August 5, 2003

Is the season two-thirds empty or one-third full? (Part One)

You may remember, way back in May, I wrote an entry entitled "Is the season one-third empty or two-thirds full?" in which I gave my MVP choices for the American League and National League, through one-third of the season.

Some of you may be thinking that it's strange for someone to make MVP choices after 33% of a season, instead of, say, 50% of a season. I agree that it's strange, but for whatever reason, I felt it was a good idea to do so. And today, since we just passed the two-thirds point of the season, I figured I should make my new MVP picks.

Before I start, I want to give the same little "disclaimer" I gave back in May:

Keep in mind, all of my rankings are based solely on the performances of players through the first 66.7% 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 performed last season - it is based 100% on what they have accomplished through the first 100 or so games of the 2003 season.

Today I'll tackle the American League and tomorrow I'll do the National League...

(All stats through Wednesday, August 4th)



Manny Ramirez | LF | Boston Red Sox

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

108 401 479 .319 .420 .576 25 26 1 79 82

The best hitters in the American League are remarkably bunched together this year. According to Baseball Prospectus' "Runs Above Replacement Position" (my preferred stat for judging offensive contributions) the following hitters are all between 42.9 RARP and 55.1 RARP:

Bret Boone

Milton Bradley

Carlos Delgado

Nomar Garciaparra

Jason Giambi

Bill Mueller

Trot Nixon

Manny Ramirez

Alex Rodriguez

The top 9 guys are separated by a total of 12.2 runs above replacement level, which is pretty amazing. And right behind them is another group of guys like Edgar Martinez, Magglio Ordonez, Jorge Posada, Melvin Mora, Vernon Wells, Alfonso Soriano and Frank Thomas, who are all within about 20 RARP of the top guy in the AL.

In other words, it's difficult to distinguish between the 5th-best guy and the 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and even 15th-best offensive player in the AL thus far.

My pick for the 5th spot came down to Manny Ramirez, Jason Giambi, Bill Mueller and Milton Bradley. Since both Ramirez and Giambi play not-so-demanding defensive positions and I think Ramirez is a step above Giambi offensively thus far, the fight for the 5th spot boils down to whether or not Manny's offensive edge outweighs the defensive contributions of Mueller and Bradley.

I think both Mueller and Bradley are very good defenders at important defensive positions and they both certainly add a lot more defensive value to a team than Ramirez does, but Manny's offense has been phenomenal this season (as it always is), so I gave him the nod.

On a somewhat related note, I'm starting to think that Manny Ramirez is becoming one of the most underrated hitters in baseball history. Year after year, he puts up incredible offensive numbers and yet he always seems to be left out of the picture when discussions of "best hitter" come up and he is almost always left out of the MVP picture.

As of right now, Manny Ramirez is a career .316/.411/.597 hitter. Not bad, right?

If he has a nice last 2 months this year, he could end the season with a career slugging percentage of .600. In the history of baseball, here is the list of guys who have a career slugging percentage of at least .600 in 5,000 or more career plate appearances:

                            SLG       PA     

Babe Ruth .690 10616
Ted Williams .634 9789
Lou Gehrig .632 9660
Jimmie Foxx .609 9670
Hank Greenberg .605 6096
Barry Bonds .600 10826

That list is as short as it is impressive. Ruth, Williams, Gehrig, Foxx, Greenberg, Bonds. You want to talk about the greatest hitters in the sport's history and those 6 names are almost sure to come up right away. The next guy on the list?

Manny Ramirez              .597     5712

Now, obviously, the various offensive environments in which those career slugging percentages were accumulated vary significantly from player to player, and Ramirez has yet to experience any possible age-related decline that the other 6 guys have had to go through. It's still some damn good company and I don't think most people immediately think of Ramirez when they are discussing the best hitters in baseball right now, let alone in the history of baseball.

2003 AL Rankings: 6th in batting average, 4th in on-base percentage, 6th in slugging percentage, 4th in runs and 6th in RBIs.

Random Stat: Ramirez is hitting .339/.426/.636 as a left fielder and .225/.378/.296 as a DH.


Carlos Delgado | 1B | Toronto Blue Jays

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

111 405 492 .306 .425 .607 31 29 0 107 88

Back in May, Delgado was my pick for AL MVP and it was a no-brainer. He was hitting .328/.446/.651 and was leading everyone in EqA, RARP, VORP and pretty much every acronym stat there is. He had 51 RBIs in 53 games and was simply head and shoulders above everyone else.

Since then, he's come back down to earth just a bit. Delgado's OBP is down 21 points and his SLG is down 44 points. His RBI-pace, on the other hand, has not slowed much. He has 107 RBIs in 111 games thus far, putting him on pace for 156 on the year.

While Delgado is obviously largely responsible for the massive RBI totals he is piling up, some of the credit should go to the Toronto offense and especially the guys who are getting on base in front of him. The Blue Jays have been a run-scoring machine all season long and part of Delgado's numbers are simply due to him having a tremendous amount of chances to drive runs in. That's no knock on him, because he's been great overall and particularly good with runners on base (.342/.480/.684), it's just part of the reason why a hitter's RBI-count isn't the best way to judge an MVP contest.

I suspect however, that regardless of how much I think his RBI-totals should be taken with a grain of salt, the mainstream media will see those 140 or 150 RBIs at the end of the year and simply vote for him no matter what. He may end up deserving the AL MVP by the end of the year, but right now I think he'd have to settle for being the AL's best hitter and not the AL's best player. There have been a few guys more valuable to their teams so far this season, when defensive contributions are added to offensive value.

2003 AL Rankings: 14th in batting average, 2nd in on-base percentage, 1st in slugging percentage, 1st in runs and 1st in RBIs.

Random Stat: Delgado is hitting .353/.451/.701 at home and .259/.399/.512 on the road.


Nomar Garciaparra | SS | Boston Red Sox

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

107 453 496 .316 .360 .554 18 30 12 74 86

I didn't think there was a way to slug .554 while playing shortstop for a playoff contender and remain under the MVP-radar all season, but Nomar Garciaparra seems to be doing just that. Nomar's offensive numbers are up slightly from last year, when he hit .310/.352/.528, which earned him the #6 spot on my 2002 MVP ballot.

Deciding between Alex Rodriguez and Garciaparra for the 2nd and 3rd spots right now is a somewhat difficult decision. That said, I think Rodriguez is a slightly better defensive shortstop and the majority of his offensive numbers are better than Garciaparra's at this point.

          ARod     Nomar

OBP .392 .360
SLG .567 .554
EqA .322 .314
RARP 51.3 48.4

ARod's advantages are slight, but they're still advantages, and when you add in a little better defense, I think he's definitely the pick for best AL shortstop thus far. Nomar will have to settle for the 3rd spot on my ballot and the knowledge that at least one person thinks he is a legit MVP candidate.

2003 AL Rankings: 8th in batting average, 26th in on-base percentage, 10th in slugging percentage, 2nd in runs and 9th in RBIs.

Random Stat: Garciaparra is hitting .385/.432/.717 at home and .258/.297/.419 on the road.


Alex Rodriguez | SS | Texas Rangers

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

111 425 492 .301 .392 .567 28 21 4 75 83

For those of you who have been reading this blog for a long time now, you may remember the many words I devoted to last year's AL MVP race. I made my opinion that Alex Rodriguez was far more valuable than Miguel Tejada last season known as often as possible and I received quite a few "angry" emails for my efforts. For those of you who were mad at me for choosing Rodriguez over Tejada last season, it should please you to know that, while he is once again far more valuable than Tejada this season, I am picking him 2nd for the MVP now - behind a middle-infielder from another AL West team.

And, since I am still bitter over the fact that ARod not only lost the MVP to Tejada last season, he got a grand-total of only 5 first-place votes, compared to Tejada's 21 - for one final time, here are ARod's stats last season compared to Tejada's stats last season:

(For convenience, I'll put the better number for each category in bold)

          ARod     Miggy

OBP .392 .354
SLG .623 .508
EqA .334 .300
OPS+ 152 122
RARP 87.6 56.9
VORP 90.9 67.5
HR 57 34
RBI 142 131
RUN 125 108

I'll tell you one thing, in 50 years, a lot of people are going to be very confused about the 2002 American League MVP voting. Hell, not only was ARod significantly more valuable than Tejada last year, Tejada wasn't even the 2nd-best shortstop in the AL. That honor would go to Nomar and I'll stick with that opinion for as long as I live and no amount of crap about Tejada's team making the playoffs will ever persuade me to think differently.

By the way, can you tell I'm still bitter? I don't even know why really, because I actually like both ARod and Tejada as players. I guess I just feel a real injustice has occurred and a part of me still wishes, a year later, that I could change it somehow.

2003 AL Rankings: 17th in batting average, 10th in on-base percentage, 8th in slugging percentage, 5th in runs and 13th in RBIs.

Random Stat: Rodriguez is hitting .333/.411/.628 against lefties this year, after hitting just .239/.331/.453 against them last season.


Bret Boone | 2B | Seattle Mariners

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

109 426 481 .308 .375 .585 28 26 4 87 80

I realize, for many of you, the idea that Bret Boone has been the most valuable player in the American League this season is somewhat unbelievable. I'll even admit that I was slightly surprised by how well Boone has played this season and how well his numbers stack up against the other top players in the league.

Back in May, I gave Boone the #2 spot on my MVP ballot, behind Delgado. Here's some of what I said about him:

"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?"

Well, it's now August and Bret Boone is definitely still having an "MVP-caliber" season. In fact, he's having almost the exact same year as his "fluke" 2001 season.

Here is his current pace for this season, compared to his final 2001 numbers:

Year       G      OBP      SLG     HR     2B     RBI     RUN

2001 155 .372 .578 37 37 141 118
2003 159 .375 .585 41 38 127 117

Those are about as close as two seasons can get. Boone's batting average is down about 25 points from where it was in 2001, but his OBP is actually slightly higher, thanks to a significant improvement in his walk rate. He walked 40 times total in 2001 and 5 of those were intentional. This year, he already has 44 walks (only 3 intentional) and is on pace for about 65 for the year.

Sandwiched in-between his great 2001 and 2003 seasons is his 2002 season, which was pretty damn good too. He hit .278/.339/.462 with 24 homers, 34 doubles and 107 RBIs. At the very least, I think it's probably time to downgrade Boone's 2001 season from "incredibly fluky" to simply "surprising."

Anyway, back to why he deserves to be given the MVP if the season ended today...

To me, it comes down to the 3 middle-infielders: ARod, Nomar and Boone. They rank #1, #2 and #5 in Runs Above Replacement Position offensively (with Delgado and Manny ranking 3-4) and they all play premium defensive positions and they all play them very well.

I already discussed why ARod has been slightly better than Nomar this year, which means the argument boils down to ARod versus Boone.

Here are some numbers to chew on:

          ARod     Boone

AVG .301 .308
OBP .392 .375
SLG .567 .585

Rodriguez has a 17 point lead in on-base percentage and Boone has an 18 point lead in slugging percentage. I'll take 17 points of OBP over 18 points of SLG anyday of the week, so ARod definitely has the edge offensively...except for one thing: he plays in one of the best hitter's park in all of baseball, while Boone plays in one of the best pitcher's parks in all of baseball.

In you're interested in reading more about exactly how much of a pitcher's park Safeco Field is, I suggest you check out my entry from last month entitled: "The Most Underrated Player in Baseball." For those of you interested in the shorter explanation, Safeco Field has had "park factors" of 91, 93 and 92 in its first 3 full-seasons of existence (a park factor of 100 is considered "neutral" and anything below 100 is a pitcher's park and anything above is a hitter's park). Meanwhile, in the last 3 years, The Ballpark in Arlington has park factors of 105, 100 and 112.

When you take ARod's performance this season and Boone's performance this season and evaluate them based on the offensive environments the two players play half their games in, you get a whole new set of numbers to look at:

          ARod     Boone

EqA .322 .332
RARP 51.3 55.1
VORP 47.7 59.1

Boone comes out with a 10 point edge in Equivalent Average, a 3.8 run lead in Runs Above Replacement Position and an 11.4 run lead in Value Over Replacement Position.

That's not a huge difference, but it's still significant and it's not as if we are comparing a shortstop and a first baseman here, these guys both play middle-infield positions. I think Boone and ARod are each among the best defensive players at their position in baseball and I'll give ARod a slight edge because shortstop is a little bit more important than second base. Even with a little added defensive value for Rodriguez (which is debatable, for sure), Boone has still been a few runs better than him this season.

By the way, I hope this proves once and for all that my MVP choices are unbiased and that I am not opposed in any way to choosing a middle-infielder from the first-place team in the AL West over Alex Rodriguez.

My only qualification - and you might call me crazy for this - is that he actually be more valuable than ARod. It's quite a concept, I know.

Thanks for stopping by today and make sure to come back tomorrow for my look at the National League MVP race.

Link of the Day:

Sports Blotter - "Sumit and Sean on baseball"

Today's picks:

Florida (Willis) -120 over St. Louis (Haren)

San Diego (Eaton) +150 over Chicago (Wood)

Anaheim (Sele) +310 over Boston (Martinez)

Texas (Thomson) +180 over New York (Wells)

Total to date: + 1,015

W/L record: 194-197 (1-2 yesterday for -80 and barely holding onto 1,000.)

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

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