With the Tigers’ Justin Verlander being named the American League’s Most Valuable Player this past week, spirited debate has sprung up throughout the internet and sports media.
One of the voting sports writers openly admitted to leaving Verlander off his ballot due to the fact he didn’t play in 79% of his team’s games. Second runner up Jose Bautista even quietly alluded to “games played” being one of the ballot’s suggested criteria, and wondered whether Verlander should even be eligible. Solid arguments both for and against Verlander are being made all around.
It’s not as though Pitchers are ineligible, it’s actually quite the opposite. The official ballot reminds voters that all players, including pitchers and designated hitters, are eligible to win. Since its official inception in 1931, there have been 24 pitchers who won the award. Included in that is Lefty Grove, a lefty handed pitcher who was the American League’s inaugural winner in 1931.
Part of the problem lies with the award itself. What does “value” really mean in terms of this award? The opening sentence to the ballot even calls attention to this by saying “There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means.” In the end, it’s up to the 28 sports writers who voted on the American League award to come up with their own understanding.
When the baseball playoffs take place every fall, one team always emerges as the undisputed champion of baseball. But when the awards are voted on, it just opens the floodgates for all kinds of debate and speculation into just how wrong the sports writers managed to get it that season.
That’s the beauty of it.
In the end, MVP is just a cutesy few letters to use when describing how good a player is; but most of us already know that. Do you need MVP to describe Albert Pujols, or the fact that Alex Rodriguez hit 54 homeruns and drove in over 150 runs that year? Consider that Pete Rose is not in the Hall of Fame, but fans still recall and celebrate his amazing achievements on the field.
More often than not MVPs, Cy Youngs and Rookie of the Years are bypassed. They’re used as a starting point in the conversation rather than a final decree.
In its first inception back in 1911, the Chalmers Award was given to the “most important and useful player to the club and to the league.” It was part of a marketing ploy by Hugh Chalmers of Chalmers Automobiles, and the winning player would receive a new car. After it didn’t increase sales like he had hoped, the award was discontinued after a few seasons. Following another failed attempt some years later, the award as we now recognize it was adopted in 1931.
At its worst, the MVP award is a continuation of a marketing ploy with ambiguous guidelines and voted on by a small minority of sports writers. At its best it’s recognition of some of the game’s top players who achieved at the highest level and stand out from their peers. That’s not to say that all other players are forgotten.
Even if Jose Bautista feels snubbed, fans will still remember him for his tremendous pair of seasons after being dealt as a minor league player to be named later. Even if Jacoby Ellsbury didn’t get the award to help soften the blow of the Red Sox season, fans will still celebrate his 30/30 season and Gold Glove award – and the fact that Theo Epstein didn’t trade him.
In the end, the MVP award serves as a great starting point to fuel the debate throughout the offseason. Last season it was sabermetrics and whether Felix Hernandez should have won the AL Cy Young, this season it’s a starting pitcher being called the Most Valuable Player.
That should get us through the 12 weeks until pitchers and catchers report to spring training.