I don’t know if he will. There’s a pretty strong anti-pitcher bias in MVP voting. People seem to think that pitchers have the Cy Young award, and so they shouldn’t compete for the MVP. An even more common argument is that a starting pitcher only plays once per five games, whereas a position player might play all 162 games in a season.
Let’s think about that for a moment. It’s true that a position player will take the field every day. But that really only matters with respect to defense. In a typical season, Albert Pujols will have well over 1,000 chances and put-outs (i.e. plays at first base). A pitcher will typically only have about 100 for the season. There’s no doubt that the defensive impact of an everyday player will be way higher than that of a pitcher.
But let’s not kid ourselves. MVP awards are not given to players based on their defense. What matters most is what the batters do with their at-bats, and what pitchers do when they face batters. And here is where things get interesting. Let’s take a look at Curtis Granderson, one person frequently touted as an MVP possibility. This year he has 553 at-bats in 659 plate appearances. Justin Verlander, on the other hand, has pitched 244 innings. That’s 732 batters he has retired! When you factor in the batters he didn’t retire (i.e. hits and walks allowed), Verlander has faced far more batters this season than Granderson has faced pitchers. So is it really fair to say that a position player obviously must contribute more? I don’t think so. A position player will have the opportunity to contribute to winning during a greater number of games, but in no game will he contribute as much as a starting pitcher does the day he takes the mound.
So when you consider the competition, you’ve got Granderson, who is playing for a division winner but is batting .268, and Jose Bautista, who is batting very well but plays for a team that is in 4th place in its division. Then there is Verlander, who pitches for a division winner and leads the league in wins, ERA, strikeouts, innings pitched, WHIP, and hits allowed per inning pitched.
Of course, baseball has long had a struggle between those who like to evaluate things using numbers, and the Luddites who think their own gut and biases count as insight. Here’s how one Boston sports writer put it today:
We are now hearing about how, well, Verlander pitches to X batters a game, which is the equivalent of a batter having X number of plate appearances over the course of the season.
Hey, nice try, but just please go away. Pitchers pitch to batters; that’s what they do. It doesn’t change the fact that their essential nature is not that of an everyday player, and there remains no valid way to evaluate properly their respective contributions, so why even try?
Wow! That’s convincing, isn’t it?
Actually, there are ways to evaluate contributions, such as by calculating WAR (wins over replacement) value. These types of analyses look at how many wins a player is responsible for compared with an average player at his position. Historically, pitchers have done pretty well compared with batters.