In a recent post suggesting that CC Sabathia should have come higher than fourth in the Cy Young voting, I casually mentioned that I do not believe that pitchers should be eligible to win the MVP. I didn’t develop that thought further because I was writing a post about the Cy Young voting. Then, Justin Verlander went ahead and won the AL MVP. In light of that I wanted to explain my opposition to allowing pitchers to win the MVP, and put forward what I believe an ideal set of baseball awards would be.
I have two major objections to pitchers winning the MVP award. The first is that it takes a considerable media narrative for them to win. Justin Verlander was undoubtedly the best pitcher in the AL this year, but it wasn’t at all clear that he was the best player over all. If Fangraphs WAR is to be trusted at all (bear with me, but there are virtually no statistics that allow for such easy comparisons between pitchers and batters) then not only was Verlander not the best pitcher in the AL this year, he wasn’t close to as valuable as Jacoby Ellsbury or Jose Bautista. Verlander won the award because he had a tremendous season that the media latched onto to create MVP hype as well as Cy Young hype. While Verlander was great, so were a lot of other players, specifically position players who are ineligible to win the Cy Young award.
Due to the outsize role the media plays in selecting a pitcher as the MVP there is no rhyme or reason to which pitchers win and which don’t, except that a pitcher is more likely to win in a year in which there is not a clear position player winner on a playoff team. As a result, there is not a clear performance level that a pitcher must eclipse to get MVP consideration. If a position player bats over .300, has 30 or more homers and knocks in 100 or more runs it is obvious that he will feature in the MVP conversation. But pitchers get attention for the award randomly and unfairly. Dennis Eckersley won the MVP in 1992, in a year in which he was worth only 3 fWAR, 3 bWAR, and pitched just 80 innings. There is no way humanly possible he deserved the Cy Young, let alone the MVP. Pedro Martinez, meanwhile, had super human seasons in 1999 and 2000, but didn’t win the MVP (although he did come close in 1999). In either season Pedro was light years ahead of Verlander this year or Eckersley any year, but Ivan Rodriguez had good enough a season in 1999 that the writers gave him the MVP. Pedro was punished unfairly. So long as the media only considers pitchers for the MVP in unusual seasons they shouldn’t be eligible for the MVP, for the sake of not punishing great pitchers who have excellent years in seasons when there are clear position player winners.
The other reason pitchers should not be considered for the MVP is because they have their own award. We call this award the Cy Young award. We’ve named it for baseball’s most famous pitcher because it is an award we have just for pitchers. This award was created because it is difficult to compare pitchers to position players and position players are more likely to win the MVP than pitchers. The baseball world wanted to celebrate pitchers every season. Now that we do this, can we please stop punishing position players? The very same logic that makes hitters ineligible for the Cy Young makes a compelling case why pitchers should not be allowed to win the MVP. It is difficult to compare their contributions, and they play different roles on their teams. Rather than insult some position players some years when a pitcher wins the MVP and some pitchers in other years when a great pitching performance is not considered for the MVP, these awards should be separated completely to acknowledge the distinct, but comparably important contributions pitchers and position players give their teams.
In an idea world baseball would have three annual awards: The MVP, which would be just for position players, the Cy Young and the Mariano Rivera Award. I can’t take credit for the Mo Award. One of the readers of the old Yankeeist site mentioned this idea in our comments section, but it would be an award available only to the best relief pitcher in baseball, named for the greatest relief pitcher in the game’s history. Baseball needs three separate awards for the three distinct roles on the field. This way there would never be any controversy about who the game celebrates. Starting pitchers would have their award. Batters would have theirs. Relievers would have an award, and Dennis Eckersely in a million years would never be allowed to win anything but an award suited to pitchers who throw fewer than 100 innings in a season.
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