October 2, 2006
BASEBALL: The Envelope, Please
There's much to discuss with the playoffs coming up, but for now I thought I would give my quick rundown of who I would vote for in the two top individual awards (I ran out of time to do the Rookie of the Year):
1. Albert Pujols
2. Carlos Beltran
3. Ryan Howard
I expect Howard to win the award because he has the sexier numbers in the HR and RBI columns and had an amazing run in August and September. But neither Pujols nor Howard contributes much with the glove, so you have to compare their batting lines straight up. Pujols is the obvious winner, .331/.671/.431 to .313/.659/.425 despite Howard playing in a generally more favorable park (although Howard did actually put up better road numbers, and Beltran slugged .683 on the road). On the downside, Pujols hit into more DPs than Beltran and Howard combined, but I still think his offensive value gives him a decisive edge. And Pujols' clutch hitting was certainly instrumental in the few Cardinal victories that helped carry a moribund team over the finish line.
(As a side note, Pujols' injuries ruined the bizarre consistency of one stat line - in five prior major league seasons his career high in at bats was 592, his career low was 590).
Beltran missed more time than the other two, and his offensive numbers tailed off in September - but Beltran's defense was a huge factor in the Mets finishing, among other things, 12 games ahead of the Phillies, and of course Beltran did all this in one of the toughest pitchers' parks in the league.
Honorable mentions include Miguel Cabrera, Jose Reyes, David Wright, Lance Berkman, Alfonso Soriano, and Chase Utley.
1. Joe Mauer
2. Derek Jeter
3. David Ortiz
The best hitters in the AL this year were Travis Hafner and Manny Ramirez, but both missed over 30 games, which combined with zero defensive value is just too much. While there are a number of other plausible candidates among the big boppers, it really comes down to Ortiz, Jeter and Mauer.
Ortiz obviously has the offensive edge, but then he's a zero on the basepaths and with the glove, and his OBP and batting average was lower than the other two. That leaves an awful lot of advantages for slugging alone to make up, and while Big Papi is clearly the emotional leader of the Sox and a major clutch hitter, you can only award so many points for leadership on a sinking ship.
When I started writing this up, I was still leaning Jeter. For the first time since I had Jeter #2 on my ballot (behind only Pedro) in 1999, the Yankee captain deserves a serious MVP look. Like Mauer, Jeter plays a crucial defensive position, and he has recovered a bit with the glove from his decline prior to the arrival of A-Rod (I intend to look at the defensive stats more closely when I get the chance, but ESPN's Zone Rating stat, which measures how many of the balls in his "zone" of the field he gets to, lists Jeter seventh among nine regular AL shortstops, albeit in a fairly close group between #4 and #8).
Jeter's main advantages over Mauer are threefold. First, Jeter played more - 14 more games, nearly 90 more plate appearances. That does a lot to balance out Mauer's better percentage stats: .347/.507/.429 to .343/.483/.417. Second, Jeter stole 34 bases compared to 18 outs on caught stealings and GIDP; Mauer's ratio is 8 to 27. And third, Jeter is a steady veteran on a team that had a lot of turmoil this season.
But then, Mauer had to do his bit to hold together a pitching staff that was in constant turmoil as well, plus the fact is that the Twins - with far less impressive offensive talent and a disastrous injury of their own to their phenomenal #2 starter - came back from a huge deficit to win their division and end with just one fewer win than the Yankees. It's not accidental that the revival coincided with Mauer batting .452 in June. Mauer is also obviously more valuable with the glove, as a catcher with a cannon arm - as of late September the Win Shares method rates him behind only Pudge Rodriguez and Jason Kendall (and just ahead of Beltran) in terms of the most valuable defensive players in the game, and even if you don't put much stock in defensive Win Shares, Mauer threw out almost 38% of opposing baserunners (third in the AL) and may have intimidated more than that, as only Rodriguez saw fewer thieves even try. And as for playing time, a catcher with 600 plate appearances is nothing to sneeze at.
Catchers with Mauer's mix of skills are a rare breed (there hasn't really been a catcher like Mauer since Mickey Cochrane), and it's rarer to get his mix of production from a catcher these days than to get Jeter's from a shortstop. The top three AL candidates are close, but I give Mauer the narrowest of edges.
Honorable mention: Manny Ramirez, Travis Hafner, Justin Morneau, Jermaine Dye, Jim Thome, Carlos Guillen, Grady Sizemore, Johan Santana.
NL Cy Young
1. Roy Oswalt
2. Brandon Webb
3. Chris Carpenter
There's a tendency to say that the NL award should go to a reliever: no NL starter won 17 games, only one (Roy Oswalt) had an ERA below 3.00, the league leader in innings was Bronson Arroyo, and the two dominant relievers (Billy Wagner and Trevor Hoffman) towered over the rest of the league's closers in a year when most of the dominant relievers were in the AL. But then, neither Wagner nor Hoffman had the kind of mind-blowing season (sub-2.00 ERA, 80+ innings, 50+ saves) you expect from a Cy Young reliever.
Coming into the final week I assumed Webb would win the award, as he had more innings, a better ERA and a tougher ballpark to deal with than Chris Carpenter and Carlos Zambrano, but Webb and Carpenter both got lit up while Oswalt was firing bullets in an inspiring last-minute charge. Since Oswalt finished with the best ERA and a comparable record and innings total, I give him the nod.
Honorable mentions: Wagner, Hoffman, Zambrano, John Smoltz.
AL Cy Young
1. Johan Santana
[Insert vast gulf]
2. Roy Halladay
3. Jonathan Papelbon
Santana led or tied for the AL lead in wins, ERA, innings, and strikeouts, among other things, and missed by a hair (to Roy Halladay) the league lead in winning percentage. Papelbon was just utterly dominant; an 0.92 ERA deserves some special recognition, even when BJ Ryan and Francisco Rodriguez also put up mind-boggling numbers in relief and only pitched 4 or 5 more innings.
Interesting random fact: the best road ERAs in the AL were CC Sabathia and Barry Zito.
Honorable mentions: Francisco Rodriguez, BJ Ryan, Chien-Ming Wang.
While they won't quite get there, has any team in history dominated the post-season awards like this year's Twins may. They have 3 legitimate MVP candidates (all should finish top 6 or so), Santana should win Cy Young unanimously, Liriano would have won ROY, and should still finish top 5 at least, and Gardenhire has a pretty good shot at MOY if voters haven't already put Leyland down in ink. Plus, while you mentioned Papelbon/Ryan/K-Rod as Cy Young vote receivers, I would say Joe Nathan should be above all of them in voting. While he didn't get as many saves as the others due to team margin of victory, he blew fewer saves (only 2), had a better ERA then all but Ryan, had the best WHIP, best BAA, 2nd best K/BB ratio (behind Putz), and also added 7 wins with no losses. Also, because of him, the Twins didn't lose a game they were leading after 8 innings. For a small market team, that's some dominant talent.
Pujols-reasons you stated, lost 3 weeks due to injuries (what would his number have been without the injury?) and he should have won MVP at least 1 of the years Bonds did.
Santana -no brainer
Oswalt-you are right-but will the writers see that.
Jeter-he is due. I know that shoudn't count, but come on Mauer is a 2nd year player and the stats and reasoning for both of them are close, so Jeter should get the nod. I would also argue that Morneau is the 3rd pick not Ortiz. Ortiz has basically done nothing since Ramirez went down and he wants to talk about help from the lineup. He was the MVP from April through the first week in August.
Hard to argue with your choices Crank.
I am a bit surprised you have Webb over Carpenter for NL CY. Around here the writers seem to think Carpenter will win it.
Hardly any single player was more important to a team than Berkman was this year to the Astros. 136 RBI's, 45 HR, .315 BA, switch hitter. He hit .382 with a .763 Slug with men in scoring position.
I dunno though. Personally I think I'd rather have Beltran than Pujols. Check that...I'll take Beltran before Pujols any day. Anyone can play first, it takes someone special to play center the way Beltran does. Beltran's speed and defense edge Pujols out IMO.
I just wanted to comment on your use of batting rate stats to put Pujols over Howard. Via FireJoeMorgan.com, the official five BBWA rules for voting on an MVP are as follows:
1. Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.
2. Number of games played.
3. General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.
4. Former winners are eligible.
5. Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.
Taking #'s 1 and 2 into mind, I think the award is meant to reward actual production (raw numbers) rather than abilities (rate stats). All indications are that, given an equal number of at-bats, Pujols' production would have eclipsed Howard's. But in terms of actual production, Howard outslugged Pujols and everyone. I don't like him, but he's given the most memorable individual performance in baseball this year.
My ballot for the NL would be the following order: Howard, Pujols, Beltran, Berkman, Reyes, Soriano, Cabrera, A Jones, Utley, Dunn.
For AL: Santana, Ortiz, Mauer, Jeter, Hafner, Dye, F Thomas (did you forget him entirely?), Morneau, Guillen, Manny.
For the Cy Youngs, I go Carpenter, Webb, Oswalt, Zambrano, Wagner for the NL, and Santana, Halladay, Wang, Ryan, Rogers for the AL.
Weird thing, awards or no, the best pitcher in the NL this season was Roger Clemens....he just sat out the first half.
Agree with your choices, but I'm afraid the writers have already decided to give the AL MVP to Jeter partly for a lifetime achievement thing.
I wonder how tight the AL CY race would have been if Papelbon had not been injured. Through 5 August his ERA was less than half a run.
I think Santana would have to have been the AL CY choice even if Papelbon had continued to perform the way he did all year. If you lead the league in wins, innings, strikeouts, and ERA, it's almost impossible to not win the award.
Here's an interesting research assignment: if Mauer wins the MVP, would he be the most obscure choice in history (other than a rookie). Mauer is hardly a household name. For him to come out of nowhere to win the MVP would be a credit to the sportswriters who sometimes go by reputation. I'm a Yankees fan, but I am not convinced it should go to Jeter. This is a wide-open race.
I think a fair amount of MVPs have been obscure before they won - Mauer probably less so than some of the other winners (Zoilo Versalles, for example) in that he's been touted as a future star.
Unless he has a lot of injuries, it's unlikely he'd be the most obscure MVP when his career is over, either.
1. I didn't mention Nathan but yeah, he's not far off the others' pace.
2. I did sort of forget Thomas, but he really was just a notch below the other 1B/DHs.
3. On the production vs. percentages issue, that bothered me more with Mauer than Pujols - he did drive in 137 runs and score 119, which means his R + RBI was actually more than Howard's. And the higher OBP reflects that he did this using fewer outs.
4. The Win Shares totals are now updated, FWIW, and THT rates Jeter-Mauer and Pujols-Beltran as the 1-2 in each league.
5. I don't think you're "obscure" if you win the batting title for a first place team. I would agree that Versalles was probably less well known to the average fan when he won the award. Jeff Burroughs may have been as well.
I disagree completely with Pujols or anyone else winning the MVP. Howard had nobody behind him and was constantly walked. His numbers would have been stratospheric if Burrell even hit a little.
He and Utley carried a team that was left for dead in July to the brink of the wildcard.
Pujols was crucial to winning the central but the Reds tanked severely and the Astros charge was late and not full of the excitement the media believed.
Beltran has so many players around him that he would always get decent pitches to hit. Howard had ten more bases on balls than either of the other two and even when they weren't intentionally walking him, they didn't give him anything to hit.
Howard should and will be the MVP and the Phils will be a team to watch next year.
Good choices, good analysis.
I came to similar conclusions as you, but with one difference: NL Cy.
I also addressed the media's shameful oversight of Arroyo & Harang, their wacked-out obsession with Howard & his Triple Crown numbers (1997 revisited), and my increasing anxiety as I wait for the Met series to start.
Minor disagreement about Pujols' defense. He is widely considered to be the best defensive 1B in the NL. (Closest competition was Derrek Lee, but not this year).
Last year one of the majur stat factories -- like Stats, Inc. or Elias -- looked at every play of every game to evaluate defense. They concluded Pujols recorded at least twice as many extra outs [over replacement] as the next-best 1B, and handled many more difficult chances.
Surely Beltran's value as a CF is higher than any 1B, but it's not as big as you think.
For the NL MVP I willsay Howard. He had a strong second halfof the season after winning the Home Run Derby. He is leading in HR's and RBI's, but the only factor that will hurt him is his fielding. pjols has slowed up bigtime and that happens to the best players sometimes. He was injured for a little bit so that hurt him. Beltran has a good shot over Pujols but over oward I doubt it. He a force o be reckoned with in the fiel but people love the long ball, So i think its safe to say that Howad has h NL MVP. The AL MVP goes to Joe Mauer he has every tool imaginable. I would not put Ortiz up there because he doesn't play the field, and I fell you have to be in th field more than he was to get an MVP award. Jeter has just won it too many times and needs to let some new people move in he can have it next year. NL Cy Young goes to Oswalt his numbers wereat the top all year. Carpenter has been slouching as of lately and Webb just doesn't have the stuff that Oswalt has. AL Cy Youn goes to Santana, no doubt. He has the most dominating stuff and has carried the Twins this season, if he doesn't win it will be ubsurd.