August 31, 2004
May the Best Man Win?
From my All-Star "diary":
I like [Carlos] Guillen, who is finally healthy and playing well, but if he finishes the season in the top five of the AL MVP voting, I'll wear a Tigers cap and a Guillen jersey to the winter meetings.
Dave, I'll take a fitted cap, 7¼, and a large jersey. Home, please, as I really do like the Old English D.
Carlos Guillen is not only going to finish in the top five of my ballot, but if the season ended today, he'd likely be atop that ballot. Guillen leads the AL in VORP and Runs Above Replacement, the two best measures of offensive performance. His positive defensive value has him leading the AL in WARP as well, and with my well-established preference for up-the-middle players, I just don't see how I can call anyone else the AL MVP.
It's a wide-open race, though. Here are the top 10 position-player candidates, along with the one pitcher in the mix. I had a hard time trimming the list to 10, in part because I wanted to make sure the media candidates like David Ortiz and Gary Sheffield were on the list. If your down-ballot names include Michael Young, Travis Hafner or Aaron Rowand, or three or four others, I won't argue.
PA AVG OBP SLG VORP RARP WARP Carlos Guillen 543 .316 .380 .554 69.0 57.1 9.4 Melvin Mora 487 .349 .430 .586 66.5 54.2 6.0 Miguel Tejada 578 .310 .360 .536 64.8 50.1 8.7 Vladimir Guerrero 552 .331 .384 .571 64.7 51.6 8.0 Ichiro Suzuki 610 .369 .410 .466 59.7 45.7 6.8 Gary Sheffield 559 .297 .408 .561 59.0 52.6 7.2 Manny Ramirez 531 .316 .407 .618 58.3 51.2 6.0 David Ortiz 546 .301 .375 .605 58.2 43.8 5.4 Ivan Rodriguez 479 .333 .380 .508 51.8 44.1 5.7 Eric Chavez 438 .285 .404 .555 45.8 40.9 6.7 IP ERA RA VORP WARP Johan Santana 188.0 3.06 3.26 62.7 7.8
WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player) accounts for defense and pitching, and is available on the new-and-improved DT player cards. As you can see, it makes a big impact at the top, where Melvin Mora's struggles in adjusting to third base knock him down a number of spots as compared to the other top hitters. In fact, his glovework slides him behind Eric Chavez as far as hot-corner candidates go. Factoring in defense doesn't change the conclusion that the most valuable player in the American League is Carlos Guillen.
There's no issue on which I feel the disconnect between what we do at BP and how the mainstream media covers baseball more than in award voting. As I look at the list above, I see myself putting together an if-the-season-ended-today top five of Guillen, Miguel Tejada, Vladimir Guerrero, Johan Santana and Chavez. Yet when I think about the discussion that's going to occur, only Guerrero, and possibly Chavez, will likely be a part of it. I guess Tejada's 150-RBI pace will get him some attention as well, although he's not getting much press right now. Ortiz, Sheffield and Manny Ramirez, the guys who have lots of RBI on winning teams, are going to attract much of the attention down the stretch, even though their contributions pale in comparison to those of Guillen and Johan Santana.
The difference is that, particularly when it comes to the AL MVP, the two sides approach the question from completely opposite directions. In trying to discern who the most valuable player is, statheads look at on-field performance, how many runs that player added on offense and subtracted on defense, where "runs" is defined not by the context-dependent "R" and "RBI," but by the best evaluative metrics we can get our hands on. In a close race, performance analysts might consider team performance, but it's a tertiary issue. A player can't control the performance of his teammates, or in most cases, who they are. Perceived intangibles and clutch performance are rarely used to separate the candidates.
The BBWAA voters, however, start with the pool of top players from the best teams and sift through those candidates, focusing not on advanced performance metrics, but on Triple Crown stats and "stories," such as who is supposedly a team leader and who had the most memorable hits. A year like 2003, in which Alex Rodriguez won his first MVP award while playing for the last-place Texas Rangers, is an exception. Rodriguez benefited from a lack of great individual performances on the teams that reached the postseason, as well as the fact that a groundswell developed around two players, Shannon Stewart and David Ortiz, who were quite clearly underqualified when compared to the best player in the league.
The end result is that the AL MVP award isn't likely to be decided by what the candidates themselves do, but by how well their teammates play. To win the award, Guerrero needs to play well, but he also needs Darin Erstad to play well, and Bartolo Colon to pitch well, because his chance at the honor is contingent upon the Angels beating out at least two of the four teams with which they're battling for an playoff spot. The same goes for the two Red Sox candidates. Team performance, not individual performance, is going to be the determining factor in the BBWAA voting.
The weird thing is not that Carlos Guillen might win the AL MVP in the Internet Baseball Awards but not the BBWAA version. The weird thing is that he might not finish in the top 10 of the real-life balloting. He'll be behind Tejada when it comes to shortstops and probably behind Ivan Rodriguez when it comes to Tigers. Add in all the players on playoff teams who will have more impressive Triple Crown stats--those we've mentioned as well as Jose Guillen, plus some votes for Mariano Rivera and Ichiro Suzuki--and it's not hard to see a scenario where he ends up 11th or 12th.
Regardless, Carlos Guillen has been the best player in the league, and barring a collapse down the stretch, he'll win my AL MVP vote.
I'm just glad I look good in white.