Who is the MVP?

In my last column, I admitted to occasionally being overly harsh on sportswriters.  Perhaps, I misspoke.  No sooner did those words appear on this website than a slew of columns came out on the major media sites - ESPN, Fox, etc. - reinforcing my previous points about how incapable the sportswriters have been at understanding what "most valuable" means.

In response to a pro-ARod column by Rob Neyer, one ESPN writer took ARod to task this season because he had one bad month.  I guess that makes the fact that he's leading the AL in home runs, runs, runs created and is 2nd in RBI makes his year all the more remarkable, doesn't it?  If you are going to discredit him for one bad month, aren't you at least partially obligated to give him extra credit for 5 extraordinary ones?

Even more frustrating is he opens his tirade citing that historically, 97% of MVPs come from winning teams.  But all this means is that sportswriters have used the same criteria for voting for MVPs the vast majority of the time; it doesn't mean they necessarily understand the meaning of "valuable".  For example, had Miguel Tejada not played last year for the A's, would they have still gotten into the playoffs?  Probably, because, unlike the Rangers, they had three of the best starting pitchers in baseball and several reliable, productive everyday players who were all about team goals.  The Rangers, on the other hand, had Juan Gonzales, Chan Ho Park and Carl Everett.  Enough said?  The point is that, unlike basketball, one player can not make a team into a winner.  Every contending team in baseball history had at least one outstanding player and a solid cast of very good ones.  Baseball is simply too team oriented for one player to turn a losing team into a championship contender.  So the notion that a team was carried by a single player to a division title or a playoff berth is just fantasy. 

How about looking at most valuable in another way - at the turnstiles.  When the A's come to town, did fans flock to see Tejada?  Probably not.  But when the Rangers came to town, you can bet that plenty of the fans who turned out weren't there to see one of the worst teams in baseball.  They were there to see the youngest player in the history of the majors to reach 300 home runs and a guy who has a legitimate shot at becoming the all-time leader in home runs, RBI and runs.  They were there to see the best shortstop ever and when all is said and done, perhaps one of the three best players overall.  How valuable is that?  I'm sure the Rangers appreciate how valuable that extra income is. 

And lest anyone thinks that Alex Rodriguez' contract is the reason the Rangers aren't winning, let's dispel that ridiculous notion right now.  The Rangers are spending $35 million on Juan Gonzales, Carl Everett and Chan Ho Park alone, and another $10 million on two questionable contracts on players who will probably never play again (
Jeff Zimmerman and Rusty Greer).  You don't think a team can build a decent pitching staff with $45 million, which is roughly the same amount that the Oakland A's spend on their entire team?   If you want to blame someone for the Rangers' futility, look to their front office and ownership, not at the guy playing shortstop. 

Finally, this ESPN writer campaigns for Shannon Stewart as a possible MVP candidate.  It's extremely hard to type while laughing this hard, but I will press on.  Yes, Stewart has had a very nice run with the Twins and has certainly been a boost to their offense.  But the primary reason the Twins won the division going away down the stretch was because
after the All-Star break, their starting pitching stopped it's habit of allowing 7 runs a start.  How did this happen?  Was it because the left field defense improving dramatically?  No, actually it was because the Twins manager finally realized that comebacks are tougher than they look on ESPN Classic, and he put Johan Santana in the rotation, thus easing the burden on both the offense and bullpen.  Just in case anyone thinks I'm biased against lead-off hitters, before the Twins acquired Stewart, the Twins were scoring 4.63 runs per game.  After they got him, they scored 5.38 runs per game, an improvement of 0.75.  Before the Twins put Santana in the rotation permanently (about the same time they acquired Stewart), they were allowing 5.01 runs per game and had allowed an opponent to score at least 7 runs in a game 24 times, or roughly once every 4 games.  After moving Santana, they allowed 4.16 runs per game (a 0.85 run improvement) and allowed opponents to score 7 runs in a game just 12 times (once every 5 and two thirds), two of which came in meaningless games against Detroit in the final two days of the season.  So yes, Stewart had some impact, but less so than Gardenhire figuring out a better way to use his available talent.  Case closed.

So who is the AL MVP?  It's sad that the debate has come down to people who think ARod is the MVP and people who simply won't give it to ARod, regardless of what he does.  But that's how it is.  In ARod's favor is that he's leading the league in just about every meaningful offensive category and played superb defense again at one of the most demanding positions in baseball. 

That said, there are some legitimate candidates.  Shannon Stewart and his .827 OPS/13 homers/89 runs and 73 RBI is definitely not one of them.  He actually created fewer runs this season that Dmitri Young.  And while Dmitri Young is a good player, he ain't no MVP candidate.  No, this year's non-ARod candidates are Carlos Delgado, Manny Ramirez and perhaps Jorge Posada.  Posada had a nice year for a catcher, but are 29 homers and 97 runs created from a catcher really more valuable than nearly 50 homers and 136 runs created from a shortstop?  I don't think so.

Delgado is very close to ARod in terms of runs created (134), but like Rodriguez, he plays on a team that isn't contending and plays a less demanding position.  Ramirez is an intriguing possibility because he plays on a winning team, is just behind Delgado and ARod in runs created (130), and is a contender for the batting title (an accomplishment that goes over big with sportswriters).  But unlike ARod, he gets bad marks for attitude due to his much publicized "sickness" during a crucial series with the Yankees, which seems like a completely silly thing to discredit a player for when it comes to appraising his "value".  The MVP award is supposed to be about on the field performance, isn't it?  

While the mountain of evidence still points unerringly to ARod winning the award, the majority of the voters are still in the "not ARod at any cost" camp, so the vote is still very much in the air.  The question is will there be enough support for a single non-ARod candidate so that their disdain won't be too diffused to keep Rodriguez' core supporters from finally rewarding him with the award he deserves.  I hope not because Alex Rodriguez is long overdue.

As hard as it is to believe, among the sportswriters Barry Bonds is actually the sentimental candidate to win another MVP award.  And he is having another remarkable year despite the hardship of losing his father to cancer this season.  But is he really the most valuable? 

Rate-wise, there's no question that Bonds is the most productive player in the game, although it should be noted that the margin is not by as much as people would have you think.  Both Todd Helton and Manny Ramirez entered this season with better lifetime slugging percentages and Frank Thomas had a better on base percentage.  Of course, each additional year of the new Barry changes that.  But was he the most productive overall?  Actually, no.

Albert Pujols' run at a triple crown this season has put his runs created total at 158.1, more than Bonds' 144.5.   Todd Helton's 151 is also superior to Bonds' but he plays on the Rockies, so he has both the Colorado effect and the non-contender effect working against him.  Pujols does not.  The biggest difference between Bonds and Pujols this season is that Bonds has played about 30 fewer games.  So the question then becomes, are the Giants better off with 30 games of Ruben Rivera, Jeffrey Hammonds, Pedro Feliz, Marvin Benard, et al. playing than the Cardinals are with Pujols playing.  Obviously not.  But are they enough to offset the balance in the Giants favor given their advantage when Bonds plays.  All totaled, the non-Bonds left fielders combined for 12.9 runs created, 7.3 of which came from Feliz.  But that still leaves the Giants short.  So the correct answer for MVP, or at least the guy who has been more valuable to his team's winning cause, is Albert Pujols.

But someone getting the award over a more deserving candidate occurs roughly 97% of the time, so we probably shouldn't expect history to change this year.