Tha Sports Junkies 101

The Warning Track: Pitchers Should Never Win MVP



Pitchers like Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, and Dennis Eckersley have put together some incredible seasons.  But the league’s Most Valuable Player should never be someone who only plays in 30 games.

I’m not saying that pitchers are not valuable.  In fact, a true ace can usually be the most valuable player on the field.  When Clayton Kershaw takes the mound, he tends to be brilliant more often than not, shutting down opposing lineups without breaking a sweat.  There is no doubt that the Dodgers have won baseball games solely on the back on Kershaw.  No position players can boast that feat; only a pitcher can truly control the other teams’ offensive output.  Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball.  He has won three Cy Young Awards, and he even claimed the 2014 National League MVP Award in a truly phenomenal campaign.  Despite his legendary season in 2014, Kershaw arguably should not have won the designation as the league’s Most Valuable Player.  And the same goes for basically every other pitcher to ever win baseball’s highest honor.

The problem with naming a pitcher as the league’s MVP is simple- how can the league’s most valuable player only play every fifth game?  Elite pitchers have incredible value, especially in the postseason.  A dominant performance on the bump in October can be the turning point in a pivotal series.  But a pitcher cannot legitimately lead his team to the playoffs.  Only players that have the ability to impact every single game have that capability.  The Cy Young Award is the pitcher’s edition of the MVP Award.

While I do stand firm on my position that pitchers should never win the Most Valuable Player Award, Kershaw had a legitimate claim to the hardware in 2014.  Then a 26 year-old, Kershaw went 21-3 with a 1.77 earned run average.  He led the league in complete games (6), WHIP (.857), and K/9 (10.8).  The most impressive statistic from the six-time all-star was his FIP.  FIP, which stands for Fielding Independent Pitching, measures a pitcher’s effectiveness at limiting home runs, walks, and hit batsmen and how frequently they create strikeouts.  Since Major League Baseball lowered the pitcher’s mound in 1969, only Pedro Martinez and Dwight Gooden have posted a better FIP than Clayton Kershaw did in 2014.  The other top candidates to win the N.L. MVP that year were Giancarlo Stanton and reigning MVP Andrew McCutchen.  Stanton blasted 37 home runs and had a .288 batting average on his way to a second place finish in the vote.  McCutchen’s .314 average and 25 home run season were not enough to make him a two-time MVP.  2014 may be the lone case where I can’t argue with the choice of a pitcher to win the prestigious award.  Clayton Kershaw‘s legendary season with video game-like numbers was certainly deserving of an MVP.

Just three years prior, Detroit Tigers‘ ace Justin Verlander became the first pitcher to win the award since Dennis Eckersley.  Verlander won 24 games in 2011 for the Tigers.  His 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts led the American League, making him completely worthy of the Cy Young Award.  But should he really have won the American League MVP that year?  Unlike the N.L. in 2014 when Kershaw won, the A.L had plenty of everyday players who were extremely worthy of the award.  Most notably, Red Sox‘ outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury lost out to Verlander.  In 2011, Ellsbury was the complete package; he hit 32 longballs and stole 39 bases while hitting at a .321 clip.  He also won a Gold Glove Award that year.  Some voters likely turned against the all-star due to the fact that Boston collapsed in September to miss the playoffs.  Those voters failed to notice that the collapse had nothing to do with Ellsbury, who hit .358 in the final month with four home runs in the final week of the season alone.

Jacoby Ellsbury should have won the award, but he wasn’t the only candidate worthy.  Jose Bautista batted over .300 and slugged 43 home runs.  His 1.056 OPS led the American League.  Miguel Cabrera was also in the running but came up short.  He led the American League in batting average and on-base percentage while also hitting 30 home runs for the 5th consecutive season.  No matter how you look at it, Justin Verlander was not the right choice to win Most Valuable Player.

1992 marked maybe the most ridiculous voting decision in the history of the award reserved for baseball’s best player.  Atheltics‘ reliever Dennis Eckersley became just the third pitcher to be named as an MVP coming out of the bullpen.  Without a doubt, Eckersley put together a tremendous season as a closer.  He saved 51 games with a sub-2.00 ERA.  But how can the league MVP only play 80 innings in a season where his team plays 1,458?  There’s little doubt in my mind that Kirby Puckett was the American League’s best player in 1992.  The Hall of Famer would hit 19 home runs and drive in 119 while swiping 17 bases.  He batted .329 and won his sixth Gold Glove Award.  The most glaring statistical difference between Eckersley and Puckett was WAR.  According to, Puckett’s WAR was 7.1 while Eckersley only managed 2.9 wins above replacement.  If the 1992 vote occurred today, Puckett would stand a much better chance of capturing the award that was rightfully his.

Just eight years prior to Eckersley winning, Willie Hernandez won the MVP Award as a relief pitcher.  Hernandez pitched almost twice as much as Eckersley did in his MVP campaign.  Over 140 innings, Hernandez pitched to the tune of a 1.92 ERA while only allowing 96 hits.  Ken Hrbek, Don Mattingly, Eddie Murray, and Kirk Gibson all would have been better choices than the Tigers’ reliever, but one player was criminally underscored in the voting.  In 1984, reigning A.L. Most Valuable Player Cal Ripken Jr. posted extremely similar numbers to those from his MVP campaign.  Despite his league-leading 10 Wins Above Replacement, Ripken finished a laughable 27th in the vote.  The two pitchers who finished in the top 3, Willie Hernandez and Dan Quisenberry, didn’t even combine for a WAR that matched Ripken’s.

When you take a look at basically every season in which a pitcher was selected as his league’s MVP, you could make a very compelling case that a position player was deserving.  Up until his injury this year, many people viewed Clayton Kershaw as the favorite to win the N.L. MVP.  Kershaw was having overwhelming success prior to his injury, and there was a case as to why he was deserving.  However, there are multiple position players with a better resume than the three-time Cy Young Award winner.  Kris Bryant has shown that his 2015 Rookie of the Year campaign was no fluke, and Daniel Murphy has been the offensive centerpiece for the Washington Nationals.  When all is said and done, pitchers should never be named the Most Valuable Player.