September 25, 2003

Mailbag (Pre Post-Season Edition)

Can you believe the playoffs start on Tuesday?! I think this season has gone by incredibly fast, although the good people of Detroit probably disagree with me on that.

Before I get to all the great emails in today's "Mailbag," I want to give you all a little heads up as to what's going to happen here next week...

On Monday, I will have an in-depth preview of both American League first-round playoff matchups, complete with tons of comments, stats, opinions and my official predictions. Then on Tuesday, I will do the same for the two National League matchups.

From Wednesday until the last out of the World Series, this blog will be Playoff-Central. I'll give my thoughts on the previous day's games, comment on upcoming games, give my previews and predictions for each new series, and all that fun stuff. If something particularly exciting happens on a Friday or Saturday, I may even come out with a very rare weekend blog entry! Keep your fingers crossed.

This is the best time of year to be a baseball fan, particularly one in Minnesota, New York, Boston, Oakland, Atlanta, San Francisco, Florida and Houston/Chicago (choose one). Although this blog was still in its infancy at the time, I had a lot of fun writing about the post-season last year. It's nice to discuss games that you know everyone got a chance to watch. I hope you'll make sure to stop by here each day this October.

Now then, the final Aaron's Baseball Blog Mailbag of the 2003 regular season...

Regarding my entry from last Friday about the upcoming Twins/Yankees first-round series, an anonymous emailer writes:

"I'm a native New Yorker and a Yankee fan living in Boston and a frequent visitor to your site. You have kept me up to date on the goings on of the Twins and I have genuinely rooted for them to overtake the fraudulent White Sox (like you, I will revel in their dismantling). Unfortunately, our rooting interests have become intertwined.

Here is the question: Over the next two weeks, how can a self-respecting Yankee fan continue to read and be entertained by a blog written by such an avowed Twins supporter who will undoubtedly revel in the misery that may (however unlikely) befall the beloved Bombers? Do I still read? Do I boycott on principle for the series? These questions need to be answered."

This is a very interesting question. I like to think that, for the most part, I provide relatively unbiased analysis and discussion on this site and that the majority of my statements and opinions are not "homerish" in that they don't always say the Twins are unbeatable and everything they do is perfect. In fact, I have been accused many times of being way too pessimistic when it comes to my favorite teams.

However, as you have no doubt seen over the last week or so, when the Twins do something particularly impressive, like beat the White Sox for the AL Central division, I do take a little time to gloat. I think it's only natural. After all, this is not a website people come to for "news," it is a place you go to find opinions, analysis and, yes, even a little "personality."

That said, while I will no doubt express happiness if/when the Twins win playoff games, I will always attempt to be as impartial and unbiased as possible when discussing the actual series and the events that take place during the games. That's not to say I won't be rooting for the Twins, just that I will not automatically predict that the Twins will win the series and I won't let the fact that I am rooting for them affect my analysis (not too much, at least).

So, basically, I'd say you're safe continuing to check out this blog during the first-round series. I'm certainly going to be talking a lot about the Yankees in the upcoming days, while discussing/analyzing their team and their playoff games, which you should enjoy.

Of course, with all that said, if the two Yankee blogs that I check out on a regular basis (Bronx Banter and the Replacement-Level Yankees Blog) start making fun of my beloved Twinkies, there is going to be big Trouble (yeah, that's right, "trouble" with a capital "T") in little Blogville.

In response to my entry from September 17th, in which I coined the nickname Michael "Roy Hobbs" Ryan for the Twins rookie outfielder, "S" from Seattle writes:

"Is it really a compliment to call a guy "Roy Hobbs"? Granted Hobbs' line during his hot streaks was something absurd involving home runs in every at bat (but no walks - Malamud never mentioned any walks), but he also went hitless for weeks at a time.

He did that in only about a half-season, and as a guy like Rey Sanchez makes clear, that's not a big enough sample size. Plus, Hobbs was a mean-spirited and selfish sex-obsessed megalomaniac who took money to take a dive before the playoffs, killed the mother of his child with a foul ball, and whiffed when he decided that he didn't want to throw the game.

I'm just saying that maybe you're not doing Michael Ryan any favors."

For those of you unfamiliar (which, knowing my audience, is about 0.00001% of you), "Roy Hobbs" is the main character in Bernard Malamud's book, "The Natural" (which was later made into a movie starring Robert Redford as Hobbs).

As far as I know, Michael Ryan has never thrown any games and he has also never caused death by way of a foul ball. Of course, he's only been in the majors for a month or so.

Actually, Ryan is very similar to Hobbs in that he has also struggled "for weeks at a time." In fact, before Ryan was called up to the Twins, he spent the entire year in Triple-A, where he hit just .225/.289/.404 in 115 games. My fellow blogger Ben Jacobs, of the Universal Baseball Blog, Inc., actually wrote up an entry last week about just how unlikely it is for Michael Ryan - who is now hitting .347/.389/.673 - to be doing this well for the Twins.

By the way, do I have the best readers in the world or what? I decide to give a a cute little nickname to a hot-hitting rookie and I get an email talking about how Roy Hobbs never walked and how even though his stats were good overall, they were in a very small sample-size. I love it! How many other websites have readers who think like that?

Regarding yesterday's entry about my picks for AL and NL MVP, "Dave" writes:

"As an avid Red Sox fan, I believe you oughta remove both Ramirez (who has had a pedestrian season by his normal standards) and Nomar (who has had a subpar season by his normal standards) and embrace the man who most Red Sox fans and players think is their MVP: former Twin, David Ortiz.

Check the numbers. Specifically, check the numbers since May 30th. Ortiz leads the Sox in GW RBI, "big" hits, and is the SOUL of that team. I love my Sox and I'm telling you that neither Manny nor Nomar is the MVP of their own team, let alone the AL...it's Ortiz, then Mueller, then probably Nixon or Varitek. You've got the wrong Sox."

I chose to respond to this specific email, but I got at least two dozen others just like it yesterday. Basically, they all said something along the lines of "Player X deserves to be in the top 10 of your MVP ballot, he's been better than Player Z."

Let me just say that it is hard enough trying to separate the top 2-3 candidates in each league, let alone trying to determine who has been the 10th best player and who has been the 11th best player. As the list expands, the gaps between players become a whole lot smaller and certainly there are no less than a dozen guys in each league who were not included in my top 10, but have a legit case for being there.

In regard to the points "Dave" brought up, I think he is primarily off-base. Let's hit them one by one...

First of all, the idea that a player should be downgraded because he "has had a pedestrian season by his normal standards" or "a sub par season by his normal standards" is ridiculous. Who cares what someone's "standards" are? Their performance is the same regardless of their "standards" and their value to the team doesn't go up or down depending on if the season they had was one of their personal best or not. And certainly, if you can call what Manny Ramirez has done this season "pedestrian" - by anyone's "standards" - you are looking at things a whole lot differently than I am.

Dave also tells me to "check the numbers. Specifically, check the numbers since May 30th." I'm not sure what makes May 30th such an important cut-off, other than I suspect it is the cut-off date that puts David Ortiz's contributions in the best possible light. Of course, the Red Sox did play games before May 30th and, as far as I know, they counted the same in the standings.

Then, after I am told to "check the numbers," Dave tells me that "Ortiz leads the Sox in GW RBI, 'big' hits, and is the SOUL of that team." First of all, I have never in my entire life paid attention to "game-winning RBIs." I'm pretty sure, back before I was born, the stat was widely tracked and displayed but, to be honest, I couldn't tell you who leads the league in that number this year or any other year, and I couldn't even guess as to how many "GW RBI" is a good total for a season.

But hey, if Ortiz has lots of those this year, that's great, but pointing that out isn't going to do a lot to change my mind. Of course, pointing out that he also "leads the Sox" in "big hits" and "is the soul of that team" is going to do even less to convince me.

The entire point of what I have done over the last few days in choosing my award winners is to go beyond personal observations. If we rank players based on who leads a team is "big hits" (which, incidentally, is a completely non-existent thing) or who is the "soul" of a team, all we're going to get is a giant list of players and a whole bunch of different opinions from a whole bunch of people who are a fan of this team or a fan of that player. As romantic as it may sound, trying to actually figure out who the "soul" of a team is can be, at best, completely impossible. The sort of method for choosing MVPs that Dave describes is a mess and is completely without any sort of reasoning that goes beyond personal observations.

David Ortiz's contributions are reflected in his statistics and those statistics are very good (.285/.365/.593 in 125 games). But they frankly do not make him anywhere near as valuable as Manny Ramirez or even Nomar Garciaparra. No matter how many "big hits" he has or what type of impact he has on the "soul" of the Red Sox.

Dave finishes up his email my giving me his ranking of Boston's team MVPs: "I love my Sox and I'm telling you that neither Manny nor Nomar is the MVP of their own team, let alone the AL...it's Ortiz, then Mueller, then probably Nixon or Varitek. You've got the wrong Sox."

               RARP                       VORP                    Win Shares

Ramirez 68.3 Ramirez 66.4 Ramirez 26.98
Garciaparra 53.8 Mueller 58.1 Garciaparra 25.49
Mueller 53.7 Garciaparra 57.1 Mueller 22.92
Nixon 46.2 Nixon 43.4 Nixon 19.57
Ortiz 38.5 Ortiz 42.8 Varitek 16.90
Varitek 38.1 Varitek 34.6 Ortiz 14.57

Like Ortiz, Bill Mueller, Trot Nixon and Jason Varitek have all had great seasons and have all been very valuable players. But none of them, and certainly not all of them, have been better than Manny Ramirez.

I think there is a tendency in baseball to overlook the stars and try to pump up the secondary players on a team. It's the sort of thing that causes someone to say that a player that quite clearly has not been the best on a team is that team's "real MVP." I see it every year in tons of articles from writers across the country and I suspect you all hear it on the various games you watch on TV. "Player X is the real MVP on this team, even though he's only hitting .276 with 14 homers. He's the heart and soul of the ballclub."

Cliches can be fun and there is nothing wrong with giving compliments to a role player, but instead of completely exaggerating the value of a player and completely downplaying the value of another, why isn't it enough to just say that you think someone is an underrated player or that he is very important to the team?

I really did not mean this to be anything against David Ortiz or "Dave," the person who emailed me, although I suspect it looks that way. I just think it is funny that I list 10 players on my MVP ballots and immediately get a couple dozen emails telling me that I am wrong, and that David Ortiz or Bill Mueller or Magglio Ordonez or Carlos Beltran or Shannon Stewart or Miguel Tejada or Eric Chavez deserve to be ranked ahead of someone on my ballot. And that's just for the American League. Not everyone can be in the top 10 and the player you think should be there and isn't is not the only player to get lots of "big hits" while being the "soul" of his team.

Oh, and for future reference, there are a lot of people who write about baseball out there, and many of them might buy into an argument for someone's MVP candidacy based on "big hits," "game winning RBIs" and "soul." Unfortunately, I am not and never will be among them.

Also in regard to yesterday's entry about the AL and NL MVPs, "Scott" writes:

"Don't you ever reach the point where a repeat MVP winner has to do a little more to "keep" the award then his regular MVP performance?

Bonds is incredible and certainly deserves the MVP award. However, with 115 of the awards already in his closet, doesn't he have to do something extra beyond his typical superman performance in order to win it when there is a challenger like Pujols who is also putting up amazing numbers?

This isn't like ARod because he has yet to win the MVP, so his typical performance should get him the award. In Bonds' case, his established level of performance should win him the award every year (and has), so in years where there is a strong challenger (like Pujols this year), shouldn't Bonds have to do something extra this year to repeat as MVP?

I understand that just looking at the numbers, Bonds deserves the MVP. But since he is repeating for the Nth time, he should have to elevate his already incredible performance to another level to repeat, or there should be no other candidate within sight of him. This year Pujols is right there with him (especially with the playing time edge) and Bonds

is excellent again, but I'm not sure if he elevated his performance again. So I would be very tempted to vote for Pujols."

Wow, I could not disagree with that opinion any more. A player has already won several MVP awards, so he must do something extra to win another one? I don't understand why the MVP has to involve anything other than choosing who the Most Valuable Player in the league has been. Whether someone has 10 MVPs or is a rookie, it shouldn't matter, as long as he is the best player in the league.

This isn't tee-ball, where every kid who plays gets an award. This is major league baseball and this is what these guys do for a living. To say that someone deserves to be awarded with something less because he already has been awarded with lots of things before is...well, like I said, I could not disagree with that any more.

Just pick the best player in the league, that's it. It shouldn't be so damn complicated and it shouldn't have so many qualifications and exceptions attached to it.

That's it for this week. Enjoy the final games of the 2003 regular season and make sure to stop by Monday for the previews of the two opening-round American League matchups. And if you missed any of this week's previous entries, which included looks at all three major awards, make sure to check them out...

Monday: Hey, that's me!

Tuesday: The 2003 Aaron's Baseball Blog Awards: Rookie of the Year

Wednesday: The 2003 Aaron's Baseball Blog Awards: Cy Young

Thursday: The 2003 Aaron's Baseball Blog Awards: Most Valuable Player

Today's picks:

Boston (Martinez) -200 over Tampa Bay (Gonzalez)

Total to date: + 2,995

W/L record: 241-238 (0-1 yesterday for -100 and back under $3,000. This is the final day of picks and I need to get back over 3K, so I'm going with Pedro!)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

September 24, 2003

The 2003 Aaron's Baseball Blog Awards: Most Valuable Player

When it comes to baseball's yearly awards, I believe there should be no extra "credit" given to a player for having good teammates or for pitching on a team with a great offense or for having guys with good on-base percentages batting in front of them. I also believe no "points" should be taken away for playing with sub par teammates or for being on a team with a bad pitching staff or for pitching on a team with a horrible offense. A player should neither receive credit for or be penalized for things that are not directly in the control of that player.

Sure, a hitter controls whether or not he drives a runner in from second base, but he does not control whether or not there is a runner at second base in the first place. A pitcher can, for the most part, control how many runs he gives up, but he certainly can't do much about how many runs of support his offense provides him. And sure, a player controls, to some extent, whether his team wins or loses, but even a great player only controls a portion of that. Taking it even further, a position player only controls a fraction of the offense and a fraction of the defense.

If you truly want to find the best player in the league, which is what I think the Most Valuable Player is, I believe you must isolate his performance from his teammates as much as possible. This is an individual award given to one player, and it should not be awarded based on things that that player has no control over.

With that said, enjoy...

American League Most Valuable Player:

1) Alex Rodriguez, Texas Rangers

2) Bret Boone, Seattle Mariners

3) Manny Ramirez, Boston Red Sox

4) Carlos Delgado, Toronto Blue Jays

5) Jorge Posada, New York Yankees

6) Vernon Wells, Toronto Blue Jays

7) Tim Hudson, Oakland A's

8) Roy Halladay, Toronto Blue Jays

9) Nomar Garciaparra, Boston Red Sox

10) Pedro Martinez, Boston Red Sox

First, let's just state the obvious: Alex Rodriguez has been the best player in the American League this season. That's a fact - no ifs, ands or buts about it. He's first in the league in homers, first in runs scored, second in RBIs, first in slugging percentage - I could go on and on, but you get the point. Oh, and he did all that while playing Gold Glove caliber defense at shortstop.

Of course, just because a player has been, far and away, the best in the league doesn't guarantee that player the MVP award. For an example of this, we need to go all the way back to the year 2002, when Alex Rodriguez was the best player in the American League and finished second in the MVP voting.

I don't want to get into this whole argument about what makes a player "valuable," because it is something that I am frankly sick of hearing about and discussing at this point. I ranted about it a lot last year, I ranted about it a little this year, and I am now pretty much resigned to the fact that the people doing the voting for MVP and I have completely different opinions as to which players should win the award.

Thankfully (for me, at least), I have forum where I can offer my opinion to an audience, otherwise I'd probably just be stuck muttering stuff about Miguel Tejada to myself all day.

Here are the top 10 American League hitters in "Runs Above Replacement Position" - my preferred stat for measuring offensive contributions:

                    RARP

Alex Rodriguez 75.5
Manny Ramirez 69.1
Carlos Delgado 63.3
Bret Boone 61.7
Jason Giambi 56.7
Jorge Posada 56.4
Alfonso Soriano 54.5
Nomar Garciaparra 53.6
Bill Mueller 53.6
Vernon Wells 52.8

Of course, RARP is a stat for position players and doesn't take pitchers into account. Some people feel pitchers should not be considered for the MVP, but I'm not one of them, so let's take a look at the top 10 position players in the AL, as ranked by "Value Over Replacement Position" (a stat that includes pitchers), as well as the top 5 pitchers in the league:

                    VORP                              VORP

Alex Rodriguez 83.3 Pedro Martinez 69.9
Bret Boone 70.8 Esteban Loaiza 69.8
Manny Ramirez 67.6 Tim Hudson 67.0
Carlos Delgado 65.0 Roy Halladay 64.7
Vernon Wells 63.0 Mike Mussina 55.1
Edgar Martinez 61.8
Bill Mueller 58.3
Nomar Garciaparra 58.2
Alfonso Soriano 57.9
Magglio Ordonez 57.0

The top 10 hitters for RARP and VORP are very similar. Alex Rodriguez is #1 in both and Manny Ramirez, Bret Boone and Carlos Delgado make up the rest of the top 4 in both, although in different orders. Jason Giambi and Jorge Posada - #5 and #6 in RARP - drop out of the top 10 in VORP and are replaced by Edgar Martinez and Magglio Ordonez. It should also be noted that Frank Thomas, Eric Chavez, Carlos Beltran and Aubrey Huff all sit right outside of the top 10 in both stats.

For the top 5 pitchers, it is the same group I discussed at great length in yesterday's entry about the AL Cy Young award. The top 4 pitchers in VORP find themselves among the top 10 players (hitters and pitchers), which is pretty interesting and somewhat surprising to me. Of course, VORP only accounts for offensive production by those position players, so once you add in their defensive value, many of them leapfrog over the pitchers on the list.

For example, Roy Halladay leads his teammate Vernon Wells in VORP 64.7 to 63.0. However, Wells plays center field and he plays it very well, certainly well enough for it to be worth much more than 1.7 runs over the course of a season, which would push him ahead of Halladay. Still, I definitely think the top 4 pitchers in the AL deserve MVP consideration, although I don't believe any of them are top candidates. So, let's talk about the position players...

ARod leads in both RARP and VORP. Now, if he were a defensively challenged first baseman or a DH and he was the leader in those two stats, I could see an argument for other players overtaking him when defensive contributions are added in. But ARod is a shortstop, and a damn good one, and his defensive value is as high as just about any other player in the American League. Basically, no one is going to be doing any leapfrogging over him on defense and his offense has clearly been the best in the league.

And that's really all she wrote. End of story. You either want to give the Most Valuable Player award to the best player in the league or you don't. Rodriguez has been the best offensive player, he plays great defense at a premium defensive position and he plays every single day. He's been the best player in the league this season, he deserves the MVP award, and there is nothing anyone could ever say to convince me otherwise. Even Joe Morgan.

There is a little more doubt in my mind as to who deserves to place second, however...

I think the fight for the #2 spot comes down to a couple of sluggers and a middle infielder, and which guy you think deserves to follow ARod probably has a lot to do with how much weight you want to put into defense. Do you go with Carlos Delgado or Manny Ramirez? Or do you go with Bret Boone? I think those three, while a step below ARod, are also a step above the rest of the field.

First, let's compare Ramirez and Delgado, and then we'll compare the "winner" of that matchup to Boone...

             AVG      OBP      SLG     HR     2B      EqA     RARP     VORP

Ramirez .323 .425 .583 36 36 .341 69.1 67.6
Delgado .298 .425 .567 37 37 .333 63.3 65.0

That's pretty damn close. They both have the exact same on-base percentage and Ramirez leads by 16 points in slugging percentage. Manny also has a slight edge in Equivalent Average, RARP and VORP. A matchup this close could be impacted one way or another by defense, but in this case, neither of these guys provides much value in that area.

I've heard people who watch him more than I do say that Delgado has improved at first base this year, but he still looks mediocre there to me. Ramirez gets a lot of flack for his defense, but I actually think he's underrated in left field, although still thoroughly mediocre. Basically, I'd call it a wash on defense and if someone does have an edge, it's slight enough that it probably doesn't make a whole lot of difference.

It's a very close call, but I am going to go with Ramirez, because these guys are sluggers and Manny has a slight offensive edge across the board.

Now let's compare Manny to Bret Boone...

             AVG      OBP      SLG     HR     2B      EqA     RARP     VORP

Ramirez .323 .425 .583 36 36 .341 69.1 67.6
Boone .291 .361 .531 34 35 .311 61.7 70.8

Manny obviously has a huge edge in all the raw numbers. He leads by 32 points in batting average, 64 points in on-base percentage and 52 points in slugging percentage. Boone does have a disadvantage because he plays in a very tough park for hitting, while Manny plays in Fenway, but even adjusting for ballparks, Manny leads Boone in EqA .341 to .311, which is huge.

Of course, Boone does have one big thing in his favor, which is that he plays second base while Manny plays left field (and DH), and 2B is a far less offensive position.

Here is how the average major league left fielder and second baseman hit this season:

                AVG      OBP      SLG      EqA

Second Base .273 .336 .406 .260
Left Field .280 .357 .467 .284

See what I mean? That is a difference of 24 points of EqA between the two positions, which is just slightly smaller than the gap between Boone and Ramirez.

According to RARP, Ramirez has been about 69 runs better than a "replacement-level" left fielder offensively this year, while Boone has been about 62 runs better than a replacement-level second baseman. According to VORP, Boone has actually provided slightly more value over a replacement-level player at his position (70.8) than Ramirez has (67.6).

In other words, it is pretty close and I think when you consider the fact that Boone is a very good defensive second baseman and Ramirez is a very mediocre defensive left fielder (although he's a great defensive designated hitter), Boone has the edge over Manny.

So, my top 4 goes ARod, Boone, Manny, Delgado. I'll go with Jorge Posada to round out the top 5, because he has had a great offensive year (.278/.404/.509 with 29 homers) while playing the least offensive position in baseball. Posada's .317 EqA is 65 points better than the average major league catcher and, according to RARP, he's been about 56 runs better than a replacement-level backstop. You add in quite a bit of defensive value and the fact that he is going to end up catching more than 130 games, and I think Posada definitely belongs in the top 5.

Vernon Wells gets the nod at #6, I'll go with my pick for the Cy Young, Tim Hudson, at #7, followed by Roy Halladay at #8. Nomar Garciaparra breaks up the string of pitchers at #9 and then Pedro Martinez finishes off the top 10. Yeah, that sounds about right!

Now, let's head over the NL...

National League Most Valuable Player:

1) Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants

2) Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals

3) Gary Sheffield, Atlanta Braves

4) Javy Lopez, Atlanta Braves

5) Edgar Renteria, St. Louis Cardinals

6) Todd Helton, Colorado Rockies

7) Marcus Giles, Atlanta Braves

8) Scott Rolen, St. Louis Cardinals

9) Mark Prior, Chicago Cubs

10) Jason Schmidt, San Francisco Giants

This is definitely a two-horse race. Gary Sheffield has had a fantastic season and if this were another year he would be an excellent choice for MVP. Unfortunately for him, this is 2003 and he's hitting .328/.419/.602 with 38 homers and 128 RBIs in a league where two other guys have simply been much better. Sheffield will have to settle for third-place on mine and a whole bunch of other NL MVP ballots this year.

The same thing goes for Javy Lopez, who has had one of the greatest seasons by a catcher in baseball history. Lopez has had a remarkable comeback season this year, hitting .326 with 42 homers, a year after he hit just .233 with 11 long balls. Heck, it's not even a comeback season, because his "comeback" is better than any season he's ever had before.

Lopez had an incredible first-half (.307/.352/.636 with 23 homers) and I kept waiting for him to return to earth, but it never happened. In fact, he's actually been much better in the second-half, hitting .353/.410/.743. Javy's slugging percentage in April was "only" .470. After that, he has the following monthly slugging percentages: .800 - .797 - .645 - .613 - .762. WOW!

Okay, enough dancing around this, let's get to the two best players in baseball this season...

In the simplest sense, a player should be judged on three things:

1) Offense

2) Defense

3) Playing Time

Breaking it down a little further, "offense" is essentially a hitter's ability to get on base (and avoiding making outs) and his ability to gain bases to advance himself and his teammates. So really, the very basic categories for judging a player should look like this:

1) Offense

---- a) Getting on base

---- b) Gaining bases

2) Defense

3) Playing Time

Okay, so now that we know players are going to judged by me on "offense" (getting on base and gaining bases), "defense" and "playing time," let's see how the two horses in this race compare in those areas:

                    G      PA      OBP      SLG     DEFENSE

Barry Bonds 126 538 .528 .745 LF (1020 innings)
Albert Pujols 153 665 .445 .681 LF (885 innings), 1B (346)

As you can see, the main thing in Albert Pujols' favor is that he has played quite a bit more than Barry Bonds. Bonds has missed time with some nagging injuries and the death of his father, and has also been simply rested occasionally throughout the season. Because of that, Pujols has played in 27 more games than Bonds, and has 127 more plate appearances and 211 more innings on defense.

In most cases, if you take the two best players in the league and one of them has such a big edge in playing time, he's going to have been the more valuable player. But this isn't most cases.

Here are a few things to chew on when thinking about Pujols playing so much more than Bonds...

Pujols has 127 more plate appearances than Bonds this season. And Pujols has made 113 more outs than Bonds this season.

Bonds has a .418 Equivalent Average in his 538 plate appearances, while Pujols has a .367 EqA in his 665 plate appearances. Let's pretend Bonds somehow got those "extra" 127 plate appearances that Pujols has over him. In order for him to lower his EqA from .418 to .367 in those 127 plate appearances, he would have to have a .157 EqA in that time.

Essentially, Pujols' playing time advantage over Bonds on offense is worth 127 plate appearances of .157 EqA hitting. Doesn't sound so impressive now, does it?

Here's another way of looking at it: Wilson Delgado, renowned glove-man and godawful hitter, has a total of 127 plate appearances this season, split between the Cardinals and the Angels. He is hitting a robust .215/.273/.240 for an EqA of .173. It's not quite .157, but it's close.

If you were to take Wilson Delgado and sort of team him up with Barry Bonds, giving him all of the 127 plate appearances that Barry has missed, compared to Pujols, the Bonds/Delgado combo (Barson Delgonds?) would have combined to give you essentially the exact same production that Albert Pujols has provided (149 "Equivalent Runs" to 148).

You know how you always hear about "replacement-level" from me? Well, this is truly an issue about replacement-level. If you stick just about anybody out in left field when Bonds isn't playing, someone like Delgado who is even worse than "replacement-level," he will provide you with enough production so that, combined with what Bonds provides, it equals more than Albert Pujols, even as great as his season has been.

That's no knock on Albert Pujols, because he is a great player having a great season, and I have no problem saying he is the second-best player in baseball this year. But he has simply not been as good or as valuable as Barry Bonds this season.

Bonds leads him in EqA .418 to .367. He leads him in RARP 102.8 to 91.9. He leads him in VORP 109.9 to 99.1.

Of course, Pujols leads Bonds in several things too. Pujols has a .363 batting average, compared to Bonds'.336. However, Bonds has an on-base percentage that is 83 points higher and a slugging percentage that is 64 points higher, so the batting average is really fairly irrelevant.

Pujols also leads Bonds in RBIs, 124 to 88. That is a significant edge, but what's even more significant is that Barry Bonds is so extraordinarily good that pitchers are simply afraid to pitch to him. It's fairly difficult to drive a runner in when you are being intentionally walked and it's only slightly easier to do so when you are being pitched around as if the ball were allergic to the strike zone. Bonds has been walked 147 times this season, 60 of them intentionally. Pujols has been walked just 77 times, and only 12 of those were intentional.

Quite simply, when there are runners on base and there is some way for teams to avoid doing so, Barry Bonds is not pitched to. For the most part, Albert Pujols is allowed to hit, and I think that in itself says a lot about who the better hitter is.

Pujols has a total of 252 at bats with runners on base this season and 128 ABs with runners in scoring position. Bonds has just 152 at bats with runners on base and only 74 with runners in scoring position. He has been walked a total of 100 times when he has come to the plate with men on base.

When Bonds is pitched to, he does an immense amount of damage. He has a slugging percentage of .745 on the year, which is more than 10% higher than Pujols' slugging percentage. Bonds has a home run every 8.6 at bats, while Pujols has a homer every 13.3 at bats. And he's done all that damage hitting in toughest ballpark for hitters in all of baseball.

Bonds has averaged .232 RBIs per at bat (the times he doesn't walk and actually gets to hit) this season, while Pujols has averaged "only" .216 RBIs per at bats this year.

In the past several seasons, there have been several instances where a deserving player was denied the MVP award because his team did not advance to the post-season. Last season for example, I heard and read endless things about how Alex Rodriguez did not deserve the award because of how poor the Rangers were as a team, and the eventual MVP, Miguel Tejada, was given the award largely because of how well the A's played.

Well, this year Barry Bonds is the best player in the world and his team has 97 wins, a 13 game lead in their division and a post-season spot locked up. Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals are in third-place and will be watching the playoffs on TV come October.

Somehow, I have a feeling a lot of those same voters who voted for Tejada last season will suddenly forget how incredibly important it was for the MVP to have been on a playoff team when it comes to the NL MVP this season. I guess we'll have to wait and see...

By the way, along those same lines, I chose Brandon Webb and Angel Berroa for Rookie of the Year, Mark Prior and Tim Hudson for Cy Young, and now Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez for MVP. I have a hunch that none of those six guys will end up winning the actual award. Of course I could be wrong and I certainly hope so, but I would bet that, at most, two of those six guys will win.

Finally...

If you missed Tuesday's entry or yesterday's entry, now would be a great time to check them out. Tuesday I made my picks for AL and NL Rookie of the Year and yesterday I did the same for AL and NL Cy Young.

Link of the Day:

Something's Always Wrong

Today's picks:

Philadelphia (Wolf) +135 over Florida (Penny)

Total to date: + 3,095

W/L record: 241-237 (0-1 yesterday for -100.)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

September 23, 2003

The 2003 Aaron's Baseball Blog Awards: Cy Young

In yesterday's entry, I made my picks for American League and National League Rookie of the Year, and also shed a little light on how I go about making my award selections:

"When I decide how I would vote for these awards, I do so by asking myself one very simple question in each and every instance...

Who has been the best _____ in the league this season?

It's short, it's simple and it's to the point. And it works for every award.

For the MVP, insert "player." For the Cy Young, insert "pitcher." For the Rookie of the Year, insert "rookie." It even works for lesser awards. Basically, you name the award, and I can fit something into that blank space to make that one sentence work."

As I discussed yesterday, I think the voting for the MVP has shifted in recent years and is at a point now where the award is not given to the best player in the league, but to the best player on a contending team. In my opinion, that is faulty logic, because the best player is the Most Valuable Player, regardless of how his teammates (and his team) perform.

The Cy Young Award seems to have avoided that same shift, for the most part at least. The Cy Young voters seem to give the award to the pitcher they feel has been the best in the league, regardless of whether or not his team is a good one. Of course, they often misidentify that best pitcher, but that's another story. I'm a little dumbfounded as to why team performance seems to be a very minor factor for the Cy Young and a major factor for the MVP, but I suspect it has a lot to do with allowing different people to have different theories on the meaning of "valuable." To me, the Cy Young award is really the MVP for pitchers - the Most Valuable Pitcher, I guess.

Okay, enough with the introduction, on with the awards...

American League Cy Young:

1) Tim Hudson, Oakland A's

2) Roy Halladay, Toronto Blue Jays

3) Pedro Martinez, Boston Red Sox

4) Esteban Loaiza, Chicago White Sox

5) Mike Mussina, New York Yankees

                    VORP                         Win Shares

Pedro Martinez 69.9 Tim Hudson 22.10
Esteban Loaiza 69.9 Roy Halladay 22.00
Tim Hudson 67.0 Esteban Loaiza 21.67
Roy Halladay 64.7 Keith Foulke 20.81
Mike Mussina 55.1 Mike Mussina 19.74
Mark Mulder 53.4 Pedro Martinez 19.11
Jamie Moyer 50.6 Mariano Rivera 16.87
Bartolo Colon 50.4 Mark Mulder 16.84
Barry Zito 50.2 Darrell May 16.80
Johan Santana 47.6 Barry Zito 16.65

In my mind, there are four legit contenders for the AL Cy Young this year, maybe even five if you want to include Mike Mussina in the discussion. But before I start breaking down those four main contenders, I want to throw a little recognition to both Mark Mulder and Johan Santana.

Mulder hasn't started a game since August 19th and yet he's still going to finish the year among the top 10 pitchers in the American League. He has a VORP of 53.4 in 26 starts, which works out to 2.05 per start. If you project that to a full-season's worth of starts up until this point - let's say 33, the same number Tim Hudson has - it comes out to 67.6 VORP for the year, which would rank him 3rd in the AL.

Mulder had all the other stuff voters look for too. He had 15 wins when he went down with the hip injury and, despite not pitching in over a month, he still leads the American League in complete games with 9. I think it's pretty likely that, had Mulder stayed healthy, he would have reached 20 wins and well over 220 innings, which probably would have gotten him the Cy Young award. Of course, we'll never know for sure.

While Mulder put up those numbers despite a serious injury taking a chunk out of his season, Johan Santana deserves some credit for putting up his numbers (10th in VORP, 13th in WS) despite being trapped in the bullpen for half the year. Johan has made just 17 starts this season, by far the least of any of the top 10 VORP pitchers in the AL. Mulder has the next fewest starts, with 26.

Johan has a total of 47.6 VORP this year in 153.1 innings pitched, or 0.311 per inning. He has averaged 6.2 innings per start, so if you project him out to 33 starts on the year, he checks in with about 205 innings pitched. Multiply that by 0.311 per inning and you get a total VORP of 63.75, which would rank him 5th in the league. Ah, what could have been...

I have been very loud voicing my opinion that Johan Santana should have been in Minnesota's rotation since the start of the season and I believe what he has done since being "freed" (11-2 with a 2.99 ERA in 17 starts) has more than justified that opinion. At the same time, there are some who believe the Twins did a smart thing by limiting Johan's innings early in the year, the thought being that a young pitcher should be "eased" into the rotation.

Now certainly, I am a big believer in being careful with young pitchers. At the same time, there is a gigantic difference between putting a young pitcher into the starting rotation and abusing him, and simply putting a young pitcher in the starting rotation, period.

A.J. Burnett didn't blow out his elbow because he was in the starting rotation at a young age. He blew out his elbow because the Marlins let him throw a billion pitches every time he took the mound. I don't think there is any more danger in allowing a young pitcher to start a game every 5 days than there is keeping a young pitcher in the bullpen, where he'll warm up several times a week, come into games without much notice and often pitch several days in a row.

That's not to say a young pitcher shouldn't begin his major league career in the bullpen, because I still think that's a good idea. But in Santana's case, he had already done plenty of that in 2000, 2001 and 2002.

Basically, what I'm saying is that Santana is Minnesota's best pitcher and if a team's best pitcher is able to start, he should be in the starting rotation. I would much rather have a 24 year old pitcher with several hundreds innings of major league experience pitching every fifth day under a careful pitch-count than I would having him in the bullpen, where he doesn't know when he'll pitch, how often he'll pitch or how long he'll pitch for. I was never advocating sticking Santana in the starting rotation and letting him throw 130 pitches a start and I think that is an important distinction to make.

Okay, let's get to the contenders...

The majority of the media attention regarding the AL Cy Young this year seems centered on Roy Halladay and Esteban Loaiza. Of course, that's not surprising, partly because both pitchers have been very good this season, but mainly because they have 21 and 19 wins respectively and we all know how much baseball writers love wins.

Lost in all of that is the fact that Pedro Martinez (remember him?) is 4-0 with a 0.90 ERA in September, lowering his season ERA to a Pedro-esque 2.25. That is 22% better than the next best ERA in the AL.

To me, a pitcher should be judged primarily on two things:

1) Preventing Runs

2) Pitching Innings

How many innings can a pitcher be responsible for and how good is he at not allowing the other team to score. Most of the other stuff - strikeouts, walks, home runs, hits - is secondary, and that list of secondary stuff includes wins and losses.

All a pitcher can do is pitch innings and keep runs off the board. He can't be responsible for how many runs his teammates score for him and he can't be responsible for the support he gets from his bullpen, both of which are massive factors in a pitcher's wins and losses. So, I essentially ignore "Ws" and Ls" and instead look at "IP and "ERA."

Here is how the candidates match up in those two categories:

               IP      ERA

Martinez 183.2 2.25
Hudson 233.0 2.74
Loaiza 213.0 2.92
Halladay 257.0 3.22

Pedro has a huge edge in preventing runs, but he has not thrown nearly as many innings as the other three guys, particularly Halladay and Hudson.

Halladay has thrown by far the most innings in the AL, but he also has the highest ERA of those four pitchers. Hudson has the second-best ERA and the second-best innings total, while Loaiza ranks third in both stats.

One interesting way to look at these four pitchers is to try to determine what added value goes along with Halladay's advantage in innings. One way to do that is to look at Martinez, Hudson and Loaiza, and see what additional contributions they would have to make to match Halladay's innings and ERA totals of 257 and 3.22. In other words, if you took Halladay's contributions to the Blue Jays and replaced them with Pedro's or Hudson's or Loaiza's, what would Toronto be missing?

Pedro Martinez


IP ERA
Halladay 257.0 3.22
Martinez 183.2 2.25
--------------------------
Missing 73.1 5.66

By replacing Halladay with Pedro Martinez, the Blue Jays would be missing 73.1 innings worth of pitching, with an ERA of 5.66. Without Halladay, the rest of Toronto's pitching staff has a cumulative ERA of 5.06, so it doesn't seem as though it would have been too difficult to find another 73.1 innings of 5.66 ERA pitching, although certainly it may have been a problem.

Tim Hudson


IP ERA
Halladay 257.0 3.22
Hudson 233.0 2.74
--------------------------
Missing 24.0 7.88

In order for Hudson to match Halladay's exact production, he would have to have pitched an additional 24 innings this year, with a 7.88 ERA. It seems fairly obvious that the Blue Jays would have no problem finding pitchers to produce at least that well over the course of 24 additional innings.

Esteban Loaiza


IP ERA
Halladay 257.0 3.22
Loaiza 213.0 2.92
--------------------------
Missing 44.0 4.40

In this case, the production the Blue Jays would have lost by replacing Halladay with Loaiza is actually fairly valuable. They would need to find an additional 44 innings of 4.40 ERA pitching, which is definitely easier said than done.

Roy Halladay has been a tremendous workhorse for the Blue Jays this year and I do think there is value in him being able to actually pitch those additional innings, even if they carry ERAs of 4.40, 5.66 or even 7.88. That said, an edge of 24 innings, which is what Halladay has over Hudson, is not that valuable when it comes along with an ERA that is nearly 18% higher than Hudson's. In other words, if you team Hudson up with a guy who can pitch 24 innings with a 7.88 ERA, they will combine to give you Halladay's production this year. You give me Hudson's production and I think I'll take my chances finding someone who can do better than a 7.88 ERA in two dozen innings.

In comparing Halladay to Loaiza however, I do think Halladay's additional production (44 innings with a 4.40 ERA) is better pitching than you could realistically expect to be able to find with no problems.

With Pedro, the question is a little tougher to answer. Finding 73.1 additional innings is a difficult task, although certainly every team has guys in Double-A and Triple-A who could fill the role. But is it a certainty that a team would have no problem finding those 73.1 innings from pitchers who could pitch better than a 5.66 ERA? Likely? Yes. A certainty? I don't think so.

Another factor in any close award race is the ballparks each player played in. Pedro, Halladay and Loaiza all pitched in good hitter's ballparks, while Hudson pitched in an environment that is friendly to pitchers. In addition to that, the four pitchers faced different quality of opponents.

For example, Loaiza made 6 starts against the Tigers and just 1 each against New York, Boston and Toronto (the top 3 run-scoring teams in the AL). Meanwhile, Halladay made only 3 starts against Detroit and faced Boston and New York a total of 11 times. Pedro got just 2 starts against the Tigers and only 1 start against Toronto, but faced the Yankees 4 times. Tim Hudson got to pitch against Detroit just 3 times and faced the offensive-machines in the AL East a total of 6 times.

Thanks to Baseball Prospectus, we can get a very clear picture of the quality of hitters each pitcher has faced this season:

             AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS

Loaiza .261 .327 .411 .738
Martinez .262 .329 .415 .744
Hudson .264 .335 .418 .753
Halladay .265 .336 .430 .766

Not surprisingly, with a total of 11 starts against the two best offenses in the American League, Roy Halladay has faced the toughest competition this season. He has faced batters with a combined OPS of .766, which nearly 30 points higher than the batters Loaiza has faced and is significantly better competition than Pedro faced also.

In the end, my vote came down to a few different things...

1) Halladay's edge in innings is significant and I believe it gives him a definite edge over Esteban Loaiza, particularly when you consider the differences in quality of the batters each of them has faced.

2) Halladay's innings edge over Pedro Martinez is huge, but the difference in production is not all that impressive (73.1 IP/5.66 ERA). I do feel as though Halladay should be given credit for actually pitching those extra 73.1 innings with a 5.66 ERA however, and that, along with his higher quality of batters faced, gives him the edge over Pedro.

3) Essentially, it comes down to Halladay and Hudson. Hudson is second in the AL in innings pitched, just 24 behind Halladay. Halladay pitched those "extra" 24 innings with a 7.88 ERA, which certainly makes his lead in innings seem anything but impressive. That said, Hudson has done his pitching in a good pitcher's ballpark and his quality of batters faced is slightly less than Halladay's. In the end however, I don't think Halladay's 24 inning advantage, along with park factors and batters faced differences, is enough to make up for Hudson's significantly better ERA.

This is an extremely close race, one through four, but I give my vote to Tim Hudson, very narrowly over Roy Halladay, Pedro Martinez and Esteban Loaiza.

National League Cy Young:

1) Mark Prior, Chicago Cubs

2) Jason Schmidt, San Francisco Giants

3) Kevin Brown, Los Angeles Dodgers

4) Eric Gagne, Los Angeles Dodgers

5) Brandon Webb, Arizona Diamondbacks

                    VORP                         Win Shares

Jason Schmidt 67.1 Eric Gagne 23.33
Mark Prior 62.0 Mark Prior 21.41
Brandon Webb 60.5 Jason Schmidt 21.27
Kevin Brown 56.9 Livan Hernandez 21.06
Livan Hernandez 56.3 Javier Vazquez 19.48
Javier Vazquez 51.9 Billy Wagner 18.89
Hideo Nomo 49.7 Brandon Webb 18.54
Kerry Wood 49.3 Kevin Brown 18.33
Curt Schilling 48.8 Carlos Zambrano 17.98
Carlos Zambrano 46.4 Hideo Nomo 16.65

In order to decide who you think the best pitcher in the National League has been this season, I think you must first figure out which starting pitcher you think has been the best, and then compare that player to Eric Gagne.

So let's do that...

With all due respect to Brandon Webb (my NL Rookie of the Year), I think the title of "Best Starting Pitcher in the National League, 2003" comes down to Jason Schmidt, Mark Prior and Kevin Brown. They rank 1-2-4 in VORP, 1-2-6 (among starters) in Win Shares, and they are 1-2-3 in ERA.

Let's compare:

           GS        IP     ERA     W    L    SO9    BB9    HR9    OAVG   SO/BB

Schmidt 28 207.2 2.34 17 5 9.0 2.0 0.6 .200 4.5
Prior 29 204.2 2.42 17 6 10.3 2.1 0.6 .230 4.9
Brown 31 204.0 2.43 14 9 8.0 2.3 0.5 .236 3.5

First of all, Prior and Schmidt has eerily similar numbers. They both have 17 wins. Schmidt has 5 losses, Prior has 6. Schmidt has 207.2 innings, Prior has 204.2. Schmidt has a 2.34 ERA, Prior has a 2.42 ERA. Schmidt has walked 2.0/9 IP, Prior has walked 2.1/9 IP. Schmidt has 4.5 strikeouts for each walk, Prior has 4.9.

It's damn near impossible to separate the two of them looking at those numbers. Fortunately, there is a fairly significant factor involved that doesn't show up there. Jason Schmidt pitches his home games in the best pitcher's park in the National League, while Mark Prior pitches his home games in Wrigley Field (which is actually a slight pitcher's park, despite its reputation). Certainly the differences in environments are not huge, but when two players are this close, it is enough to at least give one the edge over the other.

Kevin Brown also pitches in a great pitcher's ballpark, which also takes him down a notch compared to Prior. I think it comes down to Schmidt versus Prior and the home ballparks are probably enough to give Prior just a slight edge. Another thing to consider and another thing that goes in Prior's favor is the quality of batters they have faced:

             AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS

Schmidt .258 .328 .403 .731
Prior .257 .331 .413 .743

The difference here isn't nearly as big as the gap between Loaiza and Halladay, but it's still important to look at. Prior's opponents have had a slightly higher on-base percentage and a slugging percentage about 3% higher. That, along with the ballparks, is enough to put Prior ahead of Schmidt, although the margin is incredibly small and I could certainly see an argument either way.

But okay, I'm going to take Prior as the top NL starter, so let's compare him to Eric Gagne, like I suggested earlier...

The real question is whether you would rather have 204.2 innings of 2.42 ERA pitching at the beginning and middle of games, or 79.1 innings of 1.25 ERA pitching at the end of games?

Personally, I'll go with the bulk innings just about every time, and that's the case even while admitting that Eric Gagne has had one of the most dominating handful of seasons in the history of the sport. But 79 innings is still just 79 innings, no matter how dominating they are and no matter how many of them come in crucial situations.

Let's say you think, and I would tend to agree, that Gagne's innings were more important on an inning-by-inning basis than Prior's innings. Let's even go so far as to say those innings were 50% more important, which gives Gagne credit for 118.2 "adjusted innings" (79.1 x 150%). I'm not saying I agree with this reasoning, but bear with me.

Now the question becomes, would you rather have 118.2 innings of 1.25 ERA pitching, or 204.2 innings of 2.42 ERA pitching? To me, the answer is still very clear.

Let's do the same thing we did with Halladay and the AL contenders. Let's take Prior's 204.2 innings and 2.42 ERA and find out exactly what Gagne would have to "add" to his season (using those same "adjusted innings") in order to match Prior's production:

                     IP      ERA

Prior 204.2 2.42
Gagne x 150% 118.2 1.25
--------------------------------
Missing 86.0 3.97

In other words, even by adjusting Gagne's numbers generously because of the importance of his late-game work, there is still a difference of 86 innings of 3.97 ERA pitching.

Chicago's team ERA with Prior excluded is 4.10 this season, so I think it is a lot to assume they would be able to find someone capable of pitching an additional 86 innings with a 3.97 ERA, to fill the void if Gagne replaced Prior. And again, that is all with Gagne receiving 150% credit for his actual production, which is not something I feel he should get.

I think what this season shows is not that Eric Gagne has been anything but extraordinary, but that a closer simply does not pitch enough innings to compete with a great starting pitcher, even when that closer has had one of the most dominating seasons in baseball history, and even when you make extreme adjustments for possible added value that the closer's work in the late innings of games brings.

If there weren't any dominant seasons by an NL starting pitcher this season, I think Gagne might possibly deserve more serious consideration. Unfortunately for him, not only has there been a dominant season by an NL starting pitcher this year, there have been at least three of them. In the end, I'll take those three dominant starters over the extraordinary closer, and rank em Prior, Schmidt, Brown, Gagne.

Finally...

Keep in mind that these are my choices for the awards, not predictions for whom I think will actually win them. I would guess that Roy Halladay and Eric Gagne will come away with the awards when the people who actually have a vote get their say. In the meantime, here is a little something to chew on...

Over the last 10 years (1993-2002), there have been 20 Cy Young award winners. The league leader in which of the following stats won the most of those 20 Cy Youngs?

a) Wins

b) ERA

c) Innings

d) Adjusted ERA+

Go ahead, make a guess.

Before I crunched the numbers, I would definitely have guessed wins. And I would have been wrong.

Believe it or not, the league leader in adjusted ERA+, a "sabermetric" stat that the majority of Cy Young voters probably have never even heard of, won 13 of those 20 Cy Youngs.

The league leaders in regular, unadjusted ERA came in second with 12/20. The pitchers who led their league in wins won 10/20 and the pitcher with the most innings pitched in the league won just 8/20. There is, as you can see, quite a bit of "overlap" (for example, one pitcher could win a Cy Young while leading the league in all 4 stats), but the results are pretty interesting nonetheless.

Thanks for stopping by today and make sure to stop back tomorrow for my look at the biggest award of them all.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot...

Your back-to-back American League Central champs

Link of the Day:

The Cub Reporter - "Living and dying with the Cubs since July, 2001"

Today's picks:

Philadelphia (Myers) +135 over Florida (Beckett)

Total to date: + 3,195

W/L record: 241-236 (1-0 yesterday for +100.)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

September 22, 2003

The 2003 Aaron's Baseball Blog Awards: Rookie of the Year

Ideally, baseball's "official" awards would mean a lot. The MVP would really be the Most Valuable Player in the league, the Cy Young Award would go to the best pitcher, and the Rookie of the Year would have been the best rookie. Of course, that's not always how it goes.

There has been a major shift in the way votes are cast, particularly in the MVP balloting. As recently as a decade ago, it seemed like the voters genuinely tried to award the MVP to the player they felt had the best season (of course, in some cases they were wrong, but that's another issue). For the most part, that is no longer the case. Instead, voters now give the award to the player who had the best season...while playing for a contender and/or being a "good story."

In some cases, it seems like voters decide on the MVP extremely early in the year and then spend the rest of the season trying to find ways to either pump that player up or push another player down. Ichiro! got that treatment early this season and it only died down when he slumped horribly in the second-half, and even then the hype stopped begrudgingly. Albert Pujols was all but proclaimed the MVP after about two months of the season and I've read many articles in which it seems as though all the writer is trying to do is to fight off any and all competition for Pujols.

The same things happen in the other awards too. Dontrelle Willis burst onto the scene this year and Dontrelle-Mania! was all over the place. He was selected to the All-Star game on the basis of 82 major league innings and I can't begin to tell you how many Dontrelle Willis stories I saw in various media outlets. For the most part, that early hype has carried through the entire season and now, despite Willis clearly not being the best rookie in the National League (more on this in a moment), I believe he will win the NL ROY award in a landslide.

Now certainly, none of us are without biases and even the best of us are swayed by hype and media attention now and again. That said, when I decide how I would vote for these awards, I do so by asking myself one very simple question in each and every instance...

Who has been the best _____ in the league this season?

It's short, it's simple and it's to the point. And it works for every award.

For the MVP, insert "player." For the Cy Young, insert "pitcher." For the Rookie of the Year, insert "rookie." It even works for lesser awards. Basically, you name the award, and I can fit something into that blank space to make that one sentence work.

As I did last season, I wanted to make sure to voice my opinion and make my selections for all of the major awards this year. But the playoffs are starting next week and I'm fairly certain that'll be the main topic of discussion on this blog for the majority of the next several weeks, which doesn't leave much room or time for making award selections at the end of the season.

So, because of all of that, I am going to make my awards picks this week, starting today, despite there still being about a week's worth of games yet to be played. 97% of the season seems like it is enough for me to make my choices and if something extraordinary happens in the final few games, I can always amend my selections accordingly.

Today I'll make my picks for the AL and NL Rookie of the Year awards and I'll do the Cy Youngs and MVPs later this week (so make sure to come back!). Enjoy...

National League Rookie of the Year:

1) Brandon Webb, Arizona Diamondbacks

2) Dontrelle Willis, Florida Marlins

3) Scott Podsednik, Milwaukee Brewers

Let's talk about Scott Podsednik first and then deal with the two pitchers in a little bit.

Podsednik is a minor league veteran who made his major league debut with the Seattle Mariners, back in 2001. He got 6 at bats with Seattle that year and then 20 more with them in 2002. The Brewers claimed him off waivers last off-season and he's had a hell of a year for them in 2003.

Podsednik began the year as a bench player/spot-starter and played off and on throughout the first month of the year, starting just 9 of the team's first 37 games. After a good first month in limited action, the Brewers gave Podsednik a shot at the everyday center field job in mid-May. He took it and hasn't looked back.

Podsednik is batting .315/.380/.427 on the year, with 95 runs scored and 42 stolen bases. A left-handed batter, he's been particularly good against right-handed pitching (.332/.398/.435), but has held his own against lefties too (.266/.331/.406).

Among NL center fielders, Podsednik ranks 3rd in both "Runs Above Replacement Position" (31.3) and "Value Over Replacement Position" (38.6), behind only Jim Edmonds and Andruw Jones in both metrics.

At 27 years old, Podsednik doesn't have nearly as much potential as some of his fellow 2003 NL rookies. And, with a .283/.339/.419 career hitting line in Triple-A, it's quite possible he has been hitting over his head this season. Even if both of those things are true, he has definitely had one of the best seasons of any rookie in the National League and he's been a very valuable pickup for the Brewers.

Okay, now that I've talked about Podsednik a little, let's get to the interesting stuff...

I am almost certain that, when the actual voting is done, Dontrelle Willis will win the 2003 NL Rookie of the Year award. And I am even more certain that he doesn't deserve it.

Let's compare Willis with the man I've chosen as my NL Rookie of the Year, Brandon Webb:

             IP     ERA     W    L    SO9    BB9    HR9    OAVG   SO/BB

Webb 172.2 2.50 10 7 8.6 3.2 0.5 .206 2.66
Willis 149.2 3.37 13 6 8.0 3.2 0.8 .248 2.51

Innings, ERA, strikeouts, strikeout/walk ratio, homers, opponent batting average - Brandon Webb has been better and, in some cases, significantly better. But Dontrelle has those 13 wins and Webb has "only" 10 and when you take that into account, along with all the hype Willis has gotten, there is no doubt in my mind that Willis will be the Rookie of the Year.

Webb has pitched 15% more innings than Willis and he has an ERA nearly 35% lower than Dontrelle's. He also has a strikeout rate that is about 8% better and is holding opponents to a batting average 42 points lower.

Not shown above are two pitchers' opponent slugging percentages. Willis is allowing batters to slug .395 against him, which is over 100 points higher than Webb's .294 opponent slugging percentage. In fact, not only is Webb's slugging percentage against about 34% better than Willis', it is the best opponent slugging percentage of any starting pitcher in all of major league baseball. Think about that for a minute.

And all of that is despite the fact that Brandon Webb pitches half his games in Bank One Ballpark, one of the best hitter's parks in baseball, while Dontrelle Willis pitches half his games in Pro Player Stadium, one of the best pitcher's parks in baseball. When you take all the numbers at face-value, it isn't particularly close. When you consider the different ballparks involved, the gap becomes pretty massive.

But again, Dontrelle has those 13 wins and all that hype, and those are two things that I suspect are much too strong for baseball writers to fight against.

If you look at some of the more advanced pitching metrics, Brandon Webb's advantage over Willis becomes even greater...

            VORP

Webb 60.6
Willis 32.9

According to VORP, Webb has been nearly twice as valuable over a "replacement-level" pitcher as Willis has been. Webb's 60.6 VORP ranks him 2nd among all National League pitchers (behind only Jason Schmidt), while Willis' 32.9 VORP ranks him 21st.

            Win Shares

Webb 17.01
Willis 12.33

According to "Win Shares" Webb has been about 38% better than Willis this year. Webb's 17.01 Win Shares ranks him as the 9th-best pitcher in the NL. Willis' 12.33 WS put him 22nd.

I don't want to say something overly dramatic, like "anyone who votes for Dontrelle Willis over Brandon Webb should have their voting privileges taken away," but that's essentially how I feel. This is not a close contest and if a person can't see that Brandon Webb has been better than Dontrelle Willis this season, it is ridiculous to think that that person actually plays a part in determining which baseball players win awards every year.

American League Rookie of the Year:

Over in the American League, there aren't any rookie pitchers having years anywhere close to Brandon Webb or even Dontrelle Willis, but there are quite a few hitters who have put together very solid rookie seasons.

1) Angel Berroa, Kansas City Royals

2) Hideki Matsui, New York Yankees

3) Rocco Baldelli, Tampa Bay Devil Rays

For the most part, I think the AL Rookie of the Year race was pretty much decided earlier in the year, just like in the National League. Whereas Dontrelle Mania! took the NL by storm and basically wrapped up the award regardless of actual qualifications, Hideki Matsui had a leg up on the AL competition from the very beginning, courtesy of all the hype and attention he got nationally. And, just like Dontrelle, Matsui is completely undeserving of the award (which I think he will win).

That's not to say Matsui hasn't had a very nice season, just that, like Willis, it has been nowhere near as good as another rookie in his league.

Compare the following two rookies:

                     AVG      OBP      SLG     HR     SB      EqA

Angel Berroa .292 .341 .457 16 20 .270
Hideki Matsui .287 .350 .438 16 3 .278

Those are two very similar offensive seasons. Differences of 5 points in batting average, 9 points in on-base percentage and 19 points in slugging percentage. Matsui has an 8-point edge in Equivalent Average, because of the OBP edge and because he plays in a fairly neutral home ballpark, while Berroa plays in a hitter's paradise.

Based on those numbers, I would certainly give the edge to Hideki Matsui. When you dig a little deeper though, things change quite a bit.

Angel Berroa plays shortstop, arguably the most important and most difficult defensive position. Hideki Matsui has played both left field and center field this season, but has been primarily a left fielder.

Now take a look at how the "average" major league shortstop hits and how the "average" major league left fielder hits:

                AVG      OBP      SLG      EqA

Shortstop .266 .327 .402 .255
Left Field .280 .357 .467 .284

When compared to the other players at their positions, Berroa and Matsui come out on completely different ends of the spectrum. Matsui and his .350 OBP and .438 SLG are both below-average for a major league left fielder, and his EqA of .278 is about 2% worse than average. On the other hand, Berroa and his .341 OBP and .457 SLG are both significantly better than the average major league shortstop and his EqA of .270 is about 6% better than average.

And that's just on offense. When you take defensive contributions into account, that is when it starts to become a blowout in Berroa's favor.

Early in the year, Berroa had a lot of problems with errors, committing 19 in his first 63 games. As the year went on, he became very sure-handed and he has made just 5 errors in his last 88 games. Of course, I generally don't even pay attention to errors because of the massive amount of flaws involved in using that stat to judge defensive play, but it is worth noting that he has made a huge improvement in at least one aspect of his game.

I have watched Berroa play at least a couple dozen times this season and I think he is a good defensive shortstop, and the numbers would seem to back me up.

Among American League shortstops, Berroa ranks 1st in Range Factor (4.80), 6th in Zone Rating (.859) and 2nd in double plays turned (103). He also ranks 6th among AL shortstops in defensive Win Shares.

Meanwhile, Hideki Matsui is a left fielder. I have watched him quite a bit this year too, albeit less than I've seen Berroa, and I generally think he is a solid defensive left fielder and was even passable in his stint in center field. Of course, most of the numbers disagree with my personal observations. Among the 8 AL left fielders who have played regularly there all year, Matsui ranks 7th in Zone Rating (.844), ahead of only Manny Ramirez. In fact, among all major league left fielders with everyday playing time, Matsui's Zone Rating ranks 18th, again ahead of only Ramirez.

Win Shares (which doesn't break down outfielders into left, center and right) ranks Matsui 24th among AL outfielders defensively. With his time in CF factored in, it's tough to say whether that is a good ranking or a bad one. There are 6 left fielders ahead of him however, so it's probably not great.

But let's give Matsui the benefit of the doubt and say that he is an above-average left fielder. Even with that, the gap between he and Berroa is a big one. Berroa plays a more important and valuable defensive position and he plays it better than Matsui plays his position. And Berroa's offense has been better than the average shortstop, while Matsui's offense has been worse than the average left fielder.

In looking at some of the more advanced performance metrics, the gap between the two becomes quite clear...

          RARP

Berroa 26.9
Matsui 23.2
          VORP

Berroa 34.1
Matsui 21.1

Berroa holds a 16% edge in RARP and a 62% advantage in VORP. And those are just counting offensive value. You add in Berroa's defensive edge and I think it's pretty clear who the better rookie has been.

Of course, Berroa and Matsui aren't the only contenders. Tampa Bay center fielder Rocco Baldelli has gotten a lot of attention of his own this season and has had a very solid year. He's hitting .289/.326/.419 with 11 homers, 32 doubles, 7 triples and 24 steals.

Here is how Baldelli and Berroa, along with a couple of other potential candidates, Mark Teixeira and Jody Gerut, compare in RARP and VORP:

          RARP

Berroa 34.1
Gerut 20.1
Baldelli 16.9
Teixeira 15.8
          VORP

Berroa 34.1
Baldelli 19.8
Gerut 18.6
Teixeira 14.6

The gap between Berroa and Baldelli offensively is even bigger than the gap between Berroa and Matsui. And that is accounting for the fact that Baldelli plays center field, a much less offensive position than left field. With Teixeira and Gerut, Berroa has a big edge offensively and he plays shortstop, whereas Teixeira has played primarily first base and Gerut has been mainly a corner outfielder.

So, unless you think either Baldelli, Gerut or Teixeira has been significantly more valuable defensively than Angel Berroa (which is very unlikely), I think it's pretty clear Berroa beats them out too.

In the end, my vote goes to Berroa, because he has produced as well or better than any of the other rookie hitters offensively, and he's done so while playing a premium defensive position and playing it very well. Of course, just like in the National League, I highly doubt the most deserving player will win the award and I would guess that Berroa won't even finish 2nd.

All of which brings me back to my point about the awards not meaning as much as they should. They're still fun to argue about though...

Link of the Day:

Will Carroll Weblog

Today's picks:

San Francisco (Schmidt) -110 over Houston (Miller)

Total to date: + 3,095

W/L record: 240-236 (1-0 yesterday for +135 and back over 3,000 yet again.)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

September 21, 2003

Hey, that's me!

Last Thursday, I said the following about the American League Central:

"It's over. Finished. The fat lady is already off the stage. Elvis and Runelvys have left the building. You can stick a fork in the Chicago White Sox, because they are done.

If I were the White Sox, I'd start worrying about trying to beat Kansas City for second-place, because at least that's something they might have a chance at. Personally, I hope the Royals beat the snot out of Chicago during the 7 games they have left against each other before the end of the season."

To be honest, I was sort of kidding about the whole "trying to beat Kansas City for second-place" thing. But sure enough, Kansas City came to Chicago for a 3-game series over the weekend and took 2/3 from the White Sox.

The AL Central standings now look like this:

                W      L      GB

Minnesota 87 69 ---
Kansas City 81 74 5.5
Chicago 81 74 5.5

This is a serious choke-job by the White Sox. I mean, I've said all along that I expected the Twins to overtake them for the division title late in the season, but I never expected Chicago to completely collapse down the stretch. Of course, I couldn't be happier about it.

Less than two weeks ago, the White Sox were in first-place and they had a 2-game lead over the Twins. Since then, they have gone 3-8 and are now in very serious danger of finishing in third-place. In fact, I'll say it right now, I think the White Sox will finish in third-place.

The Twins fan in me is hoping that the collapse this season will cause the White Sox to do a pretty serious overhaul during the off-season. I would assume Jerry Manuel is a goner, but I'm also hoping guys like Frank Thomas, Bartolo Colon, Roberto Alomar, Carl Everett, Jose Valentin, Paul Konerko and a few of the other veterans will be sent packing. I have no idea whether or not that is a possibility for Chicago, but it wouldn't surprise me if they attempted to go through a scaled-down rebuilding process, fitting new parts around Magglio Ordonez, Mark Buehrle, Joe Crede, Jon Garland and Miguel Olivo.

I would love to see them rebuild, simply because it would mean less competition for the Twins next year. And yes, I just admitted that I am already starting to look ahead to next season!

If the White Sox start making wholesale changes, I could see the Twins cruising to the division title next year. Kansas City has had a great year, but I still don't think they are "for real" in the sense that they are a playoff-caliber team, and they may be without Carlos Beltran next season too. I love the group of promising young players throughout Cleveland's organization, but I don't think they'll be ready to seriously compete until 2005. And the Tigers...well, they'll still be the Tigers. They could win twice as many games next year and still finish 20 games back in the division.

Of course, the Twins will have plenty of big decisions of their own to make this off-season, so I should probably forget about looking ahead to next year and just focus on thinking about how they can beat the mighty Yankees this October (I have some ideas, but you'll have to wait until later this week to hear them).

In other news...

With the Twins making their run for the post-season, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune did a story on Twins fans last Friday. It was on the Front Page of the paper, instead of the Sports Section, which is a pretty big deal for anything related to sports in Minnesota that doesn't have to do with the Vikings or one of the many stadium issues.

Here's a little bit from the story, which carried the headline of "Full Speed Ahead: Twins fans hop on bandwagon":

"On Thursday 39,948 fans flocked to see the Twins win 5-3 and increase their lead to 3 1/2-games over the White Sox.

The club was hoping to surpass Wednesday's crowd of 40,304, which was buoyed by walk-up of about 13,000 fans, many still filing in by the third inning. The total made it the largest midweek September crowd since Sept. 25, 1991.

Coincidentally, that was the last year the Twins won the World Series."

The story also included a bunch of quotes from various Twins fans, including Garrison Keillor.

Sadly, I am a poor college student living in a dorm room on the University of Minnesota campus, so I don't get the Star-Tribune. It is, however, my paper of choice (as opposed to the St. Paul Pioneer Press) and I read it every single day during the Summer, when I am living at my mom's house.

I usually check out StarTribune.com to read stories from the Sports Section every few days, but since the story on Twins fans wasn't in the Sports Section, I completely missed it. I did, however, become aware of a sidebar that apparently accompanied the article. If I didn't read the paper, how did I become aware of the sidebar? Well, because a whole bunch of people started showing up at my baseball blog, and they were coming from a link on StarTribune.com!

I traced all of my new visitors back through the link and found the following:

TWINS FANS ONLINE

Some Twin Cities baseball fans are offering up their wisdom and other stuff about the Twins on the Internet. Here's a sampling of Twins-related blogs.:

- http://www.twinsgeek.com

- http://www.aarongleeman.com

- http://home.earthlink.net/~mntwinsfan/

- http://www.sethspeaks.net

- http://www.magicnumberguy.com

After looking at that for a minute and then realizing, "Hey, that's me!", I had two thoughts.

1) Wow, that's really cool.

2) I wonder if it's in the actual newspaper.

The "actual newspaper" being, of course, the print edition. You know, the thing people spill their cereal on in the morning and take into the bathroom.

You see, I've had the honor of being mentioned a few times, in a few different media outlets in the past year or so. Most notably by Jayson Stark of ESPN.com, but also places like the Chicago-Tribune and even the aforementioned Minneapolis Star-Tribune. In fact, right around this time last season, as the Twins headed for the playoffs, there was a very similar article published by the Star-Tribune (which is no longer in their free online archives), in which my blog was mentioned, along with TwinsGeek.com, as places for Twins fans to check out.

That article was "online only" and didn't make it into anyone's bathroom. Actually, as far as I can recall, the only mention this blog has received in something that is printed on paper was a plug I got in the New York Sun a few months back. It was pretty exciting for me and I even convinced the Sun to send me a copy (which I will probably frame at some point).

But being mentioned in the Star-Tribune, my hometown paper and my paper of choice, would be on a whole different level and would be a pretty big deal (to me at least).

I went to lunch with my dad on Friday afternoon and afterwards we stopped at a Barnes and Noble/Starbucks, where my dad "borrowed" a newspaper. While I shopped for baseball books, my dad apparently spotted the article about the Twins fans on the Front Page and then flipped to page 12A, where the story was continued. And sure enough, there it was - my name in lights (or in ink anyway).

I'm not sure why being mentioned in an actual newspaper is so much more exciting than being mentioned on ESPN.com or some other website that is equally as important. I think it's probably because, no matter how many great websites there are and no matter how many millions of people get the majority of their news from websites, it is still looked at as lesser form of media than newspapers, magazines and books.

I know I've had experiences where I've told people I know or even potential employers that I write about baseball for several different places. They get interested and ask where, and, as soon as I tell them BaseballPrimer.com or AaronGleeman.com or basically anything-dot-com, the eyes roll and all interest drifts away. It's an interesting thing really and I often wonder if someone like Rob Neyer has the same experience when telling people what he does for a living.

I suspect it has a lot to do with the fact that, as I said, you can spill cereal on your newspaper and you can take it into the bathroom (or on an airplane or the subway) with you. Without printing it out, you can't take Rob Neyer's latest column into the bathroom with you. Well, I suppose you could if you have a laptop, but who wants to think about that?

Another reason for why print media is still king over online media is because, to quote a journalism professor I had last year, "Any shmuck can have a blog." Truer words have never been spoken and for proof of that, you need look no further than the shmuck who typed the sentence you are reading right now.

Link of the Day:

The Baseball Boys

Today's picks:

Florida (Redman) +135 over Atlanta (Hampton)

Total to date: + 2,960

W/L record: 239-236 (1-0 on Friday for +100.)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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