Pitchers and the MVP Award

This year, the National League has two solid contenders for their Most Valuable Player award: Right fielder Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins and pitcher Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Just as three years ago when Justin Verlander won the AL MVP, there’s a lot of the same old debate as to whether or not pitchers should even be allowed to be eligible for the Most Valuable Player award.

The first argument, that pitchers already have the Cy Young award and thus they should not be eligible, is bullcrap. Compared to the MVP award (which goes back to 1911), the Cy Young is quite new. It was first awarded in 1956, and separate awards for each league didn’t begin until 1967. In the years when there was only the MVP award, 14 out of the 41 MVPs awarded went to pitchers. One-third…. So you really cannot use that argument. If you believe in that logic, then rookies cannot be eligible for either because they have the Rookie of the Year award… Bogus, right?

The other argument, the one that never seems to go away, is that “pitchers aren’t everyday players”, so they don’t contribute as much as someone in the lineup every day, instead of every fifth game.

The fundamental conflict in baseball is that between a pitcher and a batter. For every “plate appearance” (PA) by a batter, the double entry bookkeeping of baseball means that there is one “PA” on the pitcher’s ledger. Every chance for a batter to do something is also a chance for a pitcher to do something. Every pitch seen by a batter is thrown by a pitcher. Every single “outcome” on a baseball field involves the pitcher as well as the batter.

While “regular players” will be in more games than pitchers, a pitcher will have more “plate appearances” in each game than an individual “regular player”. They have to face nine “regular players” each game.

Let’s do some math.

A “regular player”, like Stanton, will have four or five Plate Appearances every game. So every five games, that’s about 20 to 25 times where he comes up to the plate. While a pitcher like Kershaw will only play in one out of every five (or so) games, he faces around six or seven innings of batters. With three outs per inning, and allowing for a few hits, walks, hit batsmen, and double plays, that comes out to 20 to 30 batters faced over the course of a “once in five days” appearance. Better pitchers will face fewer batters per inning, but will be out there for more innings each game.

So when you look at Total Plate Appearances, there’s no difference at all between a pitcher and a “regular player”.

How about some actual stats?

Here’s the breakdown for the past few MVPs:


Year

Player

Plate Appearances

Games

PA per 5 Games
2013 Andrew McCutchen 674 157 21.5
2013 Miguel Cabrera 652 148 22.0
2012 Buster Posey 610 148 20.6
2012 Miguel Cabrera 697 161 21.6
2011 Ryan Braun 629 150 21.0
2010 Joey Votto 648 150 21.6
2010 Josh Hamilton 571 133 21.5

You’ll note there’s one player missing from that list. In 2011, pitcher Justin Verlander won both the AL Cy Young Award and the AL MVP Award. Needless to say, they were having these same arguments then. So, what were Verlander’s numbers that year?


Year

Player

Batters Faced

Games

Batters per Game
2011 Justin Verlander 969 34 28.5

In one game, a starting pitcher faces on average more batters than a position player comes up to the plate in five games.

Now, what about Stanton and Kershaw? Here’s the breakdown as of 9/16/14:

Giancarlo Stanton: 638 plate appearances in 145 games = 22.0 PA’s every 5 games.

Clayton Kershaw: 693 batters faced in 25 games = 27.7 PA’s per game

On average, a top starter faces as many batters in one start as an “everyday player” has plate appearances in SIX games. And have you ever heard anyone complain that rookie pitchers shouldn’t be eligible for the Rookie of the Year award because they “don’t play every day”? Forget about the fielding argument, too. Once the ball leaves their hand, pitchers have to field their position just like any other player. Pitchers aren’t “everyday players”…. my ass……

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