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Stop the Madness!
2003-08-21 23:12
by Mike Carminati

Watching SportsCenter earlier this evening, I heard Tim Crack-jian, er, Kirkjian's top-five AL Cy Young candidates. I think the winner was Jeff Weaver. I'm joking of course. Everyone knows that Esteban Loaiza has been surprisingly the best pitcher in the AL. So Kirkjian picked Loaiza, right?

Right, he picked him fourth. Kirkjian's top-five were, in reverse order:

5. Mike Mussina
4. Esteban Loaiza
3. Tim Hudson
2. Mark Mulder
1. Roy Halladay

My first reaction was that the list looked better upside-down (that's why I did the David Letterman countdown). They're all good pitchers, but can Halladay be the best?

Let's see where they all rank according to a number of factors. The following is a table of the pitchers mentioned plus a couple others that are having good years. I listed the typical things that either impress me and/or impress the voters: ERA, wins, winning percentage, strikeouts per nine innings, strikeouts-to-walks ratio, quality starts (I know), walks plus hits per innings pitched (WHIP), opponents' OPS (On-Base Plus Slugging), Win Shares, and Baseball Prospectus' Support Neutral Wins Above Replacement (SNWAR). I then took the average of each player's rankings and ranked them by that:

PitcherERAWinsPCTK/9 IPK/BBQuality StartsWHIPOpp OPSWin SharesSNWARAvg

I think this points out that Loaiza is still the strongest candidate. Mussina has very few weak areas but leads in nothing, and Hudson who leads in Win Shares and SNWAR, probably the most important categories, will not impress the judges with his scant 12 wins and low strikeout numbers.

Meanwhile, Halladay and Mulder, Kirkjian's top two, were fifth and sixth-the list would have been better upside-down. Halladay really does not have much besides the wins (16) going for him. Well, Halladay is also among the league leaders in another category that I don't show here, Baseball Prospectus' Luckiest Starters, ones whose won-lost record far exceed statistical expectation.

Really anything can happen before the award is finally doled out. Loaiza has started to falter; Hudson is coming on strong. I wouldn't be surprised to see that Hudson is the strongest candidate as well as the best pitcher.

And that's kind of the point. The award is given after the season to the best pitcher (how ever you want to define that) over the course of the entire season. There is plenty of baseball left, and these analysts who are bored by the dog days of summer are doing a disservice by turning the awards into some sort of Heisman-like, media-inspired, popularity contest.

ESPN has been running articles on the league MVPs as well. The media have done their best to warp the MVP into an award to the most impressive player on team in a pennant race. Oh, and the team must also win. Bonds is already facing negative press because his Giants are doing so well that they don't need him. ESPN voters picked Albert Pujols about twice as often as Bonds in their poll for the MVP race.

Meanwhile, in the AL Alex Rodriguez, for at least the umpteenth time, is being totally ignored as this article on Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT illustrates. Rodriguez is second in OPS, first in slugging, tied for first in Win Shares, first in home runs, sixth in RBI, and first in runs scored. And the man is a shortstop who won a Gold Glove last year. A-Rod has been the best player in the AL for quite some time and has hardly any hardware to show for it.

Soon we'll be down to a handful of players in each league that the media will even acknowledge. So what do we do about it? First, get rid of the MVP. Keep the award but call it MLPPC-Most Liked Player on a Pennant Contender. Or just call it Player of the Year, and then A-Rod can possibly win it. Next, expand football season to 20 games and start the season August 1. Then the reporters will have some other story to talk about since the pennant races, which are the cynosure of their MVP voting, are not enough to hold their attentions. Either that or start the TV season a month earlier.

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