As the pages fall off the calendar and teams ready themselves for the postseason, conversations about the MVP races will quickly heat up. Already, discussions are being launched and debates are taking shape. One of the key debates that will likely get a lot of coverage is that of a pitcher receiving the MVP award.
There’s really no question that Justin Verlander and Roy Halladay are the best pitchers in the game, maybe even the best players. But they won’t receive serious MVP consideration. A starting pitcher has not received an MVP award since 1986.
And this is for good reason.
Proponents of pitchers receiving the MVP will point to the overall dominance and stats of pitchers like Verlander and Halladay. Advanced metrics will show Halladay leading all of the National League in WAR and they will show Verlander fourth in the American League. I’m a big fan of advanced metrics, but like any other statistic, they have flaws.
For example, WAR is best viewed in comparison with players of the same position. Fangraphs even points out the need for positional adjustments when reviewing WAR. Pitchers have different responsibilities than fielders. Whether you feel that makes them more valuable or less is up to you, just remember that WAR is difficult to apply across all positions accurately. Pitchers play every fifth day where position players play everyday. There is more of an everyday value added for position players.
This argument is not to say pitchers don’t play an integral role in success. The argument is simply that MVP awards are better designed for position players.
I’m going to bring up an old argument, but hopefully I’ll shed new light on it. The best pitcher is awarded the Cy Young each year based on voter opinions. What award do batters have that only applies to them? The Silver Slugger (the batting average title). But the problem with this award is in it’s value. It awards based on batting average only. A player may finish with the highest on-base percentage and lose out on the Silver Slugger to someone with a higher batting average. The point is, the Silver Slugger does not reward the best position player. It rewards the player who gets the most hits as a ratio of at-bats.
So if pitchers have the Cy Young and, for the sake of this argument, we’ve determined position players do not have a best all around player award, there are really only two solutions. Give the MVP to a position player as the trend has been, or create a new award just for position players and open the MVP voting up to everyone. Theoretically, the MVP voting is already open to everyone, but the fact that pitchers have the Cy Young award is always in the back of voters minds. By creating a separate award for the best all-around position player, voters would be freed and able to objectively determine an MVP, even if that player is a pitcher.
Unless that happens though, the MVP should go to the best position player and the Cy Young to the best pitcher.