I won't say I'll deny Verlander MVP but I think in the future they should make it a little clearer and let MVP just be for hitters. At least have it defined so you don't have such a split down the middle.
The Josh Johnson thing, Marlins had to shut him down. Kid has a history of bad injuries and they need him to be the Opening Day starter when they open up the new stadium next year.
Champ, some might not even be ready to give Verlander the Cy Young...Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Earlier this summer, I wrote a piece for Insider based on the Ace Barometer, which is a quick-and-dirty tool I came up with that attempted to use statistics to determine what constitutes a true ace.
The piece received some healthy criticism in the comments section because CC Sabathia didn't fit the criteria. Whether or not he was motivated by what I wrote (and I'm guessing he wasn't), Sabathia has been pitching as if he's out to prove me wrong, going 9-3 with a 2.62 ERA and 118 strikeouts -- to go with only 21 walks -- since that piece was published in late June.
Simply put: The hefty lefty is having his best season since 2008, when he posted a 1.65 ERA in 17 second-half starts for the Milwaukee Brewers. Today, ESPN.com turns its focus to the 2011 awards with a Cover It Live discussion. And although most of the baseball world has pretty much anointed Justin Verlander as the 2011 American League Cy Young winner, Sabathia's case is a lot stronger than most people realize.
Let's start with the numbers. On a basic level, Verlander has the edge with a 2.34 ERA and 224 strikeouts in 223 innings; all three figures lead the league. Sabathia is a step behind with a 2.97 ERA and 211 K's in 218 1/3 innings. He trails only Verlander in the latter two categories on the AL leaderboard. But when put into proper context, you can see that CC has performed better this season.
For starters, Yankee Stadium is a much tougher place to pitch in than Comerica Park. The average ballpark has a park factor of 100, which is Comerica's three-year number, according to Baseball Reference. In other words, it's a neutral park. Yankee Stadium, however, has a park factor of 107. (The higher the number, the more it favors the hitter.) Remarkably, Sabathia has allowed fewer home runs (15) than Verlander (20) despite the fact that his home park features Little League right-field dimensions comparable to what you'd find in Williamsport, Pa.
As good as Verlander has been, he's also been incredibly fortunate on balls in play. His .238 BABIP is the third lowest in the AL this year, and it would tie for the seventh lowest for an ERA qualifier in the AL this century. As a result of this, as well as park factors, Sabathia actually has the lowest FIP in the AL at 2.76; Verlander is third at 2.88.
This all suggests that Sabathia has performed better than Verlander this year but that it's things out of his control -- such as his home park and bad defense/luck -- that have resulted in his allowing 16 more runs this season. And none of these numbers takes into account the biggest thing that Sabathia has going for him: strength of competition.
The top five teams in the AL in runs scored are the Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers. (These are also the top five in terms of wOBA.) Although Sabathia never has to face his own team, two of the other four are in his team's division. The Tigers are no slouches on offense, either, so Verlander also never has to regularly face one of the AL's top offenses. The result? Sabathia has 13 starts against the AL's top five offenses and Verlander has just six -- a difference not accounted for in any metric. And although Sabathia hasn't been great against the Sox, that's what happens when you face great lineups, you get hit. For example, Verlander has allowed six runs in 12 innings against the Yankees this year. And something tells me that if he had twice as many starts against the best offenses, which would still be fewer than Sabathia has, his ERA would go up a few points. (By the way, Sabathia leads all AL pitchers with 6.7 WAR, if you're into that sort of thing.)
One could try to make a philosophical argument and say, "But Verlander is carrying his staff!" The problem with that is that the Yankees' staff after Sabathia is just as pedestrian. Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia and Ivan Nova have had surprisingly good years, but if you had to win one game tomorrow, would you really take any of those guys over Max Scherzer or Doug Fister?
It's almost certain that Verlander will win the Cy Young award, and he'd be a fine choice. But it just goes to show how much a narrative can take over -- people seemed to have decided that Verlander is the winner even though he and Sabathia are incredibly close in terms of value. When put in the proper context, Sabathia has been every bit as good as, if not better than, Verlander this season.