Here are the forecaster’s problems.
The Detroit Tigers’ pitching dominance over the New York Yankees – the .144 OBA over four gruesome games – is not the indicator that you might think. The Yankees have been aging rapidly for three seasons, and they had just barely scratched out a victory over a Baltimore team without line-up depth or a dominant starting pitcher. Joe Girardi made a fateful remark in mid-series, about how his hitters had to “adjust” – manager-speak for telling them they had to stop going up there expecting the room service fastballs they would get from 60% of the pitchers they faced during the regular season. Yes, the Tiger pitching was superb. Yes, we all spent too much time talking about the Yanks’ demise. But between the two extremes it is almost impossible to get a good gauge on just how good the survivors are.
The Giants’ comebacks against the Reds and Cardinals were historic and epic. And they are also not the indicators you might think. Both losing teams have a lot of talent but neither was a juggernaut and the fact is that San Francisco’s valiant efforts have deranged their own rotation. It is stand-up-and-cheer heart-warming to see Marco Scutaro and Barry Zito finally make a World Series but it is imperative to remember that they are not going to win the World Series by themselves. 2012 was the second time in his career that the 36-year old Scutaro has batted better than .282 in a major league season and the third time he has hit more than one homer in a major league season.
As to Zito, the Giants could not have done it without him but his 15 wins divided up as follows:
Zito Vs. Playoff Teams (4-2)
Vs. Atlanta Braves 2-0
Vs. Oakland A’s 1-0
Vs. St. Lou. Cards 1-0
Vs. Tex. Rangers 0-1
Vs. Cin. Reds 0-1
Zito Vs. Non-Playoff Teams (11-6)
Vs. Az D-Backs 4-0
Vs. LA Dodgers 3-2
Vs. Col. Rockies 2-0
Vs. Chi. Cubs 1-0
Vs. Pitt. Pirates 1-0
Vs. Mil. Brewers 0-1
Vs. L.A. Angels 0-1
Vs. Hou. Astros 0-1
Vs. N.Y. Mets 0-1
These are the simplest of analytics here but they are offered simply to imply one fact about the World Series: drop the story lines of the first two rounds of the playoffs, and judge the Classic on who has the better, sounder team.
The Tigers have a confused bullpen, which reduces it to the level of the Giants when Santiago Casilla failed – and the Giants fixed that situation within hours with Sergio Romo. The Giants have a confused rotation, and you can’t straighten that out in anything less than a week. The Tigers have the kind of offense that is not seen by National League pitchers and its most potent bats (Cabrera and Fielder) live to butcher off-speed left-hand pitching like Zito.
There is also Justin Verlander in this equation and if the Giants can’t stop him at least once, the Fister/Sanchez/Scherzer trio have only to produce two solid starts.
I’m thinking the Tigers could do this in five. If the Giants stage an upset – especially if they come from behind to do it – they will earn (and I will happily crown them) the single-season comeback kings of the game’s modern history. Unless one of the troubled starters (Lincecum? Bumgarner? turns in an MVP-level performance, I just don’t think they have a path to do it this time.
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.