August 7, 2003

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

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.

Yesterday I tackled the American League and today I'll do the National League...

(All stats through Thursday, August 5th)



Edgar Renteria | SS | St. Louis Cardinals

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

110 426 474 .333 .386 .495 12 31 1 70 69

While Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter and Miguel Tejada play in the American League and get all the hype and media attention, the National League has a great shortstop of its own in Edgar Renteria.

Renteria broke into the majors way back in 1996 and is one of the rare players for whom it was learned he was actually younger than his listed age. That means his first season in the majors, in which he hit .309/.358/.399 in 471 plate appearances for the Marlins, came at the age of 20. It also means that, despite this being Renteria's 8th full season in the majors leagues, he is just 27 years old.

Renteria's career-path is an interesting one. He has flashed pretty much every possible skill, but had not been able to put them all together within the same year.

--- He hit .309 in 1996 and then didn't hit above .282 again until last season, when he hit .305.

--- His home run total jumped from 3 in 1998 to 11 in 1999 to 16 in 2000 - and then he hit just 10 and 11 homers in 2001 and 2002.

---- His plate discipline appeared to be gradually improving and he walked 63 times in 150 games in 2000. Then he walked just 39 times in 2001 and 49 times last year.

Through it all though, he has always played very good defense at shortstop and has been an excellent baserunner. And now, this season, it appears as though Renteria is finally putting all the skills he has shown together into one season. He's on pace to bat .333 with 17 homers, 45 doubles, 60 walks and 36 stolen bases. In addition to that, he's playing great shortstop defense once again and is on-track to score and drive in 100 runs.

Is it time to officially welcome Renteria into the Great Shortstops Club? It just might be. Here are the "Runs Above Replacement Position" (my preferred stat for judging offensive contributions) totals for the top shortstops in baseball from last season and this season, combined:


Alex Rodriguez 139.6
Nomar Garciaparra 108.0
Derek Jeter 82.9
Miguel Tejada 76.6
Edgar Renteria 76.0

Of course, that ranking isn't really fair to Jeter, since he missed a large part of this season, which hurts his totals. Here's the same list, but with RARP per 162 games played, instead of just the raw totals:


Alex Rodriguez 82.5
Nomar Garciaparra 66.3
Derek Jeter 58.4
Edgar Renteria 47.0
Miguel Tejada 45.3

First of all - and this should come as no surprise to any reader of this blog - it is clear that Alex Rodriguez is a step above everyone else, even as great as the other shortstops are. It's also pretty clear that Renteria belongs in the same class as Tejada and Jeter, and possibly even Garciaparra.

Jeter has an 11.4 run lead over Renteria offensively (per 162 games), but I would guess Renteria's defense is worth at least that many runs over Jeter's during the course of a full season, and probably a lot more. Same thing goes for Tejada, who trails Jeter by about a dozen runs per 162 games offensively, but more than makes up for that on defense.

And, since I don't get nearly enough hatemail, here is how I would rank the Big Five, if I were starting a team from scratch right now and money were not an issue:

1) Alex Rodriguez

2) Nomar Garciparra

3) Edgar Renteria

4) Derek Jeter

5) Miguel Tejada

There, I'm sure that's good for at least 10 angry emails from A's fans, about 30 from Yankee fans, 3 from guys in St. Louis, 5 from guys in Boston and 17 from people in various locations who think ARod makes too much money.

Let me just say what I will essentially repeat if you send me one of those angry emails, which is that they are all extremely good baseball players and I would love to have any of them on any team of mine.

That said, this is just my personal opinion. And, in my opinion, ARod is a few steps above everyone else, Nomar is slightly ahead of the other 3 and Renteria gets the nod over Jeter simply because his defense is much better (and he's two years younger). Tejada comes in last, despite much better defense than Jeter, mostly because he currently sports a .313 on-base percentage and, with a group this good, that sends you right to the bottom.

2003 NL Rankings: 4th in batting average, 17th in on-base percentage, 27th in slugging percentage, 18th in runs and 16th in RBIs.

Random Stat: Renteria is hitting .391/.471/.701 against left-handed pitchers.


Scott Rolen | 3B | St. Louis Cardinals

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

105 379 453 .285 .389 .546 22 31 1 75 67

Hmm...what to say about Scott Rolen...

Well, how about this: Scott Rolen is the best third baseman in baseball.

He definitely has some stiff competition, with established guys like Eric Chavez, Troy Glaus and Corey Koskie, and guys like Bill Mueller, Mike Lowell and Hank Blalock having breakout years. But, in my opinion, Scott Rolen is the best of the bunch.

I normally talk about a player's offense and then add in a few thoughts on their defense, but I'm going to do the opposite with Rolen, because he is one of the best defensive third basemen in recent memory.

Defense is obviously much tougher to judge than offense, but Rolen has three big things going for him:

1) From personal observations almost everyone, myself included, thinks he is great.

2) He has won 4 Gold Gloves during his career, including one in each of the past 3 seasons.

3) The majority of the more advanced defensive metrics have him as great.

Diamond-Mind gave him an "EXCELLENT" rating at third base last season, which is the highest possible rating. Baseball Prospectus has him as +23, +24, +23, +21, +38 and +38 "Fielding Runs Above Replacement" for his 6 full-seasons. Michael Lichtman's "Ultimate Zone Rating" has him as +25, +33 and +28 runs defensively over the last 3 years.

Eric Chavez is a great defensive third baseman, one of the best I have ever seen, and I think Corey Koskie is an extremely underrated defender. That said, I'd have absolutely no probably saying Rolen is as good and probably better than any third baseman in baseball right now defensively.

Offensively, Rolen's skills are a little easier to put a number on. He leads all NL third baseman in RARP this season and is second in all of baseball, with Bill Mueller holding a 1.1 run lead over him right now. Last season, Rolen was fourth among MLB third basemen in RARP, but the top of the leaderboard was very crowded:


Eric Hinske 46.0
Eric Chavez 45.2
Edgardo Alfonzo 43.7
Scott Rolen 42.9

Hinske, Chavez and Alfonzo are all having "down" years this season, so Rolen is far and away the RARP leader among third basemen over the last two years. So, he's been the best offensive third baseman and it's fairly reasonable to suggest he's the best defensive third baseman. In other words, he's the best third baseman in baseball. Pretty simple, right?

2003 NL Rankings: 39th in batting average, 13th in on-base percentage, 12th in slugging percentage, 22nd in runs and 9th in RBIs.

Random Stat: Rolen is hitting .312/.455/.701 against left-handed pitchers.


Gary Sheffield | RF | Atlanta Braves

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

107 399 474 .328 .426 .589 27 23 0 88 89

Gary Sheffield has been one of the best and most consistent hitters in baseball for about a decade now. He is an on-base percentage lover's dream, check out his OBPs since 1995:










That is some serious OBP'ing. His slugging percentages aren't exactly shabby either. His SLG has been above .550 in 5 of those 9 seasons and above .600 in 2 of them. This year, Sheffield is hitting .328/.426/.589 and, in a lot of seasons, that would get him the MVP award. This year, it gets him a third-place vote, from me at least.

He's led a surprising and significantly improved Atlanta offense all season and leads the team in batting average, OBP, SLG and RBIs. A couple of his teammates also deserve some MVP consideration though.

Javy Lopez is hitting .323/.367/.671 and is on pace for 43 homers and 111 RBIs, despite only playing in about 80% of the team's games. Andruw Jones is playing his usual outstanding defense in centerfield is and is also hitting .295/.364/.538 with a 40 homer/120 RBI pace. Marcus Giles has finally been given the everyday second baseman job that the Braves used every possible excuse to keep away from him for the past couple seasons and is hitting .315/.385/.507, and is on pace for 52 doubles and 19 homers.

So Atlanta has 4 guys all slugging over .500 and all with an OPS over .900, and Chipper Jones isn't even one of them. Jones is actually having his worst season in quite a while, although his worst is still .289/.389/.483, which is pretty damn good. You add in Rafael Furcal (who was the best player in the NL through 33% of the season and has faded badly since) and Robert Fick (.297/.360/.485) and you've got a pretty scary offense.

It'll be interesting what happens to this team, since they have completely changed the strength of the team in just one season. After years of winning with dominant pitching and some questionable members of the lineup, the Braves pitching has been simply "okay" and the lineup has been great, top to bottom. Whether that gives them a better shot to win in October, who knows? I happen to think a good team is a good team and it doesn't matter what their strength is in the playoffs.

2003 NL Rankings: 6th in batting average, 5th in on-base percentage, 6th in slugging percentage, 4th in runs and 5th in RBIs.

Random Stat: Sheffield's batting averages for the first 4 months of the year were .340, .344, .281 and .343. He also hit .333 (1-3) in March (which I'm not counting as a "month") and, as of this writing, was hitting .333 (5-15) in August.


Albert Pujols | LF | St. Louis Cardinals

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

111 418 478 .373 .441 .682 30 39 0 99 99

Yes, that's right, there are 3 St. Louis Cardinals among my top 5. Wanna know something else? If I expanded it to 6 players, there would be 4 Cardinals on the list.

You may think that's strange, especially since the Cardinals are currently barely over .500 as a team, but the fact that they are able to win that many games with some of the problems on their team is a credit to their 4 stars.

St. Louis catchers are 14th in the NL in OPS (on-base % + slugging %).

St. Louis second basemen are 11th in the NL in OPS.

St. Louis right fielders are 10th in the NL in OPS.

Despite getting sub par production from 3 of their 8 offensive positions, the offense still ranks 2nd in the entire league in runs scored, behind only Atlanta. It's all thanks to this incredible "heart of the order":

                          AVG      OBP      SLG

3) Albert Pujols .373 .441 .682
4) Jim Edmonds .294 .395 .650
5) Scott Rolen .285 .389 .546
6) Edgar Renteria .333 .386 .495

You could fill the other 4 spots in that lineup with me, Rob Neyer, Britney Spears and a 59 year old Tony LaRussa, and the team is going to score a lot of runs. Heck, you could even fill the other 4 spots with Mike Matheny, Tino Martinez, Orlando Palmeiro and Bo Hart and you wouldn't be too bad, although Rob and I write much better than Matheny and Tino, and Britney is much better to look at in the post-game shower than Palmeiro is.

The Cardinals have the best third baseman, shortstop, centerfielder and (non-Superman) left fielder in the league. And not only can they all hit, 3 out of the 4 are legit Gold Glove candidates every year. So why are they barely above .500 and in second-place? Pitching.

Of the 7 guys who have pitched at least 45 innings for St. Louis this year, guess how many of them have an ERA below 4.00? One - Woody Williams (3.48). Beyond him, you're looking at a whole lot of Brett Tomko (5.74), Jason Simontacchi (6.18) and Jeff Fassero (5.74), and not enough of a healthy and effective Matt Morris (4.16).

With the offensive core of this team playing the way they are, St. Louis should be able to win the NL Central with no problems. It's not a particularly strong division and none of the teams are playing particularly well so far, but the Cardinals, despite 4 of the best 6 players in the league, are just slightly above .500.

By the way, if the Cardinals do end up making the playoffs this year, I have a little friendly advice for whichever team(s) they are matched up against: DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, PUT A LEFT-HANDED PITCHER ON THE MOUND. If you do, you'll be looking at the following scary, scary slugging percentages:

Pujols      .760

Rolen .701
Renteria .701
Edmonds .674
Perez .615
Matheny .507

The team as a whole is hitting .295/.367/.520 against lefties this year and the thought of having to pitch to some combination of Pujols, Rolen, Renteria, Edmonds and Perez should be enough to make any left-handed pitcher think about seeing if he might be ambidextrous.

2003 Rankings: 1st in batting average, 3rd in on-base percentage, 2nd in slugging percentage, 2nd in runs and 2nd in RBIs.

Random Stat: Pujols is hitting .413/.460/.726 at home and .336/.425/.641 on the road.


Barry Bonds | LF | San Francisco Giants

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

96 300 413 .330 .511 .723 34 14 1 71 81

Since I ranked him 2nd for the NL MVP in May, Barry Bonds has been on a bit of a tear offensively. At the time, he was hitting "only" .299/.497/.642. Since then, he's hitting .359 with a .535 on-base percentage and a .814 slugging percentage.

For the year overall, he's got his numbers up to .330/.511/.723 and is on pace to hit 50 homers and drive in 104 runs, despite missing some time with injuries and despite getting walked 104 times already.

So, if you're like me and you believe the best player should win the MVP each season, Barry is a no-brainer at this point. He leads the NL in on-base percentage and slugging percentage, and he does so while playing in a severe pitcher's ballpark. Heck, even if you are like many of the actual voters, who believe the MVP should be one of the best players from a playoff team, Bonds is still your man. The Giants are currently 70-43 and 11 games ahead of Arizona in the National League West.

I suspect though, and I could be wrong, that the majority of the people who vote for the MVP, if asked right now, would choose Albert Pujols over Bonds. This is, of course, ridiculous. Consider:

             OBP      SLG      EqA

Bonds .511 .723 .406
Pujols .441 .682 .366

This is no knock on Albert Pujols. He is having an extraordinary season and, if he were in a league not shared by Superman, I would give him my MVP vote in a heartbeat. But the fact is, as great as Pujols has been this season, his OBP is 70 points lower than Barry's, his SLG is 41 points lower than Barry's and his Equivalent Average (EqA) is 40 points lower than Barry's.

70, 41 and 40, that's pretty big. If you subtract 70 points of OBP, 41 points of SLG and 40 points of EqA from Pujols, you come up with .371, .641 and .326. In other words, that's Jose Guillen, before he was traded to the AL. Guillen hit .337/.385/.629 with a .320 EqA for the Reds and I didn't hear anyone even mentioning him for the NL MVP.

Besides holding huge leads over Pujols in all the "rate" stats, Barry also leads in all the cumulative numbers, despite missing quite a few games. Bonds leads Pujols in "Runs Above Replacement Position" (RARP) 73.5 to 64.7, he leads him in "Value Over Replacement Position" (VORP) 77.8 to 68.6 and he leads him in "Win Shares" 28.73 to 27.75. And he does all of that for a team winning 62% of their games and, if I remember correctly, the voters for the AL MVP last year seemed to think a team's record was fairly important.

It seems, from what I hear and read, like members of the media are looking for reasons to not award Bonds another MVP. Everyone seems to have jumped on Pujols as the MVP a long time ago and, despite the fact that Bonds is clearly superior to him in any major offensive metric you look at, they are sticking by Pujols. I can understand not wanting to give the same guy the MVP every year, but the job of the voters is to select the Most Valuable Player in the league, not the guy who is valuable and hasn't already won it a bunch of times.

After this season, Barry Bonds will be the owner of the best offensive season in baseball history, the best back-to-back offensive seasons in baseball history and the best back-to-back-to-back offensive seasons in baseball history. That's quite an accomplishment, considering the first of those 3 seasons came at the age of 36 and the last at 38. Actually, Bonds' 2000 season (.306/.440/.688) was incredible enough that I think it's pretty obvious that he is also the owner of the best back-to-back-to-back-to-back offensive seasons in baseball history.

Albert Pujols is a great player having an extraordinary season. Barring a major slump in the final couple months though, Barry Bonds will have been an even better player having an even more extraordinary season. If Pujols wins the MVP award it will not be because he deserved it, and that's a real shame.

Although, that result would go very nicely with last year's AL MVP vote. In 50 years, when someone looks back on this season and last and they see Pujols listed as the NL MVP in 2003 and Miguel Tejada listed as the AL MVP in 2002, they'll look at Bonds' numbers and Alex Rodriguez's numbers and ask why in the world they didn't get the awards they deserved.

For this year, if the only "answer" is that all the writers liked Pujols better and thought he was a better story, and Bonds had already won it a bunch of times, I think that person looking back through baseball history is going to be a little confused.

Thanks for stopping by today. If you missed yesterday's look at the MVP race over in the American League, you can read it by clicking here.

Link of the Day:

U.S.S. Mariner - "Seattle Mariners and general baseball discussion with Jason Michael Barker, David Cameron, and Derek Milhous Zumsteg"

Today's picks:

Pittsburgh (Torres) +210 over San Francisco (Williams)

Montreal (Ohka) +160 over Arizona (Batista)

Detroit (Bonderman) +250 over Oakland (Zito)

Cleveland (Traber) +140 over Seattle (Garcia)

Total to date: + 1,095

W/L record: 196-199 (2-2 yesterday for +80 and very nearly 4-0 for +740)

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

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