Justin Verlander Was Outstanding, But Jose Bautista Truly Had Most ‘Value’ in 2011


Justin Verlander Was Outstanding, But Jose Bautista Truly Had Most 'Value' in 2011The horse couldn't be any deader, but Monday's announcement that Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander had been named American League MVP provided another opportunity to beat it.

Jose Bautista was the MVP in 2011.

The case is old, but since it's been a while since baseball season ended, here's a refresher: Bautista was far and away the best offensive player in the AL last season. He blew away Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury in home runs, on-base percentage and slugging — the statistics independent of teammates' performance. Ellsbury had more hits largely because Bautista drew 80 more walks, and more RBIs only because Bautista batted behind such all-timers as Yunel Escobar, Corey Patterson, Rajai Davis and Mike McCoy.

This isn't about comparing Bautista to Ellsbury, though. This isn't even about comparing Bautista to Verlander, honestly. It's about how the concept of "value" has been twisted around in an odd way in sports.

Verlander undoubtedly got Brownie points because he led the Tigers to the playoffs with 24 wins, a 2.40 earned run average and 250 strikeouts in 251 innings. Bautista's own gaudy numbers, however, were the product of a team that finished 10 games out of a wild-card spot.

Numerous voters have stated that a player cannot be the "most valuable" if he comes from a non-contending team, making sports the only place such a definition of "value" is applied.

If the most valuable diamond in the world were owned by a homeless person, the second-most valuable diamond in the world wouldn't magically become the "most valuable" just because it was owned by a billionaire. The most valuable diamond is the most valuable diamond, no matter who owns it. That's the way "value" is measured in every other walk of life.

Not so in sports. If the absolute best baseball player in the world plays for a last-place team his entire career, he stands virtually no chance of ever being named MVP. Players who are slightly — or even significantly — inferior will collect hardware if they have the good fortune to play for contenders.

(Yeah, Alex Rodriguez won the award with the last-place Rangers in 2003. So did Andre Dawson in 1987. Those are the only examples of that happening in the past 30 years.)

Being careful to use lower-case letters here, Bautista was the most valuable player last season because, given the choice of one player's 2011 performance in all of baseball to have on their team for 162 games, savvy baseball people would choose either Bautista or Verlander. And, if pressed, they would go with Bautista, because as an everyday player he was able to contribute to his team on a more consistent basis.

That's not true of every pitcher-hitter comparison. As my colleague Mike Hurley so effectively argues, Pedro Martinez was the rightful MVP in 1999 despite appearing in 113 fewer games than the official winner, Ivan Rodriguez. (The argument starts with Pedro's 8.3 WAR that season compared to Pudge's 6.0 WAR, but it hardly ends there, as Hurley makes clear.)

Nearly every column or opinion arguing against Bautista's MVP candidacy includes a sentence that begins, "Bautista was the best everyday player in the AL in 2011, except … ." Stop. The debate should pretty much end there. If Bautista was "the best," he was "the most valuable," and the most valuable player should be the Most Valuable Player.

Congratulations, Joey Bats. You're my MVP. That and $2 U.S. will get you a cup of coffee at Dunkin' Donuts, or $2.07 Canadian at a currency exchange in Toronto.

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