dodger fan, so this could be seen as a brief for Kemp. But, first, Ethier was MIA for a significant part of the season with injuries and, even when he was there, he often hit AHEAD of Kemp in the order, meaning he wasn’t behind him to offer protection. I think back to when Dusty Baker had Jeff Kent batting behind Barry Bonds and realized that Kent was suffering because people pitched around Bonds to get to him–so Dusty put a less powerful but still strong hitter behind Bonds, put Kent in front of Bonds, and watched Kent’s average go up (just as Kent benefited from hitting ahead of Manny Ramirez, Kent’s claims to the contrary and criticism of Vin Scully for saying so notwithstanding). So, the Ethier argument doesn’t quite work.

    That brings me to the next point. Braun has a supporting cast. Kemp hasn’t had much of one. Without Braun, perhaps the Brewers wouldn’t be winning the division, but his replacement might be a solid player. Without Kemp, the Dodgers would be finishing the season in Albuquerque.

    And finally, the pennant race argument. I do not question Braun’s numbers or ability, but I have a problem with that. In a tough, truly meaningful game, wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect an extra effort to get out Ryan Braun? As opposed to less meaningful games in which Matt Kemp’s best supporting player was, uh, Juan Rivera? Not that Kemp IS the MVP and Braun is NOT; but the argument here has some holes in it.

  9. rhinojake (@rhinojake)

    Now that it appears Reyes will probably win the batting crown, with Braun finishing second, what does that do, if anything, to Keith’s thesis that Kemp (now that he’s leading in HRs as well as RBIs) has to come close to Braun in BA to justify him winning the MVP???

  10. walt kovacs

    forget the awards…

    when are you gonna apologize to vogelsong?

    finishes the year with a 2.71 era….4th best in the nl

    be a man ko….APOLOGIZE

  11. Kiko Jones

    I’d like for KO to revisit his AL East picks, namely his 1, 2, 3 placement. (Red Sox, Rays and Yankees, respectively, for those keeping score.) How’s it looking boy-o?

  12. Kiko Jones

    Forgive me, I was mistaken: KO had…

    1. Red Sox
    2. Rays (wild card)
    3. Orioles
    4. Yankees
    5. Jays

    “THE FORECAST: I don’t think the top two spots are at issue. Boston wins, the Rays probably take the wild card. The question becomes whether the Yankee collapse, and the Oriole and Jay growth spurts, happen rapidly enough to unleash Steinbrennarmageddon in the Bronx: the Yankees finishing last. I suspect we will see them occupy the basement long enough for the kind of good old-fashioned accusation firestorm and managerial firing speculation that used to make 161st Street the Bronx Zoo. But I do not think both sets of birds will fly with equal success. I may have Toronto and Baltimore switched here, but I see it: 1. Boston, 2. Tampa Bay, 3. Baltimore, 4. New York, 5. Toronto (and the last three, very close indeed).”


    • hithere

      KO irreparably burned his bridges with the Yankees. I believe his AL East predictions are based on which teams he likes most. A very biased person.

  13. rct11

    There are a bunch of ways to support Verlander for MVP, but my God did you pick the most convoluted and wrong-headed one.

    Your argument is an egregious cherry-pick and just bad in general. You’re basing your argument on:

    -Pitcher’s wins


    The following statistics that were not even accrued by Verlander:
    -HR (using a nebulous 20 HR plateau)
    -RBI (a 100 RBI plateau)
    -SB (6(?))
    -HOLDS (!!!!)(9(?))
    -BA (!!)(.300(?))
    -ERA of the other pitchers

    Yikes. What a weird and terrible argument. The stat you choose to pump up JV doesn’t say much of anything about JV’s actual dominance and the stats you used to denigrate JV’s teammates say next to nothing about them. For the love of God, the Tigers have scored the fourth most runs in baseball! And you’re using their supposed offensive ineptitude (which doesn’t exist at all) to support the “Without Verlander the Tigers Are Nothing” sentiment? Just wow. For someone who considers himself a “baseball nerd”, you seem to either know very little about baseball or just can’t be bothered to research anything.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s