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November 21, 2001

The Daily Prospectus

MVPs, Present and Past

by Joe Sheehan

I know I'm supposed to be really worked up over Ichiro Suzuki being voted the American League MVP by the Baseball Writers Association of America, and initially I was. Ichiro, for all his positives, wasn't the best player on his team this year, wasn't one of the five best players in the AL, and got the award as much because of his backstory as anything else.

Still, after the initial burst of irritation, I'm left to conclude that it just doesn't matter. The voters for the AL MVP have made it clear that they're not going to use any standards we can recognize, and are going to give the award to whomever they damn well please. From Mo Vaughn in 1995 through the multiple shunnings of Alex Rodriguez and Pedro Martinez, the AL MVP award has become an annual joke, and I'm left to treat it as such.

You know, there are a lot of awards no one cares about any longer. The Associated Press and The Sporting News still hand out honors each year, to the sound of one hand clapping. The Topps All-Rookie Team used to be a big deal. The Silver Sluggers are pretty much forgotten. Is it really that hard to see a world where the BBWAA's input, from the annual awards to the Hall of Fame, isn't regarded as essential?

What was interesting about the AL MVP vote was the down-ballot results. Roberto Alomar received votes in all ten ballot spots, and was left off by two writers. As many people gave him no votes as had him as the league MVP, which is just plain weird. I don't know if either of those things has ever happened before.

Beyond that, there was the greatest season by a shortstop in AL history coming in fifth in the voting. There was Tino Martinez, a league-average first baseman, out-pointing Carlos Delgado and Rafael Palmeiro, as well as teammates Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, and Mike Mussina.

Well, these debates have a short shelf life anyway, so let's move on. Free agents are in the process of negotiating with interested teams, and in advance of that, I wrote a piece for ESPN.com previewing this year's class.

One of the things I didn't get deeply into was the issue of Jason Giambi, and whether he will be a good signing. Giambi, 30, is one of the two or three best hitters in baseball, and is coming off back-to-back seasons right out of the Frank Thomas playbook.

Now, I don't mean to scare George Steinbrenner, but there are a lot of similarities between Giambi and two of the great first basemen of recent years, Thomas and Mo Vaughn. All three are high-average, high-walk, high-power hitters who play first base poorly. Giambi is the smallest of the three, but is still a big guy who has been getting bigger since becoming a full-time first baseman.

Let's take a look at the three players in the three seasons in which they were ages 28, 29, and 30:


              G    AB     H   2B  3B   HR    BB    AVG   OBP   SLG
Big Hurt    149   547   174   32   1   35   109   .319  .430  .569
Hit Dog     152   590   193   28   1   40    81   .326  .414  .579
G           155   535   163   37   1   38   124   .330  .458  .618

Giambi's performance is comparable, albeit superior, to that of the other two players. Vaughn's numbers are helped by playing these three years in Boston, but both Thomas and Giambi played in pitchers' parks, so that's pretty much a wash.

It's fair to say that the three players are similar in style and performance. And that's the scary part; here's what Thomas and Vaughn did in their age 31 and 32 seasons:


              G    AB     H   2B  3B   HR    BB    AVG   OBP   SLG
Big Hurt    144   534   170   40   0   29   100   .317  .426  .555
Hit Dog     150   569   157   26   0   35    67   .276  .362  .503

Thomas declined slightly on average; it was actually one great season and one poor one by his standards. Vaughn was a total disappointment after signing with the Angels.

It got worse: the two players were both age 33 in 2001. They combined for less than 100 at-bats, as Thomas missed most of the season with a torn tricep muscle, and Vaughn missed all of it with a ruptured tendon in his left arm. Their contracts, however, performed as expected.

This isn't to say that Jason Giambi is going to follow the same path as these two guys. He may well continue to be one of the best hitters in the game, worthy of $15 million or more a season. But when you look at how much he has in common with Vaughn and Thomas--performance, approach at the plate, defensive value, physique--it's hard not to be at least a little bit concerned about committing that kind of money to him for six or more years.

  • By the way, the weasel is at it again, taking potshots at Minnesota's baseball fans while mischaracterizing an earlier plan to build a ballpark in Minnesota. For details on the interesting math of Bud Selig and Carl Pohlad, check out Voros McCracken's piece at Baseball Primer.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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