August 28, 2006


MVP Talk

I'll finish up my NFL previews tomorrow, probably, and I'll have a big high school football season preview later this week (I'm trying to get my Times Union blog up for that). But today I'm going to talk about the MVP races in both leagues, but primarily the AL. (And pretty soon I'll talk about why people should avoid doing exactly what I'm doing right now. Funny how that works.)

But right now, I'm talking the AL MVP. It had been (according to the media) a two-horse race between David Ortiz and Derek Jeter, but Ortiz got all but knocked out of the race after the five-game sweep last week. The Sox right now are all but eliminated from the playoffs. The voters will almost never vote for someone as MVP unless they make the playoffs or have a surprisingly good season, so Ortiz and some others (Vernon Wells, Vlad Guerrero, etc.) can be eliminated from our discussion.

So that leaves Jeter and a bunch of "fringe" candidates. Oakland really has nobody worth considering, and ditto for Detroit (though one can make the case that Carlos Guillen is as valuable as Jeter). Jim Thome was a candidate at the All-Star break, but he's cooled off since then, and his recent injury all but takes him out of the race. Jermaine Dye is getting a lot of love from the central time zone, with a .326 BA, 38 HRs, and 102 RBI. But, as of now, the White Sox aren't in the playoffs, so Dye will likely not get much consideration.

So, it must be Jeter, right? Wrong. Let's compare Jeter to Joe Mauer, the catcher on the wild-card-leading Twins.

Jeter: .337 BA, 12 HR, 81 RBI, .413 OBP, .480 SLG%
Mauer: .356 BA, 10 HR, 73 RBI, .434 OBP, .514 SLG%

As you can see, Mauer has a significant edge in all the percentage stats, and is behind in homers and RBI only because he has almost 100 fewer at-bats. So Jeter is not more prolific offensively than Mauer, no matter how you look at it. What, then are the other cases for Jeter?

He's a great defensive shortstop: Actually, that's probably not true. Defensive is not easy to measure by any means, but virtually every complex stat that has been invented to measure defense has found that Jeter is, in fact, a below-average shortstop. I'm not so sure about that - he does make a lot of great plays - but I don't think he's nearly the best in the league. And, even if you do want to say that Jeter is a great shortstop, you'll still lose the defense argument - Mauer is a very good catcher, and catcher is the most important and physically demanding position to play. So you're not making any progress there.

His team was decimated by injuries: Okay, that's true. But the Yankees' lineup, even with Matsui and Sheffield out, is still probably better than the Twins'. And, lest you forget, the Twins have not been injury-free either - at one point in July, I believe their entire outfield was out with injuries. So Jeter's supporting cast has been better than Mauer's. You're not winning me over yet...

He was a "leader": That's the argument that you always get when you debate with Yankee fans - somehow Jeter's presence in the locker room helps Giambi, A-Rod, and Posada add an extra 20 points to their batting averages and hit a few more home runs. Well, I don't really see it. And, even if you do want to believe that, remember when A-Rod was struggling in July? That was near the trade deadline, and everyone was booing him, trade rumors were swirling, and Rodriguez wanted to get in a hole and hide for a week or two. Shouldn't that be a situation where the team leader should give him some public support, letting him know that the other guys have his back and that the fans are being too harsh? Well, I don't remember exactly what Jeter said, but I know that he didn't say much. He certainly didn't give A-Rod much support. On the other hand, Mauer has led the Twins pitching staff, the fourth-best staff in the league. What great pitchers do the Twins have? Well, other than Johan Santana, not much. Before he got hurt, Fransisco Liriano was great, but all rookies need a great catcher to help guide them through rough times. Boof Bonser and Matt Garza are two other rookies who have been effective throwing to Mauer. Carlos Silva and Brad Radke are both pitchers who have below-average stuff, but are still effective (usually) by changing speeds and hitting their spots. To summarize, there's no evidence Jeter has been more of a "leader" than Mauer has been.

Well...then why should anyone vote for Jeter as MVP over Mauer? I'm as confused as you are. If you are a Yankees fan or you have something I've missed, e-mail me or leave a comment and tell me why I'm wrong.

And I don't think I'd even vote for Mauer as MVP. Who would get that award for me? The aforementioned Santana. The Twins have a makeshift rotation behind him and an average offense, yet Santana gives them basically a guaranteed win every five games. Here's a stat for you: Johan Santana hasn't lost a start at home since last August. Without him, the Twins would be nowhere near the playoffs. But, since someone apparently decided to make a rule that pitchers couldn't win the MVP award, there's not a snowball's chance in hell that the deserving Santana wins.

As for the NL MVP, it's right now a three-horse race: Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, and Carlos Beltran. Howard has been great, but he isn't as good a hitter as Pujols is (and, in case you didn't know this, Pujols is one of the game's best defensive first basemen). And I couldn't vote for Beltran, as there are too many other great bats on that team. (It's funny to me that Wright was the clear MVP candidate from the Mets in June, then it was Jose Reyes in July, then Carlos Delgado at the end of July to early August, and now it's supposed to clearly be Beltran?) So I'd vote for Pujols in the NL.

Other Awards:

AL Cy Young: Santana over Roy Halladay.
NL Cy Young: Take your pick: Brandon Webb, Chris Carpenter, Carlos Zambrano.
AL Rookie of the Year: Justin Verlander
NL ROY: Dan Uggla (Florida 2B)

9/10: Here's a stat that comes to you courtesy of ESPN's Buster Olney: When Santana pitches, the Twins are 26-5 (including 12-0 since the All-Star break). When he doesn't pitch, they're 57-53. That means that, without Santana, the Twins are almost literally a .500 team. If that doesn't settle this debate, I don't know what will.

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