26 August 2005

AL/ NL MVP Debates

So instead of dwelling on the Red Sox losing 2 out of 3 in Kansas City (truly one of the most frustrating series I've ever seen the Red Sox play), I've decided to take a look at the two MVP races going into the home stretch. I'm going to look at two things- who will likely win, and who should win. Of course, these two selections are, often times, not the same. Unfortunate. That said, I think the MVP has, the last two seasons, gotten the vote right. Vladimir Guerrero in 2004 and Alex Rodriguez in 2003 were the most valuable players in their league, as was Barry Bonds both seasons. In fact, Barry's made the voting easy on NL voters this entire decade, and he has, for good reason, won four in that span.

Let me clarify how I interpret the MVP in baseball- I do not consider the team the player is on, or their eventual place in the standings. I do not consider a hot streak late in the season to propel a team into the playoffs (see Tejada, Miguel: 2002). I don't take "team leadership," "clubhouse presence," or "intangibles" into account either, because I don't write for Sports Illustrated for Kids (unfortunately).

Instead, I simply look at who was the best player in the league that year. Because, as definition would tell us, it would follow that the "best" in the league would also be the most "valuable." I hear people say that it's silly to vote a player on a last place team as the MVP- this seems actually anathema to the definition of the award- in fact, if the best player in the league is on a last place team, wouldn't he be even more valuable? If they lose in spite of having the best in the league, isn't his value greater relative to the great player on the first place team?

Simply put, the fairest and closest interpretation of the award is to give it to the player that has been the best- the most valuable- that season. Of course, on-field factors enter into this. There is the case of the 1999 season. Here is how the top five vote shook out that year:

AL MVP, 1999
1. Ivan Rodriguez, C TEX (.914 OPS, 35 HR)
2. Pedro Martinez, SP BOS (2.07 ERA, 313 K, 0.92 WHIP)
3. Roberto Alomar, 2B CLE (.955 OPS, 25 HR)
4. Manny Ramirez, RF CLE (1.105 OPS, 44 HR)
5. Rafael Palmeiro, 1B TEX (1.050 OPS, 47 HR)

Now we all know why Pedro, despite having one of the two or three greatest single seasons for a pitcher in baseball history, lost the award- George King of the NY Post took the rules into his own hands and deemed him "ineligible" as a SP. Of course, this is incorrect- a very similar situation to the one that cost Hideki Matsui the Rookie of the Year award in 2003- writers leaving him off the ballot completely, despite his being eligible.

Regardless- here is how my vote would have shaken out:

AL MVP, 1999
1. Pedro Martinez, SP BOS
2. Derek Jeter, SS NYY (.989 OPS, 24 HR)
3. Manny Ramirez, RF CLE
4. Nomar Garciaparra, SS BOS (1.022 OPS, 27 HR)
5. Ivan Rodriguez, C TEX

Derek Jeter, despite playing 158 games at the most important position on the field and putting up a .989 OPS, wasn't even in the top five for the original award. Ivan Rodriguez, who did his hitting in a drastic hitter's park, won on the strength of his RBI and HR- two aspects inflated by his home park. He does play an important position- C- but this isn't enough to make up for being -70 pts of OPS to Jeter (and 110 to Garciaparra, who finished 7th) and missing 20 games to Jeter's 3. Catcher's do take more time off, by necessity, but in terms of overwhelming value, to beat a durable and brilliant hitting SS in 1999, Ivan has to at least better Jeter offensively, if not blow him out of the water.

So why did I leave Nomar, with a higher OPS, more HR and a higher BA below Jeter? Simple-


At SS, you would certainly rather 158 games and 627 ABs of .989 OPS than you would 135 games and 532 AB of 1.022 OPS. Nomar missed more games than Pudge did!

Of course, with Manny, we get into dicey territory. By far the AL's best offensive force in 1999, Manny did still miss 15 games and plays a less demanding and important position in corner OF. I personally felt like it was a toss up between he and Nomar in 1999, so I went with the guy with 44 HR and 165 RBI at a 1.105 OPS. I know RBIs are the most worthless stat in such an evaluation- but that's only to a point. 165 in 147 games is production you can't ignore.

And yes, I know Jeter is something of a butcher with the glove. He's still the most valuable position player in 1999.

So you get my point in all this. Position, park effects, durability, overall performance. OK, so now knowing how I try to approach evaluating it, here's how I see the vote breaking down so far in the AL.

AL MVP 2005
1. Alex Rodriguez, 3B NYY (1.105, 37 HR 2)
2. Miguel Tejada, SS BAL (.917 OPS, 24 HR 8)
3. Manny Ramirez, OF BOS (.971 OPS, 33 HR 3)
4. Vladimir Guerrero, OF ANA (.952 OPS, 26 HR 6)
5. Brian Roberts, 2B BAL (.899 OPS, 17 HR 4)
6. Jhonny Peralta, SS CLE (.911 OPS, 20 HR 17)
7. Jason Varitek, C BOS (.917 OPS, 21 HR 23)
8. Gary Sheffield, OF NYY (.900 OPS, 27 HR 1)
9. Joe Mauer, C MIN (.822 OPS, 9 HR 9)
10. David Ortiz, DH BOS (.961 OPS, 31 HR 5)

Much as I love David- sorry, that's as high as a DH should get. I really battled between him and Johnny Damon in the 10th spot. I'm really thisclose to changing it, but oh well. I'll stick with this. The italicized number you see at the end is their AL rank in total Win Shares thus far.

To me, Alex Rodriguez is the no-brainer MVP this season. He leads the AL in OPS, HR and SLG, is 2nd in OBP, is 2nd in total Win Shares, plays an excellent 3B, and does it in a park that depresses RHH. He wins it running away, in my opinion.

Miguel Tejada is someone that, since the Orioles' decline, hasn't gotten much attention for the award. He's had a bad August for sure, but consider that while playing every day as an above average SS, Tejada is 7th in OPS, 6th in SLG, 6th in BA and 8th in the AL in TWS (Total Win Shares). He's one Alex Rodriguez away from legitimately being the MVP this year.

Manny was a lot tougher to quantify. I mean, I just wish he cared more.

Hold on...

Just kidding. In all seriousness, Manny has had yet another sterling offensive season, and can add to that a league-leading 12 OF assists, though his defensive gaffes have multiplied recently. Manny has a 1.261 OPS with RISP, including a .929 OPS with a man on second, 1.455 OPS with a man on third, and a startling 1.973 OPS with runners at first and third (including a SLG of 1.3+!)- might explain the league-leading 112 RBI. I had to put him over Roberts, Peralta, Varitek and Mauer because, though he is a below average corner OF- the offense blows even these great hitters away, and he's been surprisingly durable this year (despite what WEEI says).

The rest of the field is pretty self-explanatory. I felt like Jason Varitek was WAY too far down in the TWS standings (23rd), especially considering Varitek leads every MLB catcher in HR, SLG, OPS, is 2nd in OBP, RBI and R, is 3rd in BA and 2B. His defense is lauded across the board, but he is pretty low down the list of defensive win shares so far this year, which is likely what sunk him like a stone among ALers. He's 8th in the AL in OPS.

And by the way, why no one is paying attention to a 23 year old SS at a .911 OPS and 20 HR with the greatest first name known to man... I mean, it's totally rdiculous. Sreiously. Cmoe on. (Three straight Jere joke rip offs!)

NL MVP 2005
1. Derrek Lee, 1B CHC (1.124 OPS, 37 HR 1)
2. Albert Pujols, 1B STL (1.024, 34 HR 2)
3. Morgan Ensberg, 3B HOU (.971 OPS, 33 HR 6)
4. Miguel Cabrera, OF FLA (.984 OPS, 27 HR 11)
5. David Wright, 3B NYM (.927 OPS, 20 HR 18)
6. Andruw Jones, OF ATL (.948 OPS, 40 HR 24)
7. Jeff Kent, 2B LAD (.891 OPS, 22 HR 5)
8. Bobby Abreu, OF PHI (.906 OPS, 21 HR 7)
9. Jason Bay, OF PIT (.954 OPS, 24 HR 3)
10. Jim Edmonds, OF STL (.919 OPS, 21 HR 8)

Lee and Pujols are just having immense years, and if Derrek didn't beat him out in every major offensive category, while also playing the best 1B in the NL, I might be inclined to be swayed to Albert on park effects. But Lee has just been better, period.

Ensberg might be a little high hitting there in Minute Maid Park, but he's in the top ten in WS, plays an important position really well, and has been a tremendous hitter this season. Miguel Cabrera is bumped up hitting in the Dodger Stadium-like pitcher's park that is Pro Player, and having an astonishing year at that. Ditto that for David Wright at Shea, playing 3B very well and being by far and away the most valuable player on his team.

The rest are all pretty self explanatory- all are, with the exception of Kent, OF. Kent is having a really, really strong season again in LA, where he's far above his positional context and doing it in THE pitcher's park in baseball. Jones has had a tremendous year, as have Bay and Edmonds. Bay's TWS listing at 3rd and his great offensive season trumps Edmonds' defense and slightly-less-great (though still great) offense, but not that of Andruw Jones and his gaudy 40 HR.

Who will get picked for MVP this year? My guess is

Manny Ramirez, BOS (great hitter, survived the "trade me" drama to come back strong, has played decent defense this year, his team is in great shape to win the division, and he leads the league in RBI)

Derrek Lee, CHC (seems a foregone conclusion at this point, though Albert could sneak up on him).

Matt Lawton and Super Joe McEwing- fun with batting helmet mishaps.

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