Sunday, October 19, 2008

Mosvick's MVPs

About a week, my colleague gave his perspective on the MVP race, largely choosing arguable choices. However, since I don't get much of a chance to post during the school year and exhausting job search, I wanted to take the weekend time to post. Plus, the Rays just lost and allowed a Game 7 against Boston to happen. Before most of (hopefully) collectively beg for Boston to lose, let me give you my version of the run-down and some of my reasons for occasionally agreeing with the other Nick.

AL MVP: Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins C

Its really hard for me to make the decision and be able to demand there wasn't any homerism. But, really, how much can that take away from a pretty clear-cut argument? Mr. Nelson mentioned that there are other contenders like the Red Sox's Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia, as well as Grady Sizemore, Alex Rodriguez, Josh Hamilton, Milton Bradley, and Justin Morneau. But what this list also emphasizes is that there wasn't a particularly strong MVP field in 2008.

This goes to two more reasons, in addition to the arguments about offensive and defensive greatness at a crucial position given by the other Nick. For one, when there isn't a strong field and there is a player having a historically great season, the vote should lean his way. In case anyone forgot, Joe Mauer is the only AL catcher to ever win a batting title (Ernie Lombardi won a batting title in the NL in 1938, hitting .342) and he has now done that twice at the age of 25. Unbelievable. Of course, this is my argument and is clearly not agreed upon by the voters. There are obviously examples like no MVP for McGwire in the 70 homer season, but only Jose Canseco won a MVP in a 40/40 campaign and there have been only four of those. The second reason is that Mauer's ability to get on base and score runs (98 of them) was a big reason for Morneau's 129 RBI that make him a contender. (For argument's sake, Mauer was even better than Morneau with runners on, but didn't have quite the amount of RBI opportunities)

NL MVP: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals 1B

There are a great many reasons to pick Pujols over many much weaker "contenders." I frankly find the argument for Ryan Howard laughable, since Chase Utley (62.2 VORP) and Jimmy Rollins (43.5 VORP) were more valuable hitters (Howard had a 35.3 VORP to go with his unsightly .251 average) and not only play more valuable defensive positions, but are actually good defensive players. Howard is a sub-par defender and Pujols is the best in the league at his position. As for VORP? Pujols is #1 in both leagues with a 96.8, way ahead of Hanley Ramirez at 80.7.

Now I am not arguing that VORP is the greatest or most useful stat, since Mauer did not lead the AL in VORP (A-Rod did) and I am still picking him. However, it still is a great tool for evaluating offensive value and, as I noted, my argument for Mauer goes beyond that. If you don't like that stat, Pujols also lead both leagues with 142 runs created and 342 total bases. He produced a total of 81 extra-base hits and arguably his best hitting line at .357/.462/.653, good for a 190 OPS plus. Pujols is simply the best hitter in the league, a very good defender, and without him, the Cardinals wouldn't have smelled the playoffs in my opinion.

AL Cy Young: Roy Halladay, Toronto Blue Jays

Its hard to pick against Cliff Lee. I hate the wins stat, because I think that the pitcher does not have much control over wins and thus it is not that useful of a statistic in analyzing who is the best pitcher. (That is, if that is how you think of Cy Young - league voting rules would agree with me)Lee also lead the league in ERA, which is more valuable than wins but still not entirely in the pitcher's control. I think Halladay cuts the lead by not only coming very close to Lee with 20 wins and a 2.78 ERA (compared to 22 and a 2.54 ERA), but also leading the league in WHIP (1.05, with Lee at 1.11), coming in third in strikeouts (206, to Lee's 170), leading the league in innings pitched at 246 (to Lee's 223 1/3), was harder to hit (.237 OBA, to Lee's .253), and had a better K/BB ratio (5.28, to Lee's 5.00).

Most of these are very close, but I feel like a few things give Halladay the edge, mostly given his lead in innings, strikeouts and opponent batting average, showing more dominance and value to his team. His Blue Jays also were in the playoff hunt, which I don't like to give a lot of credence to, but does help in a close race.

NL Cy Young: Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants

I thought this race was actually easy, but apparently my colleague disagrees given his vote for Brad Lidge. Granted, I said historically great seasons should get an edge in these votes if the field is not great. However, there is a difference between a catcher winning two batting titles at the age of 25 and a closer having a flawless season in terms of not blowing a save. While impressive, I just don't think they are the same ballpark. I've written on here before that saves are not only a flawed statistic, but not even a particularly good one for accessing relievers in many ways. Given that, a reliever also needs to have a incredible season for me to find them Cy Young worthy (I would have given Jason Schmidt the 2003 Cy Young over Eric Gagne, for instance) and I'm not sure Lidge had that.

On the other hand, Lincecum was far and away the best pitcher in the NL this year. He lead the league in strikeouts by a wide margin with 265 (three were tied in second with 206), was second in the league with a 2.62 ERA and a 72.5 VORP (behind our old friend Johan Santana, with 73.4), was second in the league with 18 wins (on a horrible Giants team and while Brandon Webb had 22, I have gone through the limitations of wins before and Webb isn't a contender outside of his win total), first in league in hits allowed (7.22/9), first in strikeout ratio (10.51/9), and first in adjusted ERA at 164.

There were some other fine contenders and one of those I should point out is Santana. Santana had only 16 wins, but suffered through seven blow saves and countless other head-pounding games with the Mets. Outside of that, he still lead the league in ERA, had 206 Ks, and had his usual second-half run of brilliance. He isn't Cy Young, but he deserves some praise.

Rookies of the Year: Evan Longeria, Tampa Bay Rays and Geovany Soto, Chicago Cubs

I won't spend much time on these because neither are too hard of choices. Each pick was clearly the best rookie in their respective league. Both played particularly good defense for important positions (though catcher is more valuable than third-base) and each had standout statistics at the plate, with Longeria tallying 27 home runs and 85 RBI after starting the year in Triple-A and Soto having 23 home runs and 86 RBI. Honorable mentions go to Mike Aviles of the Royals and Joey Votto of the Reds.

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