Every sport nominates an MVP at the end of the season. This person usually comes forward as, well, the most valuable player. But more than that, they are the one person who stands out above every other player in that particular league. In the NBA, James Harden was named MVP for the 2017/2018 season. In the NFL, it was Tom Brady who won that coveted award. In the MLB last year, it was both Jose Altuve and Giancarlo Stanton. So who will it be this year? Well, it might not be who you think. In fact, this coveted award might be given to a pitcher. Gasp.
We all know that Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals is the best pitcher in the game. That’s not up for debate. But is he the best player in the league? Let’s look at it. He is a three-time Cy Young winner and is 10-3 with a 2.09 ERA. He’s leading right now with 161 strikeouts in 107.2 innings pitched. In one of those innings, with nine pitches – all three were strikes, and all three were strikeouts. This was against the Tampa Bay Rays on June 5th. What’s incredible is that it’s not the first time that he’s done that. This would be his second of such innings in his career.
Only 11 pitchers have won an MVP since 1956 when the Cy Young Award was first introduced. Clayton Kershaw is the most recent winner, going 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2014, earning 18 first-place votes. But does that mean that Scherzer could actually do it? It’s possible. Scherzer’s 2018 season is right on par with Kershaw’s in 2014, and even superior to Justin Verlander’s AL MVP in 2011. Scherzer is striking out 39% of batters, while walking 6%, giving him a K-BB% rate of 33 percent. A pitcher’s K-BB% is preferred to other strikeout and walk ratios such as strikeouts per nine innings or strikeout-to-walk ratio because of its greater predictive value in assessing a pitcher’s talent.
Not only that, but Scherzer leads the league in wins above replacement with 4.6 fWAR in 2018. Which includes almost a full win more than New York Mets star Jacob deGrom (3.8 fWAR) and more value than Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman (3.5 fWAR), the top batter in the NL. Leading the league in fWAR is significant because the past six NL MVP winners have all led the league in fWAR and so have nine of the past 10. Kershaw led the league in fWAR in 2014 (8.1 fWAR), the year that he was named the NL MVP.
Stats aside, a pitcher winning MVP is a bit of a long shot. Can it be done? Absolutely. As I’ve mentioned, it has been done, but the truth is the pitcher has a bit of a different role when it comes to baseball. Not that the role is any less than other players, but that’s just how the game is played. Regardless of that, though, it would be incredible to see a pitcher win the MVP this year. It gives the game some much-needed edge.