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
, 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 previewing this year’s class.

One of the things I didn’t get deeply into was the issue of Jason
, 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,
    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.