Rarely have there been many seasons where the baseball MVP award, for either league, has a run away winner, especially since so many voters have a different a opinion of what MVP means. The 2011 season has been no different with candidates ranging from Curtis Granderson, Jose Bautista, Jacoby Ellsbury, Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia, Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander. Obviously all of these players have played major roles in contributing to their teams’ success, but determining who has had the most exciting and impressive stats on a contender (which is generally how voters define MVP) is where Verlander separates himself.
Of all the other MVP contenders none of the hitters are putting numbers that have rarely been touched. Verlander is either the leader or ranked in the top three in nearly every pitching category and is ranked second in WAR (wins above replacement) trailing only the Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista. He is on pace to win the AL pitching triple crown (leading the league in wins, ERA and strike outs), something that has only been done five times since World War II. While he doesn’t play every day, he certainly has made the most of his opportunities twenty seven of his thirty two starts have been quality starts. Not to mention Verlander has become must see TV, as fans are eager to see his 100 mph fastball and threat of throwing a no hitter every start.
At the beginning of the season the Tigers had division title expectations, but were desperate for a leader to emerge who could push them over their post 2006 funk. Verlander made this team his own from day one and has been the driving force all season long, that put this team into position to contend. The Detroit Tigers have become a complete team the past 20 games, compiling a 17-3 record and running away with AL Central in the process. They have received break out seasons from unexpected places (Avial & Peralta), dominant performances from the bullpen, under appreciated great seasons from their stars (Cabrera & Martinez) and a huge lift from deadline deals (Fister, Young, Betemit) but none of them have had the impact of Verlander.
Clearly the biggest knock against Verlander winning the MVP is that he doesn’t play every day, but few players have the same impact Verlander has had every five days. The other MVP candidates teams would likely still be contenders without them, but when Verlander takes to the hill the Tigers transform into one of the best teams in baseball and the last pitcher any team wants to face in the playoffs. This transformation help build confidence in the team and also help the front office realize relying on long time veterans weren’t going to get it done. The Tigers would have likely been sellers at the trade deadline or would have had to mortgage their future to claw their way back into the race if not for Verlander. Verlander’s special season has been filled with amazingAt the end of the day Verlander and the Tigers are far more focused on bringing home their fifth World Series title, but Verlander’s magical 2011 season should end with the Cy Young and MVP awards.