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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, 7ΒΌ, 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.