First off, I am a life long Detroit Tigers fan. Secondly, I have enjoyed the dominant pitching showcased by none other than 2011 MVP candidate Justin Verlander. I’m going to make a case for him using some numbers that most members of the voting media wish to ignore.
Anyone ever hear of the Silver Slugger Award. I’m done with everyone stating, “Pitchers have the Cy Young Award. They shouldn’t be MVP’s”. The Cy Young, Silver Slugger, and Gold Glove Awards, reward a player for their INDIVIDUAL accomplishments as a professional. The MVP award salutes a player for what they provided towards the success of their respective team.
– Justin Verlander: As of September 14th, Verlander is 23-5 with an ERA of 2.36 and, oh yeah, he leads the league in strikeouts with 238. What’s the problem with leading the league in the big 3 of pitching categories? Nothing, except he only pitches in 1 out of 5 games.
What if I told you that it wasn’t that simple? How about we look behind some of the numbers to get a truly unique perspective on how dominant a pitcher Verlander has been and why he deserves more than just a mention when it comes to the MVP vote.
Justin Verlander as we speak has thrown 3705 pitches. As all of us fans know, one bad pitch can change the outcome of a game on any given day. Out of these 3705 pitches, a total of 62 earned runs have been scored. Just under 2%, or 1.673% to be exact, of Verlanders pitches have lead to earned runs.
Verlander has thrown over 98% of his pitches successfully keeping opposing hitters from driving in a run. To put this in perspective, A.J. Burnett of the New York Yankees has thrown 3027 pitches, of which 103 earned runs have scored against him. That is 3.40% of his pitches that have changed the scoreboard.
In baseball, percentages are everything. Justin Verlander has faced 910 batters thus far. An average number of at bats for a hitter is roughly 600. So you can see that Verlander, has in essence, been accountable for more at bats than any every day player.
Of the 910 batters faced, remember that 238 of them ended with the hitter walking back to the dugout. 26.15% of the batters that Verlander has faced, he has solely dominated the at bat-(no defense needed). Out of the 910 batters, Verlander has allowed 163 hits, as well as, 53 walks. That is a total of 216 base runners or 23.74% of batters faced. The other 50% or so of batters were stymied by the defense, which in fact begins with the pitcher.
One pitcher closely resembling Verlanders numbers in the American League is New York Yankees star and Cy Young candidate C.C. Sabathia. Sabathia is having a great year, but looking at the numbers, I see a few standouts. Sabathia has seen 927 batters, of them, 28.91% have reached base by hit or walk. Over 5% higher than Verlander. 23.30% of batters have returned to the dugout by strikeout under Sabathias watch. Nearly 3% less than that of Verlander. Like I stated earlier, percentages are everything.
– Curtis Granderson: Former Detroit Tiger and current New York Yankee Curtis Granderson is having a tremendous year. Let’s take a look behind the obvious numbers, and decide if this every day player is deserving of the MVP award.
640 is the number of plate appearances for Granderson. With 144 hits and 79 walks, Curtis is currently sitting on a .369 on base percentage. While the percentage looks decent on paper, .369 isn’t even good enough to crack the top ten in the American League. While his home runs, runs, and RBI totals are good enough for second or better in the league, one must consider who protects him in his lineup on a daily basis.
Given the fact that a hitter may play every game, he is still only accountable for 1/9th of the offense. Using simple math to calculate how many at bats a team will experience over the course of a year we’ll assume 9 batters accumulate 600 at bats. That’s 5400 at bats per year.
Curtis has been on base 223 times. So Curtis Granderson has been on base equivalent to 4.13% of his teams total at bats. To put this in perspective, we need to look at Barry Bonds MVP year of 2004. Bonds had 609 plate appearances of which he reached base safely with a .609 on base percentage. 367 times he reached safely by walk or hit. Taking the roughly 5400 team at bats that year, Bonds was on base equivalent to 6.80% of his teams total at bats. I know the 2.67% higher total than Grandersons doesn’t look like much, but remember percentages are everything.
Baseball is a team game, sure position players are on the field night in and night out, but pitchers who start every 5th day need to get the credit they deserve. If the Yankees were to replace Granderson with a guy with 50 less times on base, would they still be a contender? You bet.
Brett Gardner has an on base percentage of .349 this year. He has been on base 178 times to Grandersons 223. That is good for 3.30% of the teams at bats. You can see that not even a full percent over the course of the year seperate run scoring opportunities between Granderson and Gardner. It makes Bonds MVP numbers look more astonishing.
Now lets close the deal looking at one more thing. Since one pitch can change history, let’s look at Grandersons numbers compared to the number of pitches he’s seen. Granderson as of today has looked at 2857 pitches.
That is 2857 chances to inflict damage upon an opposing pitcher. Of those 2857 pitches, Granderson has successfully hit 144 of them for base hits. That is good for a success rate of 5%. How does that stack up against other MVP candidates? Adrian Gonzalez has 197 hits out of 2489 pitches, good for a success rate of 7.91%. Gonzalez also owns a higher on base percentage of .407.
With all of the glory of being an every day player, comes with it the fact that baseball is a sport of failure. When a player fails 2/3 of the time at the plate, they are considered a stud. If a pitcher failed 2/3 of the time on the mound, they would be bagging groceries at the grocery store in no time.
Looking at the numbers, it’s safe to say, that even though a pitcher only takes the field 1/5th of the time. Pitchers are responsible for more pitches and more at bats than even the every day guy who plays on the all star team.
With the game on the line would you rather have the guy who fails 2/3 of the time, or the no-hitting, heat-throwing, dominating guy on the hill who single-handedly sends more people back to the bench than the he allows to reach base against him?
Like I said, hitters have the Silver Slugger, pitchers have the Cy Young, defenders have the Gold Glove, but there is only one MVP in baseball this year- Justin Verlander!
Adam Brandt is an author and avid baseball fan.
Resources used to compile the numbers, baseball-reference.com