Monday, November 21, 2011

I just....don't...get it, do I?

Great Dr. Evil title, really excited about it. Moving on.

Can somebody please give me a rational explanation as to how Justin Verlander can be named 2011 AL MVP but 1999 Pedro Martinez was only good for second? For all you wise guys, I'm not looking for "He had more voting points."

 Don't get me wrong: I believe Justin Verlander deserved to be this year's Most Valuable Player. Honestly. He had a hell of a season, which we'll get to shortly. And, as a Facebook friend pointed out to me, just because they got it wrong then doesn't mean they have to get it wrong now. And I completely agree. I just want answers and I want them from the writer (or writers) who completely left Pedro off their 1999 ballots after arguably the most transcendent pitching season in the history of America's Pastime (yeah, I said it). And there was at least one writer who falls under this category. The sick thing is that George King of the New York Post was one of those writers who left Pedro off, saying pitchers didn't deserve the MVP because they're not everyday players. Yet ONE SEASON before that, King voted for not one, but TWO pitchers in his top 10: Rick Helling (Jesus Christ, seriously?) and David Wells (obviously, he was a Yankee).
Allow me to go a little deeper to really drive the point home:
Pedro in '99: 2.07 ERA
Wells in '98: 3.49 ERA
Helling in '98: 4.41 (!!) ERA

I'll save all my good stats for later.

As soon as whoever tabulates the ballots realized King did what he did, especially as a blatant Yankee homer, he should have been relieved of his duties. I just spent some time trying to discover whether King still has a vote or not, but to no avail, though some signs point to yes. I'll save those words for later and focus on the argument at hand. Aside from voter bias, why would Verlander win the MVP, but not Pedro? I know stats are flawed because you can pick and choose, so let's go primarily with the ones talked about most in the media.

Verlander: 24-5, 2.40 ERA, 250K/57BB, 0.920 WHIP, 24 HR allowed, 8.6 WAR, 6.2 H/9
Martinez: 23-4, 2.07 ERA, 313K/37BB, 0.923 WHIP, 9 HR allowed, 8.4 WAR, 6.8 H/9

Analysis: Very slight edge to Verlander in regards to wins, WHIP, WAR and H/9. Moderate edge to Martinez in ERA. Significant edge to Martinez in K/BB ratio (over 8:1 against less than 5:1) and HR allowed. Both pitchers led their teams to the playoffs. It looks to me like, head-to-head (obviously not the real-life case, but bear with me), Martinez out-duels Verlander by a moderate margin.
One more thing. I know postseason performance doesn't go into the voting and that's fine, but if you don't remember exactly how dominant Pedro was in 1999, check out his three playoff outings (he got injured in Game 1 against the Cleveland Indians, who featured Roberto Alomar and Manny Ramirez. For the record, Alomar and Ramirez tied for third in the AL MVP voting in 1999).
ALDS Game 1: 4 IP, 3H, 0R, 1BB, 3K (Sox lose 3-2)
ALDS Game 5 (In relief): 6 IP, 0H, 0R, 3BB, 8K (Sox win 12-8. That's right, he entered with the game tied 8-8 in the fourth and Cleveland wouldn't get another hit the rest of the season).
ALCS Game 3: 7 IP, 2H, 0R, 2BB, 12K (Sox win, against Roger Clemens, 13-1. It was their only win of the series).
Add 'em up: 17 IP, 5H, 0R, 6BB, 23K. Fighting injury. Yeah.

Oh, and remember that '99 All-Star Game at Fenway, with the Monster begging the big boppers to knock one out? True, it also doesn't go toward MVP voting, but just for fun, here's what Pedro did:
Barry Larkin, strikeout. Larry Walker (who hit .379 that season), strikeout. Sammy Sosa (who hit 63 bombs that year), strikeout. Mark McGwire (who hit 65), strikeout. Matt Williams then reached on an error. Finally, Jeff Bagwell, strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play. Five Ks, six hitters.

Now for the winner in 1999 (Ivan Rodriguez) compared to 2011's runner-up (Jacoby Ellsbury).

[Before I continue, please don't confuse this blog as a pitch for Ellsbury winning this year. If I had a vote, I'd have voted for Verlander. Also, I would have voted for Martinez in 1999. As a 14-year-old.]

Rodriguez: .332 BA, .356 OBP, 29 doubles, 1 triple, 35 homers, 113 RBI, 116 runs, 25 SB, 335 TB, 6.9 WAR, 7 Errors, 20.0 Fielding Rating.
Ellsbury: .321 BA, .376 OBP, 46 doubles, 5 triples, 32 homers, 105 RBI, 119 runs 38 SB, 364 TB, 7.2 WAR, 0 Errors, 15.6 Fielding Rating.

Analysis: Fielding wise, it's tough to say simply because Ellsbury plays a position which lends itself to fewer errors than the catching position (though he didn't commit an error and won a Gold Glove). Rodriguez was renowned for his uncanny ability to throw out base stealers, so I'm willing to concede a moderate edge to Rodriguez. (By the way, I realize this is incredibly abstract, but good luck explaining why I'm doing a worse job than the BBWAA). Rodriguez has a slight/moderate edge in batting average and slight edges in homers and RBIs. Ellsbury has a significant edge in stolen bases, doubles and total bases (OK, they go hand in hand to a certain point), a slight/moderate edge in triples and a slight edge in WAR. I think here, you could make a decent case for either to have had the better season. However, Pudge made the playoffs, Ellsbury didn't.

So, assuming you agree with what I've written (here's hoping), Pedro had a better year than Verlander. Verlander, via winning the 2011 AL MVP, had a better season than Ellsbury. And Rodriguez falls somewhere between Verlander and Ellsbury. In any event, Pedro is tops. Of course.

I understand it's a lot of stats to digest and probably a lot of convolution to go along with them, but it should have been crystal clear to voters in 1999 that Pedro was the best player in the league. Perhaps the best argument for a starting pitcher is that they have a bigger impact throughout the course of a season than position players, fielding notwithstanding. In '99, Pudge faced pitchers 630 times. Martinez faced hitters 835 times. In 2011, Ellsbury faced pitchers 729 times. Verlander faced hitters 969 times. But hey, everyday players are more important, right?

Nevertheless, what's done is done. Pedro won't retroactively win the '99 AL MVP (barring a steroids scandal that tops the Canseco/Greenwell debate).
But good can come out of this. The baseball writer who refused to cast a vote for a pitcher in 1999, yet decided to do so in 2011 should have his privileges revoked. The one thing people seem to want out of the award system is consistency and set guidelines for who, exactly, is MVP during a given season. That's what the award is all about. Unfortunately, there is at least one individual who has not been able to grasp that concept.

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