Do Pitchers Deserve MVP Consideration?

When you work a summer job in college, you have downtime. When you have downtime, you go on Facebook. And when you go on Facebook, you get in sports-based arguments with grown men in the comments section of the MLB Network page. You will never catch me talking about politics on social media, or really anywhere in general, because I’d rather listen to that awful sound a fork makes when you drag it across a plate than debate Becky from Ohio on health care. Anyway, I got into a friendly debate (actually friendly, trust me this went very well because I can get VERY triggered when it comes to sports on Facebook) with James from Minnesota and David from Michigan.

The MLB Network post was debating who should be the American League MVP this year, and the three guys they brought up were Jose Altuve, Aaron Judge, and Chris Sale. While Judge was the consensus favorite at the All-Star break, his slump since then has made Altuve the favorite. I agree with this 100%, but anyone who is trying to make a case for anyone besides Judge to win AL Rookie of the Year needs to take a lap, maybe even two. Chris Sale has been unreal for the Red Sox, boasting a 14-4 record with a 2.57 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 229 strikeouts. The guy is gonna be the AL Cy Young award winner, no doubt about it. But does he deserve MVP consideration? Does any pitcher?

The first and most obvious argument is that pitchers obviously play in less games than everyday position players. Sale has made 23 starts thus far this year, while Altuve has played in 110 games. Does a starting pitcher have more impact in a game he starts than a guy like Altuve who will bat 4-5 times and get a few chances in the field? Absolutely. But you can’t tell me that you wouldn’t rather have the best player on your team be a guy who can play every day rather than one who takes the mound every fifth day.

Just two pitchers have won an MVP in the 25 years since Dennis Eckersley won the award in 1992. The Tigers’ Justin Verlander won AL MVP in 2011, and the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw took home NL MVP honors in 2014. Verlander was 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA and 0.92 WHIP and 250 K’s, while Kershaw was 21-3 with a 1.83 ERA and 0.881 WHIP and 239 K’s. So, numbers wise, Sale is not too far off of those seasons. But is he more valuable than Altuve? Or than Judge was in the first half? That depends.

Baseball is a tough sport to employ the “his team would be _________ without him” argument because there are so many guys that have an impact on a team. In basketball, it’s easy. You have 5 guys, and if you’re a star, you play 40+ of the 48 minutes a game. LeBron is far and away the most valuable player in the league and should win MVP every year (that’s an argument for another day.) In his last year in Cleveland the first time, they won 61 games. The next year after he left, with virtually the same roster, they won 19. No one guy is gonna have that kind of impact on a baseball team.

Mike Trout is easily the best player in the game, but that doesn’t mean the Angels are gonna be a good team just because they have him. That being said, I hate the argument that Trout shouldn’t be considered for MVP just because he plays on a bad team (the only reason I’m not considering him this year is because he missed a lot of time with an injury). At the end of the day, you can talk about who plays what position, and for what team, and how good that team is this year, but that’s tough to factor into deciding who should be MVP. Personally, I think you have to look at it this way: who has had the season that if you were a major-league GM, and you were able to draft one player to build your team around for next season, who would that person be? I think this year, Altuve is a no-brainer. A second baseman who bats .365 with decent power numbers and steals 25 bases is more valuable to me than an ace who’s gonna give you a great chance to win, but only every fifth day.

So should pitchers be blackballed from MVP consideration completely? No, I don’t think so. Just like I think relievers should get consideration for the Cy Young award. But 2 pitchers winning the award in the last 25 years sounds about right to me. Most of the time, the player who provides the most value to his team that year will be a guy who’s played every day. But in certain cases, it’ll be a pitcher who propelled his team to another level.

What do you think? Share and comment your opinions on whether or not pitchers should win MVP awards, and who are your MVP picks for this season. Or share and write something like, “wow this guy is an idiot and sucks at writing” and it’ll be hurtful but it gets me page views so do as you please.

3 thoughts on “Do Pitchers Deserve MVP Consideration?”

  1. I’m a big fan of pitchers getting more consideration for the MVP than they have gotten in the past. I like to think that playoffs are a microcosm of the regular season, and more often than not, pitchers get Playoff MVP awards when they win 2 (or 3 if you’re the GOAT like Bumgarner) games in a series. If they can be considered the determining, and the most important, factor in a playoff series, I think they should be equally considered for the same honor during the regular season. Granted, it’s a longer season, but I think the same theories apply if you break it down.

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  2. I always think of MVP by answering the question, “If you replaced this guy with an average player for his position, how much worse would the team be?” In Sale’s case, you could probably assume at the end of the year that the Sox win 11-15 more games than with an average pitcher. Some of those 11-15 are directly caused by the replacement; others are because Sale logs more innings than the potential replacement. That rests the pen and makes the pen more effective in other games. As for Altuve, I don’t know exactly how many games he has “won” over a replacement, but 11-15 seems like reasonable territory in the end. Therefore it should be a good race.

    As for closers, a modern-day 80-innings-per-year closer should never win MVP. Most modern saves are protecting 2- or 3-run leads for one inning, a feat an average reliever can achieve. I’ll only give a reliever the Cy Young if he has an otherworldly season, with 0/1 blown saves or a ridiculous ERA, WHIP, or K/BB ratio.

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  3. I think it is fair to include pitchers in the debate, but I agree: 2 times in 25 years sounds about right. However, I think if Altuve weren’t playing as well this season Sale would be the runaway MVP. Obviously, Judge has tampered off, and if I were voting the order would be Altuve 1, Sale 2. I think it is a coincidence that the past 2 (and Sales 2017) pitcher MVP seasons have been clumped together and wonder why that is. One thing that comes to mind is that most of the guys who hit 35-50 HR in todays game also hit about .250 or less. Its a give or take. No one wants an MVP hitting under .300 unless its a guy hitting .285 + and that player would absolutely need 40+ HR and 110 RBI.

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