The unanimous American League Cy Young Award winner, Justin Verlander can now add another prestigious piece of hardware to his trophy room after winning the American League Most Valuable Player Award on Monday.
Verlander proved that he was not only the best pitcher throughout the season by capturing the AL pitching triple crown (24 wins, 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts), but also the best player thanks to such a deep pool of great hitters spread throughout the league. You would think that would have lessened his chances at winning, but in retrospect, there was really no one standout hitter, which was apparent in the Baseball Writers of America's voting. Five different hitters received first place votes, and yet, all of them finished behind Verlander, who had 13.
Verlander is the first pitcher to win both MVP and the Cy Young since the Oakland Athletics' Dennis Eckersley in 1992 and the first starter in either league to win MVP since the Boston Red Sox's Roger Clemens in 1986. So, we know pitchers are capable of winning MVP. Eckersley and Clemens set a precedent, though not much has come of it because hitters have over the course of baseball's inception have won a majority of MVP awards.
However, Verlander winning the MVP, in the current league where the limelight shines brightly on hitters, hasn't re-established the precedent--he's amplified it, not only showing that pitchers can be as much, if not more deserving of the award than hitters, but also possibly convincing voters and viewers alike that pitchers who have a strong body of work and have carried their teams throughout a season should be more heavily considered.
And a playoff run is important, too. Clemens led the Red Sox to 95 regular-season wins and the World Series in 1986, Eckersley capped 51 regular-season saves and one ALCS save in 1992 for the A's and Verlander led the Detroit Tigers to a 95-win regular season, a first-time AL Central division title for the team and an ALCS appearance against the Texas Rangers.
What's more is that Clemens, Eckersley and Verlander all blew away their competition in voting. In 1986, Clemens had 19 first-place votes, while Don Mattingly finished second with five. Eckersley has 15 first-place votes, while Kirby Puckett finished second with three. Jacoby Ellsbury finished behind Verlander with just four first-place votes.
The lasting point here is that a combination of great numbers, a playoff run and a wide array of talented hitters around the league can give way to a pitcher at least being in the MVP discussion and even receiving some votes. But, at the same time, to solidify himself among top vote-getters, that pitcher must also blow away the pitching competition.
And that's what Verlander did.
Maybe if the Tampa Bay Rays' James Shields, the next pitcher after Verlander on the voting list for MVP, had won four or five more games (he had won 16), an ERA about half a point lower (he had a 2.82 ERA) and 10 to 20 more strikeouts (he had 225), then Verlander wouldn't have been so easily chosen. And maybe both Verlander and Shields would have been among the top of the voting list, decreasing further the chances a hitter would win the award.
Nevertheless, the results of this year's AL MVP voting, predicated by Verlander's dominance, will have more scrutinizing eyes on pitchers going forward. Now it will be up to the pitchers, not just the voters favorable of hitters, more than ever to finally put the precedent to rest.