Sunday, September 24, 2006

AL and NL MVP Race Heats Up

This season, more so than any other season, there seems to be no clear-cut favorite for Major League Baseball’s MVP awards in either league. The AL has a plethora of candidates that includes among others; David Ortiz, Derek Jeter, Jermaine Dye, Frank Thomas, Justin Morneau and Johan Santana. The NL race is pretty much down to Ryan Howard and Albert Pujols. I’ve always had some difficulty defining the parameters of the MVP award. Is it just a “best player in the league” award that was poorly named? Is it supposed to go to the best player on the best team? Considering pitchers already have the Cy Young Award, should a pitcher ever win the MVP? Your choice for MVP likely depends on your answers to these questions.

American League MVP

I’ll start with the AL. A recent ESPN user poll showed Derek Jeter as the “people’s choice” for AL MVP by a healthy margin. In my opinion, had David Ortiz not missed a few games with his heart condition, he would’ve walked away with the award rather easily. His absence did three things to thwart his MVP chances. 1) His stats were sabotaged at least in terms of what they would’ve been had he not gone on the DL. 2) The Red Sox promptly disappeared from the playoff race. 3) People stopped talking about how great Ortiz’ season had been and started talking about his health. I think all three are the reasons why Ortiz will not win the award this year. Ortiz’ momentum for the MVP screeched to an abrupt halt. Ortiz knew it too which is why he recently made public comments about his candidacy for the MVP. His stats are still ridiculous. He set the all-time single season home run record for the Red Sox this season. He was big late in games as usual. However, a player who doesn’t play defense or play for a playoff team will never win the MVP award. If Ortiz somehow wins it, I’ll eat crow but I’m not holding my breath.

I don’t think it’s possible for Jeter to actually be the MVP. He may very well win the award but it’s almost a fact that he has not been the MVP of the AL this year. Jeter plays for quite possibly the best offensive lineup in MLB history. Johnny Damon, Alex Rodriguez, and Robinson Cano have put up big-time numbers this year. Jeter has probably been the best of the bunch but it isn’t by a lot. Damon and Arod compare pretty well to what Jeter has done. Arod has a higher .OPS, more RBI’s, and more extra base hits. I’m not saying that Arod has had a better season than Jeter but it is pretty close. Jeter has a significant advantage in batting average but when it comes down to it, the stats that matter the most are RBI’s, Runs and OPS. Baseball is about production. All of the other numbers are nice but guys like Ortiz, Thomas, Morneau and even Dye all have the best RBI’s, Runs and OPS numbers on their respective teams.

Jeter has been very good, but the MVP he has not been. There are many players in the AL with better offensive numbers. There are many players in the AL that are better defensively. Jeter might not even be the best player on his own team. Without Jeter, the Yankees would’ve still had a prolific offense. Without Jeter, the Yankees would’ve still made the playoffs. The same cannot be said, however, for some of the other candidates. I have a hard time believing that the A’s would’ve been able to hold off the Angels without Frank Thomas’ resurgent season. The Twins would’ve struggled offensively without Morneau’s surprise season. The same can be said for Santana.

The other contenders have had good seasons but are nowhere near the AL MVP. The Chicago White Sox aren’t even going to make the playoffs. Considering that Jim Thome had just as big of a season as Jermaine Dye offensively, and Joe Crede may have been just as important with his offense/defense combination, Dye would be a weak candidate at best. Frank Thomas has had a nice season but his numbers don’t compare to what Ortiz has put up. That leaves Morneau and Santana. I don’t think there’s any doubt as to who was more valuable for the Twins. With Francisco Liriano out for the majority of the second half, Johan Santana has been nothing short of brilliant. If it’s kosher for a pitcher to win the MVP award, Santana has clearly been the MVP.

Among non-Santana candidates, the race is clearly between Ortiz and Jeter. Without David Ortiz, the Red Sox would’ve been terrible. Ortiz has 18 more home runs than the next best Red Sox player. He has 31 more RBI’s. His numbers are so much better than the rest of the team that it’s hard to imagine how the Red Sox front office thought Boston could compete this year. Ortiz doesn’t play defense like Jeter but I would be willing to bet a hefty sum that the drop off in wins for the Red Sox without David Ortiz would be significantly greater than the drop off in wins for the Yankees without Jeter. Additionally, I don’t think there’s any doubt as to who you’d want hitting in a tight game. Since Ortiz’ numbers dwarf Jeter’s, the only way Jeter beats out Ortiz is based on “value” to the team. Ortiz has to be more valuable than Jeter considering their supporting casts. As I see it, Ortiz is the best non-pitching candidate in the AL. Put another way, if Ortiz was on the Yankees, and Jeter was on the Red Sox, Boston would’ve been nowhere near as prolific offensively this season.

I think the MVP award should be given to the best player in the league as judged by the combination of overall statistics and importance to the team’s success. Santana has Jeter beat in both of those categories. He has Dye beat in both categories. In fact, he has every player in the AL beat in both categories. Santana is probably going to win the pitching Triple Crown. The Twins would be a .500 team at best without him. Until the “parameters” of the MVP gets changed to “best non-pitcher” or “best player on the best team”, Santana is the clear-cut MVP of the AL. I don’t think he’s going to be rewarded with the award. The hardware is going to Jeter.

My Top Five for AL MVP:

1). Johan Santana
2). David Ortiz
3). Derek Jeter
4). Frank Thomas
5). Justin Morneau

A Couple Stats to Think About:

Minnesota’s starting rotation


Johan Santana--18-6---------2.79
Carlos Silva----------10-14-------5.95
Scott Baker----------5-8----------6.33
Boof Bonser----------6-5---------4.36
Matt Garza----------2-5----------5.44

Ortiz or Jeter?

David Ortiz-------1.041----.286-----53------134----110-------111
Derek Jeter---------.891----.338-----14-------95-----110-------66

New York Yankees Lineup


1). Johnny Damon-----------------------------.852
2). Derek Jeter-------------------------------.891
3). Bobby Abreu-------------------------------.914
4). Alex Rodriguez----------------------------.897
5). Jason Giambi-------------------------------.964
6). Gary Sheffield/Melky Cabrera----------.786/760
7). Robinson Cano-----------------------------.876
8). Hideki Matsui/Bernie Williams---------.839/.767
9). Jorge Posada--------------------------------.851

Boston Red Sox Lineup

1). Kevin Youkilis------------------------------.809
2). Mark Loretta-------------------------------.715
3). David Ortiz--------------------------------1.047
4). Manny Ramirez----------------------------1.049
5). Trot Nixon----------------------------------.793
6). Mike Lowell--------------------------------.810
7). Coco Crisp----------------------------------.702
8). Doug Mirabelli/Jason Varitek----------.617/.747
9). Alex Gonzalez------------------------------.690

Most valuable White Sox?

Jermaine Dye------1.012----.317----43------119------.385
Jim Thome---------1.013----.288----42------103------.415

National League MVP

The NL race seems to be closer than the AL race but I don’t see how it’s close at all. Albert Pujols will likely go down as the best player of his generation. There is no doubt that his numbers are absurd. However, Ryan Howard is clearly the MVP of the NL. On July 25, Philadelphia was 44-53. On July 30, Philadelphia seemingly gave up on its season by trading its best player (Abreu).

Then, Ryan Howard took over. Less than two months and a whole lot of Howard home runs later, Philadelphia is 81-73 and in line to make the playoffs. Howard has played in 16 more games than Pujols which amounts to 10% of an entire season. The Cardinals have been on a “nose-dive” since they were a season high 16 games over .500 on July 26. Since that time, the Cardinals have gone 22-31 which is in stark contrast from what Philadelphia has managed to accomplish over that time. The numbers are pretty close but the “intangibles” are not close. As I mentioned, Howard has played in 10% more games. His team has played very well in the second half. Had Pujols not missed 15+ games due to injury, this debate would be much closer.

Howard has been the reason for Philadelphia’s second half resurgence. If Philadelphia didn’t have Howard, they would be nowhere near the playoffs right now. The Cardinals have Pujols, yet, they have only managed to play .423 baseball over the last two months. It could be argued that Pujols is the reason why the Cardinals haven’t fallen off completely but the Cardinals would still be one of the better teams in a weak NL without Pujols. If anything, Chris Carpenter is the reason the Cardinals haven’t totally blown the season. The Cardinals are seven games over .500 for the season. Carpenter himself is eight games over .500.

A Couple Stats to Think About:

St. Louis’ starting rotation


Chris Carpenter----15-7----------2.93
Jason Marquis---------14-15--------5.95
Jeff Suppan-------------12-7---------4.07
Jeff Weaver-------------4-4----------5.27
Anthony Reyes----------4-7-----------4.92

Howard’s End (of season)

When Ryan Howard doesn’t strike out this season, he’s hitting .453
Howard has 61 RBI’s in Philadelphia’s last 59 games
Since August 1, Howard has driven in 21% of Philadelphia’s runs

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