Awarding the Most Valuable Player Award to a pitcher has always been a controversial proposition. Only twice in the current decade has a pitcher won either of Major League Baseball’s two annual MVP Awards, with each MVP being a pitcher coming off completely dominant, memorable season worthy of such a distinction.
Justin Verlander, the 2011 American League MVP, and Clayton Kershaw, the 2014 National League MVP, posted stat lines of 24-5, 2.40 ERA and 21-3, 1.77 ERA in their MVP seasons, during which they (obviously) won the Cy Young Award as well. The argument for a pitcher winning the MVP is always met with dissension from a large number of voters, who argue that pitchers have their own award for season-wide excellence, and therefore the MVP should be presented to position players exclusively.
It’s a fair conclusion, but in special cases like that of Verlander and Kershaw, the MVP goes to the pitcher thanks to an improbably great and special season. On account of this, the NL MVP Award should be given to New York Mets right-hander Jacob deGrom, and nobody should say a thing.
Of course, even the Cy Young Award voting will be a controversy at the end of the season. You might know why, but here is a quick refresher: the Baseball Writers Association of America is heavily populated by 50- and 60-somethings whose only evaluation of a successful pitching season is the hurler’s win-loss total (looking at you, Rick Porcello), and deGrom is 8-8. Tough luck if you are rooting for the Mets ace.
But, while wins still have their value (somewhat, if I’m being generous), wins do not tell the full story for a pitcher and have never done so. Jacob deGrom’s 8-8 is the greatest 8-8 season in the history of baseball, and significantly better than some of the recent 20-win seasons in MLB (still looking at Porcello).Jacob deGrom is 8-8, but it doesn't matter. Not only should the @Mets ace win the Cy Young Award, he should win NL MVP.Click To Tweet
The former NL Rookie of the Year has been the senior circuit’s top pitcher basically since the outset of the season, and leads all NL starters in ERA (1.68), ERA+ (219), fielding independent pitching (2.07) and home runs per nine innings pitched (0.4). He is almost certainly going to set career-highs in innings pitched (188 currently, 201.1 is his best), strikeouts (230 to 239), and WHIP (0.963).
deGrom is putting up historic numbers for a pitcher, and seemingly setting a new statistical record every time he steps on the mound. For instance, the 2018 NL All-Star has allowed three or fewer runs in 25 consecutive starts, a single-season MLB record. Among all pitchers who have qualifying numbers for the ERA title, deGrom has the fourth-best single-season ERA ever, behind Dwight Gooden, Greg Maddux, and Zack Greinke.
Some records are artificial and created from scratch to strengthen a narrative; this is real, this is awesome, and this is happening. By Baseball-Reference WAR, deGrom — unbelievably — has more wins above replacement (8.6) than wins. By FanGraphs WAR, no pitcher is even close to having deGrom’s impact on his team, as the Mets ace leads at 7.4 fWAR, a full win and change over Chris Sale (6.1), Max Scherzer (6.0), and Trevor Bauer (5.9).
You’re probably thinking, “So yeah, he should win the Cy Young Award, but come on man, MVP? You’re being ridiculous. Also, you’re ugly and nobody likes you.” And I get it, excluding the last part because that hurts, but think about the crop of position players against which deGrom is competing.
No everyday guy stands out above the rest as the clear MVP in the NL. Chicago Cubs middle infielder Javier Baez has the best case of any position player (.299, 30 home runs, 100 RBIs, 21 steals, and great defense), but he stands at 5.6 bWAR, three full wins behind deGrom. Freddie Freeman has been sensational for the revamped Atlanta Braves, but you can argue that he hasn’t even been the best player on his team when a healthy Ronald Acuna Jr. walks the dugout.
This season is kind of reminiscent of 2014 in a couple of ways. Kershaw had an elite season that no pitcher in the last decade has stood up to, but the position players in the NL that season fell way behind the pace set by the Dodgers left-hander. Jonathan Lucroy led all NL position players in bWAR at 6.6, 1.6 wins behind Kershaw.
This year is the same: a pitcher has been the National League’s best player by an assortment of metrics. That pitcher may not win the Cy Young or the MVP because that pitcher is 8-8 on the season and plays for a ghastly team. However, that pitcher is deGrom and we have never seen a season like the one he’s having.
To recap: giving a pitcher the MVP Award is not a crime, deGrom has undoubtedly been better than every other player at his spot, it’s fine if deGrom is 8-8 with with countless no-decisions on the season, and no position player is having a certifiable MVP-caliber season. Hey, BBWAA, give Jacob deGrom the Cy Young and the league MVP.