First-third awards – NL MVP

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We’ll use VORP
to come up with a list of candidates and go from there. Position
players only. I think Dan Haren should figure into the mix for the
bottom half of the ballot, but the rest of the top 10 will be hitters.

1. Albert Pujols – 37.2
2. Raul Ibanez – 33.4
3. Carlos Beltran – 30.0
4. Hanley Ramirez – 27.9
5. Adrian Gonzalez – 26.5
6. Chase Utley – 26.1
7. Miguel Tejada – 24.7
8. Ryan Zimmerman – 23.4
9. Justin Upton – 23.1
10. Brad Hawpe – 22.4
11. Orlando Hudson – 21.3
12. Ryan Braun – 21.2
13. David Wright – 20.9

That’s everyone over 20.0.

Moving on to OPS:

1. Albert Pujols – 1168 in 53 G
2. Raul Ibanez – 1091 in 52 G
3. Adrian Gonzalez – 1075 in 53 G
4. Brad Hawpe – 1051 in 46 G
5. Carlos Beltran – 1022 in 47 G
6. Justin Upton – 1000 in 50 G
7. Chase Utley – 998 in 50 G
8. Prince Fielder – 979 in 54 G
9. Ryan Braun – 964 in 52 G
10. Hanley Ramirez – 962 in 51 G

Playing time isn’t as much of an issue here as it was in the AL,
where it was tough to figure out where to put Joe Mauer and Jason
Bartlett. The only player in the NL to perform like an MVP candidate
over 30-40 games is Joey Votto, who had a 1091 OPS in 38 games before
landing on the DL.

Finally, the RBI list, since that’s what the real voters will be mostly concerned about:

1. Raul Ibanez – 53
2. Prince Fielder – 52
3. Albert Pujols – 48
4. Ryan Howard – 46
5. Adrian Gonzalez – 43
6. Adam Dunn – 42
7. Brad Hawpe – 41
8. James Loney – 41
9. Brandon Phillips – 40
10. Dan Uggla – 39

I see five legitimate candidates: Pujols, Ibanez, Beltran, Gonzalez
and Utley. Fielder isn’t hitting any better than the top two first
baseman and he’s a weaker defender. As a subpar shortstop, Hanley is
rather overrated by VORP. Also, he hasn’t been as much of a force on
the basepaths as usual, and even though he’s hitting .400 with RISP, he
has just 25 RBI while batting third. That knocks him down to sixth.

Of the top five, two are quality defenders at key positions, two are
quality defenders at first base and one is a below average defender in
left field. Beltran’s candidacy takes a hit because he’s missed five of
the Mets’ 52 games.

As outstanding as Ibanez has been, I don’t see a reason to go away
from Pujols, last year’s MVP. He has the OPS lead, he’s a positive in
the field and on the basepaths and he’s hitting .341 with RISP. Utley
also contributes in more ways than Ibanez.

What Gonzalez has gone is truly remarkable — he’s on pace for more
than 60 homers while playing half of his games at Petco Park — but he
doesn’t have the same kind of average as the other candidates and his
OBP is being inflated by teams working around him with RISP. It’s not
his fault that the Padres can’t protect him, but it has made him less
valuable. He’s hit just .231 with RISP.

First-third NL MVP

1. Pujols
2. Utley
3. Ibanez
4. Gonzalez
5. Beltran
6. Ramirez
7. Haren
8. Fielder
9. Hudson
10. Mike Cameron

The deeper implications of the A.J. Ellis trade

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 17:  Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers heads to the dugout at the end of the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Dodger Stadium on May 17, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The trade of a light-hitting backup catcher is normally about as inconsequential as it gets. The trade of A.J. Ellis by the Dodgers to the Phillies, however, is anything but that. Indeed, it may be the public manifestation of long-simmering, well, maybe “feud” is too strong a word, but a definite butting of heads between the team’s front office and its best player.

While almost all of the clubhouse drama in Los Angeles has surrounded a talented but aggravating corner outfielder currently toiling in the minors, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times wrote last night that the Ellis trade could very well be seen as the front office’s shot across Clayton Kershaw‘s bow:

Kershaw’s preference of Ellis was the subject of a longstanding tug-of-war between Kershaw and the front office, which wanted Yasmani Grandal behind the plate as much as possible . . . Some players interpreted the trade as a message from the front office.

This isn’t Kershaw’s team. It’s not Corey Seager’s team or Adrian Gonzalez’s, either.

It’s Friedman’s.

The notion that Kershaw likes to pitch to Ellis is pretty well-known, but the idea that it was so strong a preference that it created a dispute as to whether he has final say over a roster spot is news, at least to people who aren’t around the Dodgers all the time. Hernandez is a good columnist and is particularly well-plugged in to the Dodgers after many years of being their beat writer for the Times. He wouldn’t throw the notion of there being something of a power struggle in this regard out there all willy-nilly in order to stir the pot or something. I don’t doubt for a second that something bigger than most of us have seen is going on here.

As for the trade itself: yeah, it’s pretty debatable as to whether it makes any kind of sense. Carlos Ruiz is likely an upgrade over Ellis, but it’s a pretty marginal upgrade when you consider how few plate appearances the Dodgers backup catcher will make for the rest of the year. It’s especially marginal if you assume, as Hernandez and others assume, likely with reason, that the loss of Ellis is going to harm morale. At least in the short term before they get to know Ruiz well (worth noting, though, that he comes pretty highly recommended from Kershaw-caliber aces for all the same reasons Ellis does). I can see a lot of reasons not to make that deal even for an extra hit or two a week that Ruiz may give you over Ellis.

All of which speaks to what we don’t know. What we don’t know about the mind of Andrew Friedman and whether or not there is something more going on here than is immediately apparent. About the relationship between him and Kershaw and, for that matter, him and the rest of the team that would cause him to make a deal that plays as poorly with his own players as this one does. It could be something about Ellis. It could be something about Friedman’s relationship with Kershaw. It could be something totally unrelated to any of that, such as offseason plans and the roster in 2017 (Ruiz has a team option for next year, Ellis is a pending free agent). Unless or until Friedman speaks or a reporter gets someone to shed more light on this, there will continue to be questions.

In the meantime, I’ll grant that there are certainly different rules which apply to superstars than mere mortals, but veto power over a trade and/or playing time for other players isn’t typically one of them. If, as Hernandez suggests, there was a sense that Kershaw and Friedman didn’t see eye-to-eye on that and it wasn’t otherwise being resolved, it makes Friedman’s move somewhat more understandable.

World Baseball Classic pools, venues announced

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - MARCH 10:  Miguel Cabrera #24 of Venezuela gets a hit and drives in a run against Spain during the first round of the World Baseball Classic at Hiram Bithorn Stadium on March 10, 2013 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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Yesterday the folks who run the World Baseball Classic (i.e. the Rand Corporation, in conjunction with the saucer people, under the supervision of the reverse vampires, the Illuminati and the Trilateral Commission) announced the groupings and venues for next springs’s tournament. It breaks down thusly:

  • Pool A will play in Tokyo, featuring Australia, China, Cuba, and Japan;
  • Pool B will play in Seoul, featuring Chinese Taipei, Korea, the Netherlands, and either Brazil, Israel, Great Britain, or Pakistan (final participant to be determined at a qualifying tournament in New York next month);
  • Pool C will play in Miami, featuring Canada, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and the United States;
  • Pool D will play in Guadalajara, featuring Italy, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela.

A winner and a runner-up will advance from each pool following a round-robin competition. That will result in a second round robin made up of Pool A and B — which will be called Pool E, because it HAS to be complicated — and which will be played in Tokyo. Meanwhile, Pool C and D’s representatives will make up Pool F, who will play in San Diego at Petco Park.

The winner of Pool F will then take on the runner-up of Pool E in a semifinal at Dodger Stadium, while the winner of Pool E will face Pool F’s runner-up there as well. The winners of those matches will play in the WBC final, also at Dodger Stadium.

Got it? Good.

Now we wait. And listen to people tell us how much we should care about the World Baseball Classic between now and March.