Word on the street is that this is going to be the year that Alex Rodriguez, the best player in the American League these last few years, wins the Most Valuable Player award that's eluded him as voters have ignored my highly logical arguments.
Giving the award to Rodriguez comes down to this religious question: Does the Most Valuable Player award have to go to a player on a contending team? Most baseball people answer yes, the argument going that the Rangers could have finished last in 2002 without Alex Rodriguez just as they finished last with him, while the A's wouldn't have finished first without Miguel Tejada. Ergo, Tejada was more valuable, an argument that must be right because it has the word "ergo" in it. A-Rod put up huge numbers, but on a losing team they have no value.
Except when they do, that is. Andre Dawson was the National League MVP in 1987 with the last-place Cubs. Ernie Banks of the 1958 and '59 Cubs and Cal Ripken Jr. of the 1991 Orioles also won the MVP while playing for losing teams. Asked to justify these awards in light of their argument against Rodriguez, the baseball people tend to shuffle their feet a lot and say, "Did I mention 'ergo'?"
My far better line of thinking is that value is value. Rodriguez's tremendous accomplishments are worth the same whether he's surrounded by All-Stars or minor leaguers. The Rangers are lousy because they have little value other than Rodriguez. The answer to where they'd be without him isn't "still in last place," it's "way, way, way worse." The Rangers through Monday's games were only three games behind the Angels in the Western Division, and they were the 10th best team in a 14-team league, better than the Orioles, Indians, Devil Rays and Tigers. They're bad, but they're not horrendous. Without A-Rod, they'd be Detroit.
Rodriguez has the same value on a last-place team as he'd have on a first-place team in the same way that a $100 bill has the same value in my pocket that it does in Bill Gates'. It amazes me that I have to explain this every year. Those of you who don't agree, send me your $100 bills. I'll make sure they find their way to some rich people where they can do some good.
Bill James developed a system called Win Shares a few years ago that attempts to measure each player's value independent of the contributions of his teammates. The system, which I don't fully understand and with which I'm not sure I agree, doesn't punish players on bad teams or reward players on good teams. Baseballgraphs.com keeps track of Win Shares for the current season, and through Saturday Rodriguez led the league with 32, two ahead of Carlos Delgado of the Blue Jays.
The argument for Rodriguez getting the award this year is that there isn't anybody on a playoff team who's having an MVP-type year, which for the voters -- sportswriters who are members of the Baseball Writers Association of America -- tends to mean a very high batting average or a lot of runs batted in or, less often, home runs.
There actually is a player having such a year, but unfortunately it's Manny Ramirez of the Red Sox, and nobody likes to vote for Manny Ramirez, who has what my junior high school teachers used to refer to (in notes to my parents) as attitude problems. Ramirez has a high batting average, .324 (all stats in this article are through Monday), which is second in the league to teammate Bill Mueller, who doesn't have nearly Ramirez's power. Ramirez has 36 homers and 102 RBIs and he leads the league in OPS at 1.013. He's also first in runs created, a somewhat esoteric but meaningful stat, with 134.9, just ahead of A-Rod's 133.9, and way ahead of everybody else.
Delgado is the league leader in RBIs, with 134, 17 ahead of Rodriguez. But Delgado's Blue Jays are out of contention, and considering that A-Rod is demonstrably better in every other way, it's hard to justify giving the trophy to him. Or the car, or whatever they give the MVP.
So after dominating the American League the last few years and not winning the MVP because he played for a last-place team, it's possible that Rodriguez will win it this year, on a last-place team, when for once he has some real competition in Ramirez, who plays for a team that's going to the playoffs. With that kind of logic I cannot argue.
But I'm going with Ramirez anyway. While I don't think a player on a last-place team should be ineligible for the award, I do think that if it's more or less a tossup, a guy should get a little extra juice for being on a playoff team. And, with all due respect to readers who are even now composing e-mails arguing for Delgado, Mueller, Magglio Ordonez, Bret Boone, Carlos Beltran and Alfonso Soriano, it really is a tossup between Rodriguez and Ramirez.
Rodriguez leads Ramirez in homers, RBIs and Win Shares (Ramirez has only 26), while Ramirez is tops in OPS, average and runs created. Rodriguez is an excellent shortstop and Ramirez is a horrendous outfielder. I'd be happy to see A-Rod finally win this thing, but my vote goes to Ramirez.
Here's my take on the other postseason awards.
National League MVP: It comes down to Barry Bonds of the Giants vs. Albert Pujols of the Cardinals, and this might be a good year to divide the thing, the way they did in 1979, when they gave it to Keith Hernandez and Willie Stargell, neither of whom really deserved it, but that's another story.
Bonds, of course, has been phenomenal, again, and in light of the way he's continued to excel through his father's illness and death, it's hard to picture the voters denying him his record sixth award. But Pujols is right there, leading Bonds in just about every category other than home runs (47-43 Bonds, through Monday) and OPS (1.277 to 1.122), which can be broken down into its components, on-base percentage (.529-.443, Bonds) and slugging percentage (.748-.679, Bonds). And those are really important. But Pujols has created 156.7 runs to Bonds' 144.3, and leads 40-39 in Win Shares, for what that's worth.
Bonds' team is going to the playoffs while Pujols' club isn't, but even if that weren't true, I'd give the nod to Bonds. Pujols' winning wouldn't offend me, but I don't think he will.
American League Cy Young: Tim Hudson of the A's. He's only 15-7, but he's been tougher to hit than anyone in the league. Only Pedro Martinez of the Red Sox (14-4, 2.25) has a lower ERA than Hudson's 2.74 among pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the league lead, and that difference is significant, a half a run every nine innings. But Hudson has started five more games and thrown almost 50 innings more than Martinez. They've both held opposing hitters to a .587 OPS, best in the league among starters.
Pitching victories, a highly overrated stat, weigh heavily in the Cy Young voting, so Roy Halladay of the Blue Jays (21-7, 3.22), Jamie Moyer of the Mariners (20-7, 3.27) and Esteban Loaiza of the White Sox (19-9, 2.92) all have their supporters, but Hudson and Martinez have outpitched all of them.
National League Cy Young: Eric Gagne of the Dodgers. He's just been sick. In a normal year, one without the incredible feats of Bonds and Pujols, he'd have people pushing him for MVP. I don't think relief pitchers work enough to ever be considered for that award. In fact, I think they have to be spectacular just for Cy Young consideration, since starting pitchers typically throw three times as many innings. Well, Gagne would have to go into an epic tailspin to come down to spectacular.
He's converted all 53 save opportunities, which, you know, whatever with the meaningless save stat, but that's just the start of it. Gagne is often mentioned in the same breath with John Smoltz of the Braves, who's also having a brilliant year. But Gagne left Smoltz in the dust even before the Atlanta closer spent a good chunk of September on the disabled list. This is all you have to know: Smoltz has held opponents to an eye-poppingly low OPS of .502. Against Gagne, batters have an OPS of .380. Three-eighty! He's turned the entire league into Rockies rookie Garrett Atkins.
A.L. Rookie of the Year: Here's another one of those religious arguments. Should Yankee Hideki Matsui, who is 29 and a veteran of a decade in the Japanese major leagues, be eligible for the Rookie of the Year award? This same question was asked about Ichiro, who won it two years ago at 27. It will probably keep coming up as Japanese players make their way to the States.
I have to say I find myself strangely uninterested in this debate. The Japanese leagues aren't the equal to the American big leagues, and success there doesn't guarantee success here. On the other hand, it doesn't seem fair to have a seasoned, 29-year-old pro, even a pro who's played in a slightly lesser league, competing against kids in their early 20s who have just come up from the minors. But it's not exactly the end of the world either. However baseball wants to solve this one is OK with me, but for the moment there's no age limit, so Matsui wins.
His year has been a bit overrated, not as good as his 105 RBIs would lead you to believe, but he's a fine player, a decent hitter and good outfielder who figures to improve at the plate as he gets comfortable. Rocco Baldelli of the Devil Rays and Angel Berroa of the Royals have both had good rookie years, but neither has outplayed Matsui, so until they change the rules, it goes to the old guy.
N.L. Rookie of the Year: Brandon Webb of the Diamondbacks, and it isn't close. With not too much finger-crossing, you could get him into the Cy Young conversation, which you couldn't do with Dontrelle Willis, the Marlins lefty who's gotten all the ink this year. Willis was 13-6 with a 3.37 ERA going into Tuesday night's start against the Phillies. That's good, and he's fun to watch, but Webb has just been better, only 10-7 but with a 2.50 and better peripherals, as all those more obscure stats I keep referring to are called. In a year without two sterling rookie pitchers, outfielder Scott Podsednik of the Brewers (.315 average, 42 steals) would be a solid Rookie of the Year candidate. Not this year.
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