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May the Best Man Win…But For the Right Reasons
2003-11-20 01:20
by Mike Carminati

I know I should be happy. The best player from each league won the MVP awards. The writers actually got it "right". When was the last time you could say that?

But I have a sneaking suspicion that they only won by default, because of some failing on the part of another player.

Albert Pujols had all but won the NL award in the writers' eyes until his Cardinals dropped out of the pennant race. This illustrates how judging a player by the performance of his team cheapens the award. Pujols consistently registered an OPS over 1.000. Pujols' home runs and RBI did fall off in the second half, but the rest of his numbers were consistently high. Is it his fault that the Cardinals were 13-13 in September and just 36-32 in the second half?

Don't get me wrong—I thought Bonds should have won in a landslide, but I just think that if your brain tells you to vote for Pujols in August and nothing changes, then it should tell you to vote for him now.

Bonds did trail Pujols in Win Shares (41 to 39 and 39 to 36 in hitting Win Shares), but that is due entirely to the time that Bonds missed (32 games). Bonds is still head and shoulders above the rest of the league even after a 100+ point dropoff in OPS. Bonds' 1.278 OPS was the seventh highest all-time, though only his third best since 2001. He was 172 point ahead of second-place Pujols in OPS. There were seven players with 172 points of Pujols in OPS. Bonds was also 42 percentage points ahead of Pujols in league-adjusted OPS (231, 9th best all-time, to 189).

I think Bonds must expose some problem with Win Shares' ability to evaluate players. Someone as extreme as Bonds may not be getting evaluated properly. I can't imagine how (other than time lost) he trailed Pujols by three Win Shares in hitting.

By the way, Sammy Sosa endorsed Albert Pujols as the NL MVP:

"Bonds had good numbers and has a name in the game, but Pujols deserved the award more than anybody."

Now take that sentence and swap Sosa for Bonds and McGwire for Pujols. Then change the year to 1998. And I agree completely with Sammy.

Finally, many are using Bonds' six MVP awards to argue that he is the greatest player ever. That may be, but for an award that was given to Babe Ruth as often as it was given to Zoilo Versalles, the MVP may not be the ideal tool to determine that. (Ruth only finished in the top ten in MVP voting three times: 1st in 1923, 5th in 1931, and 6th in 1932. Part of that is timing: his 59-homer year in 1921 was before the MVP award was reinstated. He did not receive one vote in his 60-homer 1927 season. The award went to Gehrig that year.)

In 1844, the Democrats were split

The three nominees for the presidential candidate

Were Martin Van Buren, a former president and an abolitionist

James Buchanan, a moderate

Louis Cass, a general and expansionist

From Nashville came a dark horse riding up

He was James K. Polk, Napoleon of the Stump

Austere, severe, he held few people dear

His oratory filled his foes with fear

The factions soon agreed

He's just the man we need

To bring about victory

Fulfill our manifest destiny

And annex the land the Mexicans command

And when the votes were cast the winner was

Mister James K. Polk, Napoleon of the Stump

James K. Polk by They Might Be Giants

Alex Rodriguez was the James K. Polk candidate of the AL vote. He did not have any avid supporters but enough general support—mostly because even the writers are not dumb enough to not know that A-Rod is a strong candidate. The cultist candidates (Ortiz, Stewart, and to a lesser degree Tejeda and Wells) split the nut case vote, and let the logic of A-Rod's candidacy come to the fore (just as my friend Murray predicted).

By the way, much is being said about A-Rod being on a last-place team and his being just the second MVP from a last-place team. Now, the Rangers were by no means a great team or even a good team, but 71-91 is not a typical record for a last-place team. Their cellar dwelling is more a function of their four-team division—probably the toughest in baseball—than of the general suckiness of the Rangers.

When you consider that the Rangers were a fourth-place team, one of their players winning an MVP is not such a rare feat:

Tm Pos#

(Table includes all MVP awards dating back to 1910s.)

Now if they really wanted an argument against Rodriguez's legitimacy as an MVP, they shouldn't couch it in terms of position in the standings but rather in terms of games behind the division/league leader. That's what it's all about anyway, isn't it? Who cares if a team finished in fifth place if it was only 10 games back? Weren't they more involved in a pennant race than a team that finished second but 30 games back?

Here's a table of the count of MVPs organized by the number of games back the player's tea, was:

0.5 to 2.518
3 to 55
5.5 to 7.57
8 to 106
10.5 to 14.58
15 to 19.57

That's A-Rod in the second to last bucket. His Rangers finished 25 games back this past year. He MVP whose team finished more than 30 games behind the league leader was Jake Daubert on the 1913 Brooklyn Dodgers, who finished 34.5 games back.

Now, one last criterion actually helps support A-Rod's MVP-ness. That is winning percentage. There have been two other MVPs whose teams had a worse winning percentage than the Rangers (.438). Daubert's Dodgers (.428, 65-84, in 6th place in an 8-team league) is one. The other is the revered Cal Ripken Jr. who edged out Cecil Fielder (a truly awful candidate) in the 1991 AL MVP vote. Ripken's O's were 67-95 for a .414 winning percentage that year, 24 games back, and in sixth place in a seven-team division. But do you ever hear anyone bemoaning the injustice of Ripken winning the award that year?

No, that's because 1991 pre-dates this pennant-contender lunacy that has since been invested in the MVP award. So when Jayson Stark asks, "How have all the other voters defined it over the last 70 years?" He fails to mention the parallels to Ripken, another power-hitting shortstop or Ernie Banks' Cubs, who finished below .500 both years he won the MVP.

Really what Stark and the rest are employing is bad logic. Let me elucidate:

"A-Rod plays for a last-place team"
"Only one player on a last-place team has ever more the MVP"
QED: "A-Rod does not deserve the MVP"

But can Stark or the rest point to a deserving player on a last-place team that has not won the award? Couldn't it just be that the player having the most productive year usually is on a pennant contender? Really, Stark's theory as stated above makes about as much sense as:

"Bonds bats left-handed"
"Most ballplayers bat right-handed"
QED, "Bonds cannot be a ballplayer"

Modus ponens it aint.

By the way, Win Shares supports Ripken as the league co-leader with Frank Thomas in 1991 (34 WS). It also supports A–Rod this year (though only by a fraction of a point above Delgado).

It is odd that Alex Rodriguez finally won the award in possibly his fifth best season (1996 and 2000-02 being better). His adjusted OPS (148) was his fifth highest in his eight full-time seasons. His batting average (.298) was the second lowest of his career and the lowest since 1999. His on-base percentage (.396) was his fourth highest. His slugging percentage (.600) was his fifth highest and his lowest since 1999. He had his first sub 1.000 OPS since 1999 (i.e., .995) and his fifth highest overall. His home run total (47) was only his third highest and the lowest in three years. His RBI total (118) was the sixth highest of his career and his lowest since 1999. His run total (124) is again just the fifth highest and his lowest since 1999. Defensively, his range factor as a factor of the league range factor was his all-time low. It was also the first time in the last three seasons that he missed a game. He did, however, set a career high in triples (6) and set an all-time personal high in fielding percentage (.989) in a full season.

So A-Rod had, for him, an off season, and yet he was still the best player in the league according to Win Shares. For those of us who have been proponents of A-Rod winning the MVP since he was robbed by that poster boy for RBIs, Juan Gonzalez, in 1996, this is a sweet though long-awaited redemption. The baseball writers should be apologizing for taking so long to recognize A-Rod. Instead they are obsessing of his team's last place finish, while praising Rodriguez as the best player in the AL.

To them I say get over it. There have not been that many MVP from teams as poor as the 2003 Rangers, but there haven't been too many shortstops who can consistently lead the league in home runs either. A-Rod is such a unique player that the MVP odds don't matter. Now go back and rectify the '96 award.

Just for fun here is a comparison per league of the MVP voting and the Win Shares for each player. For each league I also included the top ranked players in Win Shares who were ignored in the MVP vote. First the AL:

PlayerPointsRank%Max#BallotsHighLowWS RankDiff RankDiff HighDiff Low
Alex Rodriguez, TEX242161.73%2819100-8
Carlos Delgado, TOR210253.57%2619201-7
Jorge Posada, NYY194349.49%2319524-4
Shannon Stewart, MIN140435.71%2111040363930
David Ortiz, BOS130533.16%151968636759
Manny Ramirez, BOS103626.28%17110716-3
Nomar Garciaparra, BOS99725.26%17110125112
Vernon Wells, TOR84821.43%17110918-1
Carlos Beltran, KC77919.64%183104-51-6
Bret Boone, SEA651016.58%173103-70-7
Miguel Tejada, OAK491112.50%1011010-190
Bill Mueller, BOS451211.48%9310142114
Jason Giambi, NYY36139.18%81106-75-4
Garrett Anderson, ANA35148.93%84911-372
Keith Foulke, OAK20155.10%83102382013
Frank Thomas, CWS20165.10%6410193159
Eric Chavez, OAK18174.59%551013-483
Carlos Lee, CWS16184.08%56929112320
Magglio Ordonez, CWS16194.08%66102011410
Alfonso Soriano, NYY15203.83%45108-123-2
Derek Jeter, NYY10212.55%221044234234
Pedro Martinez, BOS7221.79%2693192522
Ichiro Suzuki, SEA6231.53%261017-6117
Esteban Loaiza, CWS4241.02%17716-899
Jason Varitek, BOS4251.02%17756314949
Aubrey Huff, TB4261.02%391022-41312
Mariano Rivera, NYY3270.77%18849224141
Tim Hudson, Oak0.00%15
Roy Halladay, Tor0.00%18
A.J. Pierzynski, Minn0.00%21
Michael Young, Tex0.00%24
Corey Koskie, Minn0.00%25
Randy Winn, Sea0.00%26
Carl Everett, Tex-CWS0.00%27

Hudson was the highest ranking pitcher and was on a pennant winner and received zip in the MVP vote. Halladay won the Cy Young but the voters didn't think he deserved an MVP vote.

Now the NL:

PlayerPointsRank%Max#BallotsHighLowWS RankDiff RankDiff HighDiff Low
Barry Bonds, SF426195.09%3213211-1
Albert Pujols, STL303267.63%32121-10-1
Gary Sheffield, ATL247355.13%3216302-3
Jim Thome, PHI203445.31%3136512-1
Javy Lopez, ATL159535.49%30310613-4
Eric Gagne, LA143631.92%27310159125
Todd Helton, COL75716.74%204104-30-6
Sammy Sosa, CHI53811.83%1651030222520
Mark Prior, CHI4499.82%1351023141813
Juan Pierre, FLA39108.71%1251042323732
Mike Lowell, FLA30116.70%961021101511
Richie Sexson, MIL21124.69%95109-34-1
Andruw Jones, ATL15133.35%56102291612
Jeff Bagwell, HOU14143.13%561027132117
Edgar Renteria, STL13152.90%751013-283
Preston Wilson, COL12162.68%571039233229
Vladimir Guerrero, MON10172.23%37954374745
John Smoltz, ATL9182.01%25867496259
Marcus Giles, ATL9192.01%35108-113-2
Richard Hidalgo, HOU9202.01%581044243634
Luis Castillo, FLA8211.79%2772541818
Jason Schmidt, SF7221.56%48102862018
Ivan Rodriguez, FLA5231.12%271020-31310
Billy Wagner, HOU5241.12%391046223736
Luis Gonzalez, ARI4250.89%29919-61010
Chipper Jones, ATL4260.89%17710-1633
Bobby Abreu, PHI3270.67%1887-20-1-1
Miguel Cabrera, FLA3280.67%18811082102102
Jim Edmonds, STL3290.67%18824-51616
Mark Grudzielanek, CHI3300.67%18852224444
Derrek Lee, FLA3310.67%18812-1944
Russ Ortiz, ATL3320.67%18868366060
Rafael Furcal, ATL2330.45%19914-1955
Dontrelle Willis, FLA1340.22%1101084507474
Scott Rolen, StL0.00%11
Lance Berkman, Hou0.00%16
Brian Giles, Pitt-SD0.00%17
Mark Loretta, SD0.00%18
Scott Podsednik, Milw0.00%26
Marquis Grissom, SF0.00%29
Livan Hernandez, Mon0.00%31
Javier Vazquez, Mon0.00%32
Jason Kendall, Pitt0.00%33
Jeff Kent, Hou0.00%34

Scott Rolen was the eleventh player in the NL and did not get one mention.

Now here are the most overhyped of those receiving votes, i.e., the players with the greatest disparity between their MVP rank and their Win Shares rank (both leagues listed):

PlayerRankWS RankDiff Rank
Miguel Cabrera, FLA2811082
David Ortiz, BOS56863
Dontrelle Willis, FLA348450
John Smoltz, ATL186749
Vladimir Guerrero, MON175437
Shannon Stewart, MIN44036
Russ Ortiz, ATL326836
Juan Pierre, FLA104232
Jason Varitek, BOS255631
Richard Hidalgo, HOU204424
Derek Jeter, NYY214423
Preston Wilson, COL163923
Mariano Rivera, NYY274922
Sammy Sosa, CHI83022
Billy Wagner, HOU244622
Mark Grudzielanek, CHI305222
Mark Prior, CHI92314
Jeff Bagwell, HOU142713
Carlos Lee, CWS182911
Mike Lowell, FLA112110

Basically, rookies, relievers, great players having off years, and those two ridiculous picks in the AL, Ortiz and Stewart. Miguel Cabrera looks like a fine player, but he played just 87 games. And it wasn't like he was Kevin Maas or anything: his OPS was just 9% better than the park-adjusted league average. He wasn't even the most valuable player named Cabrera!

Now here are the most overlooked, i.e., those who finished lower than expected considering their Win Share ranking (only those receiving votes are listed):

PlayerRankWS RankDiff Rank
Bobby Abreu, PHI277-20
Derrek Lee, FLA3112-19
Rafael Furcal, ATL3314-19
Chipper Jones, ATL2610-16
Alfonso Soriano, NYY208-12
Marcus Giles, ATL198-11
Esteban Loaiza, CWS2416-8
Bret Boone, SEA103-7
Jason Giambi, NYY136-7
Ichiro Suzuki, SEA2317-6
Luis Gonzalez, ARI2519-6
Carlos Beltran, KC94-5
Jim Edmonds, STL2924-5

Basically, players that do a lot of things well and a lot were on playoff teams too (huh?).

Now let's take a look at the outliers. Here are players whose highest place in the vote is most out of line (high) with his Win Shares:

PlayerHighWS RankDiff High
Miguel Cabrera, FLA8110102
Dontrelle Willis, FLA108474
David Ortiz, BOS16867
John Smoltz, ATL56762
Russ Ortiz, ATL86860
Jason Varitek, BOS75649
Vladimir Guerrero, MON75447
Mark Grudzielanek, CHI85244
Derek Jeter, NYY24442
Mariano Rivera, NYY84941
Shannon Stewart, MIN14039
Billy Wagner, HOU94637
Juan Pierre, FLA54237
Richard Hidalgo, HOU84436
Preston Wilson, COL73932
Pedro Martinez, BOS63125
Sammy Sosa, CHI53025
Carlos Lee, CWS62923
Jeff Bagwell, HOU62721
Jason Schmidt, SF82820
Keith Foulke, OAK32320
Luis Castillo, FLA72518
Mark Prior, CHI52318
Jim Edmonds, STL82416
Andruw Jones, ATL62216
Frank Thomas, CWS41915
Mike Lowell, FLA62115
Magglio Ordonez, CWS62014
Aubrey Huff, TB92213
Ivan Rodriguez, FLA72013
Eric Gagne, LA31512
Ichiro Suzuki, SEA61711
Bill Mueller, BOS31411
Nomar Garciaparra, BOS11211
Luis Gonzalez, ARI91910

By the way, Abreu was the only player whose highest place vote (8) was lower than his Win Share ranking (7).

Finally, here are the players who received votes the most places below their Win Share ranking:

PlayerLowWS RankDiff Low
Alex Rodriguez, TEX91-8
Bret Boone, SEA103-7
Carlos Delgado, TOR92-7
Todd Helton, COL104-6
Carlos Beltran, KC104-6
Javy Lopez, ATL106-4
Jorge Posada, NYY95-4
Jason Giambi, NYY106-4
Gary Sheffield, ATL63-3
Manny Ramirez, BOS107-3
Alfonso Soriano, NYY108-2
Marcus Giles, ATL108-2
Bobby Abreu, PHI87-1
Albert Pujols, STL21-1
Barry Bonds, SF32-1
Jim Thome, PHI65-1
Richie Sexson, MIL109-1
Vernon Wells, TOR109-1

At first blush I thought that the AL voters did a much worse job than their NL counterparts, but now I'm not sure. Ortiz and Stewart were eccentric picks at best, but at least they didn't vote for rookie players who only played 87 games. With Willis, Cabrera, Smoltz, Russ Ortiz, Guerrero, Pierre, etc. dotting the NL ballots, the NL voters averaged twice the Win Share-MVP rank difference of the AL vote (10.56 to 5.96).

Ortiz is still the most ridiculous choice in my opinion because of how high finished (5th). According to Win Shares, he was the ninth best player on his own team! (Behind Ramirez, Garciaparra, Mueller, Martinez, Nixon, Damon, Varitek, and Millar) Lest you think I have a bias against DHs, Ortiz was just the sixth best DH (behind Thomas, Edgar Martinez, Palmeiro, Dmitri Young, and Durazo).

Overall, I see a trend towards players who performed well late in the season, no matter what they did early on, on a contending team (Ortiz, Stewart, and Cabrera). Even though A-Rod and Delgado finished in the top two in the AL, this odd interpretation of the award's meaning seems to be taking more and more of a hold on the lemming-like voters. Part of me was hoping that Ortiz would win the AL MVP and we could finally put to rest this anachronistic hanging chad of a voting system.

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