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:


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.


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!*****

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