Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
November 6, 2008
BASEBALL: Being There
Let us consider five relief pitchers' MVP candidacies:
What would you say if I told you that only one of these pitchers even got a single vote for the MVP, even though Pitcher C pitched for a contending team (a second-place team that finished four games out of first place) and the other four all pitched for division winners? Could you guess which one placed in the MVP balloting?
You might guess A, who carried the largest innings workload, was clearly the most effective (most strikeouts, by far the lowest opposing slugging %), and allowed easily the fewest inherited runners to score. Then again, Pitcher A didn't convert a very large percentage of save opportunities. He did finish fourth in the Cy Young balloting, though.
You might well guess C, who had the best ERA, the best save percentage, the second-most games and innings, and the fewest walks, although his home run rate was the second-highest. Unless you count him out for his team losing the pennant race. He, too, finished fourth in the Cy Young balloting.
What about Pitcher E? He appeared in the most games, and had a better ERA than Pitchers B and D, but he also pitched less than an inning per game, significantly fewer innings than A or C; his save percentage was only the third best on the list; his strikeout rate was easily the lowest without offsetting advantages in the walks or homers column.
If you have read this far, I'm sure you can guess that Pitcher E is Francisco Rodriguez in 2008...and Pitchers A-D are Francisco Rodriguez in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007, respectively. * * Despite some brilliant relief pitching over the years for a series of division-winning teams, K-Rod has never received a single vote for the MVP. Yet there appears to be serious consideration for giving him the AL MVP this season, solely on the strength of his having been given 69 save opportunities, compared to 2004-07 totals of 19, 50, 51, and 46. That's it - it's not even that he was unusually efficient in converting them, either, he just had more chances.
By the way, that declining K rate is one of the reasons why I'm a bit leery of anyone coughing up big dollars over multiple seasons for Rodriguez. Maybe he'll keep on trucking, or maybe he'll end up like the most-comparable pitcher through age 26, Gregg Olson. (See also #3 on that list, Bobby Thigpen, or #8, Tom Niedenfeur; by contrast, the rest of the list is guys who at least had 5 more good years like Bruce Sutter).