May 29, 2003

Is the season one-third empty or two-thirds full?

With most teams playing their 52nd or 53rd game of the season last night, I figured it would be a good time to pause and take a look at how everything stands as of right now, one-third of the way through the 2003 season.

I think the 50-game mark is probably right around the time where the stats people are putting up finally start becoming "real." Nobody is hitting .420 anymore, the only .500 on-base percentages belong to Barry Bonds, and the leaders in wins are Mike Mussina, Jamie Moyer, Mark Mulder and Kevin Millwood, not Runelys Hernandez, Jeff Suppan and Albie Lopez.

Of course, I can't really rationalize Esteban Loiaza's place atop both the ERA and wins leaderboards. But, at this point, he's looking at a pretty good season even if he goes back to pitching like Esteban Loaiza at some point.

I thought it might be fun to make my MVP choices for the first 33% of the season today. Keep in mind, all of my rankings are based solely on the performances of players through the first 33% of the season. My picks have nothing to do with how I think players will perform for the rest of the season or how they performned last season - it is based 100% on what they have accomplished through the first 50 or so games of the 2003 season.

So here they are, my top 5 choices for AL and NL MVP - in reverse order, of course (you know, for the suspense!)...

(All stats through Wednesday, May 28th)



Edgar Martinez | DH | Seattle Mariners

 G     AB     PA     AVG     OBP     SLG    HR    2B    3B    RBI    RUN

44 156 190 .308 .416 .590 12 8 0 42 23

The top four AL MVP candidates have all separated themselves from the rest of the pack at this point and, after them, there is a glut of 1B/LF/RF/DH-types having very good seasons. Guys like Carl Everett, Raul Mondesi, Aubrey Huff, Rafael Palmeiro, Manny Ramirez and Mike Sweeney. All of them are having very good offensive seasons and are definitely MVP candidates, but I chose Edgar Martinez over them (and other guys) because Edgar has put up his impressive offensive numbers while playing in Safeco Field, a very tough park for hitters.

In fact, according to Baseball Prospectus' Equivalent Average (EqA), which adjusts for ballparks, Edgar Martinez has been the third-best hitter in the AL this season. Of course, as a DH, all of his value comes from his hitting, which is the only reason why I think there is some question as to whether he's been a better player than Everett (a left fielder) or someone like Troy Glaus (a third baseman), who adds a lot value on defense. Still, I think Edgar's hitting has been extremely impressive this season and, when you take playing environments into account, he has been one of the most dominant offensive players in baseball this year.

Edgar ranks 15th in the AL in batting average (.308), 5th in on-base percentage (.416), 4th in slugging percentage (.590), 9th in homers (12), 3rd in RBIs (42) and 7th in walks (29).

Random stat: Edgar Martinez is hitting .338/.443/.738 on the road this year.


Alex Rodriguez | SS | Texas Rangers

 G     AB     PA     AVG     OBP     SLG    HR    2B    3B    RBI    RUN

51 201 228 .294 .377 .572 15 11 0 35 36

Alex Rodriguez is one of three American League middle-infielders having a superb offensive season thus far. I rank ARod just slightly behind the two other guys (Alfonso Soriano and Bret Boone), but the difference between all three is so small that, within a week, the order could be completely switched around.

ARod gets lots of credit from me for his very good defense at shortstop, but his offense, when home ballparks are taken into account, is a step below the other two guys. Rodriguez is hitting .294/.377/.572, so that's really saying something about the seasons Soriano and Boone are having.

ARod ranks 26th in the AL in batting average (.294), 22nd in on-base percentage (.377), 8th in slugging percentage (.577), 3rd in homers (15), 14th in RBIs (35) and 9th in runs (36).

Random stat: Rodriguez is hitting .328/.371/.638 against lefties, after hitting only .239/.331/.453 against them last season.


Alfonso Soriano | 2B | New York Yankees

 G     AB     PA     AVG     OBP     SLG    HR    2B    3B    RBI    RUN

53 233 260 .313 .377 .584 16 9 3 39 44

Alfonso Soriano and Bret Boone both play second base for playoff contenders and they are having almost identical offensive seasons. Soriano is hitting .313/.377/.584, while Boone is hitting .301/.372/.571. Soriano has driven in 39 runs and scored 44, while Boone has driven in 38 and scored 42.

I give Bret Boone the slight edge over Soriano for two reasons: 1) he plays in a more difficult park to hit in and 2) he plays better defense at second base. I think Soriano has a slight edge in offense numbers (slightly higher OBP and SLG, plus more SBs), but whatever edge he has is wiped out because of the difference between Yankee Stadium and Safeco (Soriano has a .329 EqA, Boone has a .330 EqA). So, they are essentially equals offensively thus far, which means Boone's superior defense at the same position gives him a definite edge.

Soriano is 10th in the AL in batting average (.313), 22nd in on-base percentage (.377), 7th in slugging percentage (.584), 1st in homers (16), 7th in RBIs (39), 3rd in runs (44) and 2nd in stolen bases (13).

Random stat: Soriano is hitting .391 on the road this year and .237 at home.


Bret Boone | 2B | Seattle Mariners

 G     AB     PA     AVG     OBP     SLG    HR    2B    3B    RBI    RUN

50 196 224 .301 .372 .571 13 14 0 38 42

Remember how we all thought Bret Boone's 2001 season was one of the flukiest in baseball history? Take a look at the following two seasons:

 OBP     SLG    HR    2B    RBI    RUN

.372 .578 37 37 141 118
.372 .571 41 44 121 134

Okay, now which one of those two lines belongs to his 2001 season and which one is his projected full-season numbers for this year? Pretty tough to tell them apart, huh? The first one is 2001 and the second is this year.

I left out batting average from both lines because his average, along with walks, is really the only difference between the two seasons. Boone's batting average is .301 this year, which is 30 points lower than it was in 2001. The fact that his slugging percentage and on-base percentage can be the same as they were in 2001 despite a 30 point drop in batting average shows that Boone is both hitting for more power this year and exhibiting a whole lot more plate discipline. In fact, he is on pace to walk about 70 times this year, almost double his total from 2001 (40).

If Boone can keep up his MVP-caliber play this season, it will bring up an interesting question regarding his 2001 season: At what point does a "fluke season" cease being a fluke season? In other words, Brady Anderson hit 50 homers in 1996, but if he had followed that up with 47 homers in 1998, would 1996 have been taken off the "incredibly fluky season" list?

Boone ranks 20th in the AL in batting average (.301), 26th in on-base percentage (.372), 11th in slugging percentage (.571), 8th in homers (13), 9th in RBIs (38), 5th in runs (42) and 22nd in walks (22).

Random stat: Boone is hitting .353/.418/.647 against right-handed pitchers, after hitting .272/.331/.438 against them last season.


Carlos Delgado | 1B | Toronto Blue Jays

 G     AB     PA     AVG     OBP     SLG    HR    2B    3B    RBI    RUN

53 192 233 .328 .446 .651 15 17 0 51 45

Quite simply, Carlos Delgado has been the best player in the American League so far. I generally consider myself someone who takes a player's defensive position and defensive contributions into account a great deal in my MVP choices (see picks 2-4 for evidence), but Delgado has been head and shoulders above the rest of the AL offensively, so much so that it makes up for the fact that he plays first base and doesn't play it particularly well.

He leads the AL in all of the advanced offensive metrics: EqA, Equivalent Runs (EqR), Runs Above Replacement Position (RARP), Value Over Replacement Position (VORP) - the list goes on and on. He also leads the AL in slugging percentage (.651), RBIs (51), runs (45), extra-base hits (32) and walks (37). He is 2nd in homers (15), 7th in batting average (.327) and 2nd in on-base percentage (.446).

Delgado has been one of the better offensive players in the AL for quite a while now, but his 2001 and 2002 seasons were a step below his fantastic 2000 season, when he finished 4th in the AL MVP voting. So far this year, his season looks a lot like it did in 2000.

Here are his final 2000 numbers and his projected 2003 numbers:

Year     AVG     OBP     SLG    HR    2B    RBI    RUN     BB

2000 .344 .470 .664 41 57 137 115 123
2003 .328 .446 .651 45 51 154 135 112

Those are monster years and, if Delgado keeps this up, he may be able to hold off those offensive middle-infielders for his first MVP.

Random stat: Delgado is hitting .480/.629/.860 with runners in scoring position.



Albert Pujols | LF | St. Louis Cardinals

 G     AB     PA     AVG     OBP     SLG    HR    2B    3B    RBI    RUN

50 173 197 .347 .416 .671 14 14 0 40 45

First of all, before I say anything else about Albert Pujols, I feel the need to let everyone know that I simply do not believe he turned 23 years old last January. He doesn't look like he's 23, he doesn't act like he's 23 and he doesn't play like he's 23. And yeah, I know he went to college in the United States and most people don't think there is even a chance that he is older than he says he is, but I still don't buy any of it, not for a minute. I don't even have a real reason for thinking this way, it's just something I feel.

That said, if he really is 23, how awesome is this guy's career going to be?!

Check out what his first 3 seasons would look like, if you project his current 2003 stats over a full-season:

Age      G     AB     AVG     OBP     SLG    HR    2B    RBI    RUN

21 161 590 .329 .403 .610 37 47 130 112
22 157 590 .314 .394 .561 34 40 127 118
23 159 559 .347 .416 .671 44 44 130 143

Like I said, if he's 23 years old right now, that is absolutely amazing. Heck, if he's 27 or 28 right now, that's pretty amazing.

Of course, this MVP ranking is only about this year, and Pujols has been awesome for the Cardinals. Despite suffering through an elbow injury for the majority of the season, Pujols is hitting .347 and has driven in 40 runs in 50 games.

Prior to the Cardinals' acquisition of Scott Rolen last year, Pujols afforded them a great deal of flexibility with his ability to play first base, third base, left field and right field. With Rolen manning the hot corner though, Pujols' services are no longer needed there and, with the elbow injury, he has had problems throwing this year anyway, so he's played primarily left field and some first base.

It's not hard to see why the Cardinals have scored the third-most runs in the National League this season (second-most among non-Colorado teams): They have 4 serious MVP candidates in their everyday lineup in Pujols, Rolen, Edgar Renteria and Jim Edmonds. Plus, they have a suddenly healthy J.D. Drew back and hitting like he was a few years ago.

Pujols is 2nd in the National League in batting average (.347), 8th in on-base percentage (.416), 1st in slugging percentage (.671), 4th in homers (14), 8th in RBIs (40) and 3rd in runs (45).

Random stat: Pujols is hitting .488/.511/.902 as a first baseman and .307/.390/.614 as a left fielder.


Scott Rolen | 3B | St. Louis Cardinals

 G     AB     PA     AVG     OBP     SLG    HR    2B    3B    RBI    RUN

51 180 220 .306 .423 .600 11 20 0 45 32

Scott Rolen won the NL Rookie of the Year Award with the Phillies in 1997 and never really improved upon his numbers with the Phillies much from that first season. Apparently all he needed was a trade to the Cardinals, a team that has "rejuvenated" the careers of Jim Edmonds and Mark McGwire recently.

I'd say Rolen is officially "breaking out" this year. He hit .266/.357/.503 last year, so it's not like he was bad or anything, but he's at a whole different level right now. After hitting 29 doubles in 155 games last year between Philly and St. Louis, Rolen already has 20 doubles in just 51 games this season. He is also on pace for 35 homers, which would be a career-high. Plus, he's walking a ton...

Plate Appearances/Walk:

Year      PA

1997 8.7
1998 7.7
1999 7.4
2000 10.6
2001 8.8
2002 9.3

And so far this year...

Year      PA

2003 6.3

It's still early, but it does look like Rolen has made a significant improvement in his strike zone judgement and plate discipline. He has 35 walks and only 29 strikeouts this year. If he keeps up that pace, it would be the first time in his career that he walked more than he struck out.

Oh, and he's a legitimate Gold Glove third baseman too!

Random stat: Rolen is hitting .422/.533/.933 with runners in scoring position.


Gary Sheffield | RF | Atlanta Braves

 G     AB     PA     AVG     OBP     SLG    HR    2B    3B    RBI    RUN

50 186 218 .349 .427 .645 13 16 0 46 42

Last year, when Gary Sheffield joined the Atlanta Braves, this is the type of performance I thought they would get from him. I always felt like Sheffield was one of the best, most underrated players in baseball for most of his career and I thought moving to the Braves would help his exposure (TBS) and his hitting stats (moving from Dodger Stadium to Turner Field). Instead, Sheffield hit "only" .307/.404/.512 and was limited to just 135 games. Despite the move to a better ballpark for hitting, the .404 on-base percentage was his lowest since 1994 and the .512 slugging percentage was his worst since 1997.

This year, Sheffield is on fire. He hit .340/.432/.638 in April and is hitting .360/.417/.663 so far in May. One of the most impressive things about Sheffield's game has always been his ability to work a ton of walks without striking out very much. He hasn't had more strikeouts than walks in a season since 1993 and has had several seasons (1996, 1998) when he had twice as many walks as Ks. This year is no different, Sheffield has 25 walks and has struck out only 16 times.

Sheffield is 1st in the National League in batting average (.349), 4th in on-base percentage (.427), 2nd in slugging percentage (.645), 5th in homers (13), 2nd in RBIs (46) and 4th in runs (42).

Random stat: Sheffield is hitting .452/.515/.774 on the road this year.


Barry Bonds | LF | San Francisco Giants

 G     AB     PA     AVG     OBP     SLG    HR    2B    3B    RBI    RUN

42 134 187 .299 .497 .642 13 7 0 26 36

For those of you that have been reading this blog for quite a while now, seeing me put Bonds' name beside anything but a "1" in an MVP ranking is probably a little shocking. Trust me, it shocked me a little bit too.

When he has played, Barry Bonds has been the best player in all of baseball again this year. Unfortunately, he has already missed 10 of the San Francisco's first 52 games. He's on pace for about 130 games played over the course of the entire season and, most likely, 130 games of how he is playing right now will make him the MVP of the National League. However, through 33% of the season, there is one player in the NL that has been more valuable to his team and, in the interest of being completely honest and unbiased, I have ranked him ahead of Superman here.

While Bonds has been much less dominating this year than he has been in the past two seasons, he is still the class of baseball. He leads the world in on-base percentage at .497 and is 3rd in the NL in slugging percentage (.642), despite playing in the single worst park for hitting in all of baseball. He leads baseball in walks with 48 and has hit 12 homers (8th in the NL) despite only totaling 134 at bats all season.

He also leads baseball in Runs Created per 27 Outs (RC27) with 11.82 and leads the majors in EqA (.387) and the NL in RARP (29.5).

Random stat: Barry Bonds has only been allowed to bat (has not been intentionally walked) 27 times the entire season with runners in scoring position. To put that into some context, there are 240 players right now in major league baseball that have more ABs with RISP than Bonds has and there are 36 players that have at least twice as many ABs.

Next time someone tries to tell you Bonds isn't that great because he only has "X" number of runs batted in, bring that little tidbit up. By the way, Barry is hitting .296/.642/.630 with runners in scoring position.


Rafael Furcal | SS | Atlanta Braves

 G     AB     PA     AVG     OBP     SLG    HR    2B    3B    RBI    RUN

53 223 253 .341 .406 .565 8 12 7 21 54

So, this is the guy that I think has been more valuable than Superman this year. Must be having a pretty good season, huh? Well, yeah!

Here is what Rafael Furcal's current numbers look like, projected over the full-season:

  G     AB     AVG     OBP     SLG    HR    2B    3B    RUN    SB    CS

162 682 .341 .406 .565 24 37 21 165 31 0

Oh, did I mention he also plays shortstop?

I could stare at those numbers all day. You've got to love a guy that fills up a statsheet like that. 24 homers, 37 doubles and 21 triples?! 31 stolen bases without getting caught once?! 165 runs scored?!

I think it's probably a safe bet that Furcal will slow down quite a bit at some point, but that is irrelevant when considering who has been the best player thus far. Furcal and Bonds are fairly close in the number one offensive stat I like to use, "Runs Above Replacement Position." Basically, that number tells how many runs a player has been worth offensively over a "replacement level" player at his defensive position.

Here is how Raffy and Superman stack up:

Bonds     29.5

Furcal 28.0

What that means is that Bonds has been worth 29.5 runs over a replacement level left fielder and Furcal has been worth 28.0 runs over a replacement level shortstop. And that only accounts for offense. So, I think it's fair to say that Furcal's defensive contributions at shortstop compared to Barry's in left field more than make up for the 1.5 run difference in their offensive value.

Of course, Bonds dwarfs Furcal in all of the "rate" stats like EqA (.387 to .330) and RC27 (11.82 to 9.38). However, Furcal has played in 53 games and has totaled 253 plate appearances this year, while Bonds has been limited to 42 games and 187 plate appearances. 10 games without Bonds in the lineup is big and 10 games with a guy who is the best shortstop in baseball right now is also huge.

If Barry can stay healthy, this is his award to lose, as always. But Rafael Furcal has been the most valuable player in the National League this season.

Furcal ranks 5th in the National League in batting average (.341), 9th in on-base percentage (.406), 12th in slugging percentage (.565), 1st in runs scored (54) and 8th in extra-base hits (27).

Random stat: A switch-hitter, Furcal is slugging .580 right-handed and .561 left-handed.

Today's picks:

Houston (Miller) -110 over Chicago (Estes)

Atlanta (Maddux) -130 over New York (Glavine)

Chicago (Wright) +120 over Cleveland (Sabathia)

Seattle (Pineiro) +110 over Minnesota (Lohse)

Oakland (Lilly) -150 over Kansas City (Wilson)

Total to date: + $1,360

W/L record: 106-103 (I finally had a decent day for picks yesterday, going 4-0 for +495.)

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

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