By claiming a trophy on Monday, Detroit’s Justin Verlander threw another can of gasoline into the age-old debate: should pitchers be eligible for the MVP award?

Detractors who say pitchers – in particular, starting pitchers – should not be eligible generally give the same reason.  A starting pitcher plays in only one in every five games.  In 80% of games, he has absolutely no impact on the game. 

I’m firmly in the camp that believes that pitchers should be included in the MVP voting.  I think that some people overestimate the involvement of the other position players.

Within a typical game, there are around somewhere around 250-300 plays.  In general, the critical piece of the play is a pitch (125 – 150 per team per game).  Sometimes the pitch is hit for a homer, sometimes the pitch is a 99 mph heater for strike 3, sometimes the pitch is high and outside for ball 2.  Regardless of the result, the play involves the pitcher putting forth effort.

Let’s use the low estimates of 125 pitches per team per game, or 250 total pitches.  If the pitcher goes 7 innings, he’ll participate in roughy 7/9 of those 125 pitcher, or 97 pitches.  That’s 38.8% of the plays.  Of course, the pitcher only plays in 20% of those games, so we divide that number by 5.  Thus a starting pitching should be actively involved in 7.76% of plays over the course of a season.

That sounds pretty low, huh?

Designated hitters are eligible for MVP consideration.  I’ll pick on the DH because I hate it and wish for it to be abolished.  The DH will typically account for about 11% (1/9) of his team’s at bats.  However, he plays 0% of the time on defense, so he’s involved in 5.5% of plays.  Should we remove DHs from MVP consideration.  (Better yet, abolish it altogether?)

The DH isn’t the best example, of course.  Let’s look at a shortstop.  In the course of the game, the shortstop might be record a “chance” (baseball term for a putout, assist, or errror) on six plays and glove the ball twice more on plays that go for hits.  That’s active involvement in 8 of 125 defensive plays, or 6.4%.  Average that with the 11% (1/9) of offensive plays, and the shortstop’s involvement is 8.7%.  More than the pitcher, but not appreciably so.

True fans might be jumping ahead of me here.  The catcher, of course, is involved in probably 75% of defensive plays (exceptions being balls hits into play and foul balls) as well as 11% of offensive plays – a staggering 43% of all plays!  While that’s true, in the vast majority of those case, the catcher is the tertiary actor.  I’d argue that it’s harder for the pitcher to throw a pinpoint strike, and harder for the hitter to hit the ball, than it is for the catcher to catch the ball and throw in back to the catcher.

What’s my point?

My point is that a starting pitcher might only play in 20% of a team’s game, he has huge influence in those games.  Verlander giving up no runs and two hits over eight innings has more impact than Albert Pujols going 1-4 with a single.  Look through the game log of any hitter – there are tons of games where a good hitter does very little to help him team.  Perhaps as high as 80% 🙂