Justin Verlander claimed American League MVP honors today, becoming the first starting pitcher to win the award since Roger Clemens in 1986.
The Baseball Writers Association of America announced the results this afternoon. Twenty-eight BBWAA members had votes, and I was one of them:
These were the Top 10 vote-getters (with first-place votes in parentheses):
1. Justin Verlander, Tigers (13)
2. Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox (4)
3. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays (5)
4. Curtis Granderson, Yankees (3)
5. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers (2)
6. Robinson Cano, Yankees
7. Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox
8. Michael Young, Rangers (1)
9. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
10. Evan Longoria, Rays
Each ballot had 10 slots. Here’s mine:
1. Justin Verlander
2. Jacoby Ellsbury
3. Jose Bautista
4. Miguel Cabrera
5. Curtis Granderson
6. Dustin Pedroia
7. Adrian Gonzalez
8. Michael Young
9. Ian Kinsler
10. Robinson Cano
It was an extremely tough vote this year -- the toughest I can remember. The ballots are due before the postseason begins, and I wrestled with mine for days before finally submitting it on Sept. 29. I had no problem picking a pitcher No. 1, but I really thought a case could be made for any of the Top 5.
Why I had Verlander first
OK, I knew some of you weren’t going to let me off that easy. Here's some more on my Verlander choice:
I know pitchers already having their own award, and yet, the rules clearly state that pitchers should be considered for MVP. I wrote a Sunday column about this late in the season after getting some opinions from Michael Cuddyer, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.
The question is, who’s the most valuable to his team? Miguel Cabrera had another unbelievable year. He played in 161 games (and yes, after following the Twins, you can bet I paid close attention to how many games each of these guys played). He won the batting title and was the same sort of hitting monster that Jose Bautista was, when you look at on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS+, etc.
But Cabrera is a first baseman and a below-average first baseman, at that. The bulk of his contribution is his everyday presence in the lineup, offensively. To me, and to almost everyone I asked around the Tigers, Verlander was that team’s MVP.
From early May through mid-August, the Tigers had a 50-40 stretch in which they went 17-3 in Verlander's starts and 33-37 in all other games. That set the stage for Detroit's strong finish. By season's end, Verlander was 22-2 with a 2.08 ERA in his final 27 starts.
He stopped losing streaks and he gave Manager Jim Leyland the ability to exhaust his bullpen in the games before and after he pitched. Also, this is worth noting: Cabrera had a chance to “do his thing” in 688 plate appearances this year. Verlander was part of 964 plate appearances.
Beyond the basic stats, I looked at WAR (wins above replacement), both on Baseball-Reference.com (Bautista was at 8.6, Verlander 8.5, Ellsbury 7.2) and FanGraphs.com (Ellsbury was at 9.6, Bautista 8.4 ... Verlander 7.0). I looked at OPS+ (Bautista 182, Cabrera 181, Ellsbury 146) and ERA+ (Verlander 170, Jered Weaver 158, CC Sabathia 147), which adjusts for league and park averages.
Like I said, it was a tough call -- especially after the Red Sox choked on the final night of the season -- but after weighing all the factors, I submitted the ballot that felt right to me at the time.
About my Michael Young vote
I see there’s an uproar that Michael Young received a first-place vote, with some saying he wasn’t even the MVP of the Rangers. I get that. I had Young eighth with teammate Ian Kinsler ninth.
I know Kinsler is a good defensive second baseman, and Young’s defense is suspect, but I like that Young basically moved to whatever position the Rangers needed him. I had a tough time with this one and e-mailed someone who follows the Rangers daily before casting my ballot. He said, Young was the team’s MVP in his mind, and it wasn’t even close.
I know I had a similar view of Justin Morneau with the Twins in 2006, even though many national writers still believe that Johan Santana and/or Joe Mauer were more valuable to that team. I will say that my thinking has evolved a lot since 2006, as I used to place way more emphasis on RBI.
I'm not saying I have all the answers. During October, the biggest thing that gnawed at me is whether I had Granderson too low and whether I gave Mike Napoli careful enough consideration. (Yes, those feelings were enhanced by how those guys were doing in the postseason.)
One thing's for sure: Every year this makes for a great debate.