Exceptional Verlander rates MVP exception

by | Sep 23, 2011 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

Go on. Get out your scale.

Forget that we are from Detroit. Forget that we love the Tigers. Put your guys on one side and Justin Verlander on the other.

And let’s see who’s MVP.

Forget that Verlander is the best theater in baseball right now. Forget that it is appointment TV to see him pitch. Forget that he hasn’t lost since the Civil War, that he is having the best season of any Tigers pitcher in decades and the best winning run of any pitcher in possibly 62 years – which was the last time a major leaguer, according to Baseball-Reference.com, won 13 straight starts, something Verlander aims to do Saturday night.

Forget that.

Let’s just focus on the word “valuable.” The “V” in MVP. That is what the award is supposed to signify, right? Not biggest bat, niftiest glove or flashiest numbers?

Valuable? Is there any question that, if you took Verlander off this Tigers team, it would not be making the playoffs? Valuable? Is there any question that Verlander was a human tourniquet for nearly every Tigers slump this year – they lose two, he wins one, end of slump?

Valuable? Did you know he has not exited any game this year earlier than the seventh inning? When he battles into the eighth or ninth (four complete games), think of how he rests the bullpen for the next night.

Valuable? He didn’t lose a game in May, June, August or – so far – September. And he didn’t exactly eke out his 24 victories. Most of them he earned while choking the opposing bats (only seven times has he surrendered four or more runs, and six times he hasn’t surrendered any).

Are we tilting the scale?

Check out the hitting competition

Let’s go esoteric. The argument that pitchers should not win Most Valuable Player Award because they don’t play every day. Dumb argument – because they do win it. Dennis Eckersley got one as a closer in 1992. Roger Clemens got one as a starter in 1986 (in a season absolutely comparable to Verlander’s this year).

Even Tigers manager Jim Leyland has changed his tune. “There was some spark about that because my opinion was that pitchers shouldn’t win it,” he told me this week, “but under the rules, a pitcher can … and I think (Verlander) just put himself to the head of the class…. I would have to give him my vote.”

Now I hear what critics say. I hear it with a New York or Boston accent. “Of course Leyland says that; Verlander is his guy.”

Well, aren’t they likely arguing for the Red Sox’s Adrian Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia – or the Yankees’ Curtis Granderson – because they’re “their” guys?

And as long as we’re on that subject, let’s compare. Gonzalez is having a monster year numerically. No question. Leads the league in batting average, near the top in RBIs. And his team is fighting for the playoffs. (Which is one knock against Toronto’s Jose Bautista.)

But has Gonzalez been near-singlehandedly responsible for at least 15 victories – as you could argue Verlander has?

Besides, Gonzalez went nearly a month without a home run, and is rivaled for the award by the speedy Pedroia. How can he be the most valuable player in the league when you’re not sure he’s the most valuable player on his team?

If Justin were a Yankee …

As for Granderson? Great guy. Fantastic power season. Could lead the league in homers and triples. But his batting average is .270, a major numerical flaw for an MVP-hitting candidate.

Verlander has no weak spot in his numbers. He leads the league in victories, strikeouts and ERA. What else can he dominate? Shoe size?

I recently asked Verlander, 28, why he thought he was having this kind of year.

“It’s been a conscious effort by me to, early in the game, slow things down and try to create a platform for myself … for my mechanics and rhythm,” he said. “I’m focusing on hitting my spots, 91, 93 (m.p.h.) and then, come the seventh or eighth inning, I throw harder, because there’s no point in holding back….

“I save my bullets.”

He has a few left for Saturday night. And we’ll learn his postseason bang soon enough.

But this is undeniably an exceptional year, an exceptional performance, and it should be rewarded exceptionally – which means break with the norm.

Lose the pitcher prejudice. We won’t see a run like this for a while. If he were on the Yankees or the Red Sox, he’d already be a lock.

Give it to Verlander.

Forget we’re from Detroit.

But can we talk about Jose Valverde?…

Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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