Midseason AL Most Valuable Player

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I went with Zack Greinke as AL MVP one-third of the way through the season,
but he’s fallen back to the pack by posting a 3.97 ERA since the
beginning of June. The focus will return to the position players this
time around.

Here’s the top 16, according to VORP:

1. Joe Mauer – 46.2
2. Jason Bartlett – 38.2
3. Ben Zobrist – 36.9
4. Ichiro Suzuki – 35.3
5. Derek Jeter – 34.8
6. Justin Morneau – 34.8
7. Torii Hunter – 32.7
8. Adam Lind – 32.4
9. Kevin Youkilis – 30.2
10. Shin-Soo Choo – 29.8
11. Evan Longoria – 29.4
12. Carl Crawford – 28.7
13. Jermaine Dye – 28.4
14. Marco Scutaro – 28.3
15. Jason Bay – 28.0
16. Russell Branyan – 28.0

And here is the OPS leaderboard, along with how many games each player has played:

1. Joe Mauer – 1069 – 64 games
2. Ben Zobrist – 1012 – 81 games
3. Kevin Youkilis – 985 – 74 games
4. Justin Morneau – 965 – 88 games
5. Russell Branyan – 956 – 79 games
6. Jermaine Dye – 942 – 81 games
7. Torii Hunter – 938 – 77 games
8*. Jason Bartlett – 930 – 68 games
9. Adam Lind – 928 – 87 games
10. Miguel Cabrera – 926 – 85 games
11. Jason Kubel – 914 – 77 games
12. Mark Teixeira – 913 – 84 games
13. Jason Bay – 908 – 86 games
14. Evan Longoria – 898 – 84 games

Bartlett actually falls just short of qualifying.

WPA
is also interesting in this case. I’m now going to go too far down the
list, but the stat does add to the candidacy of a few of our top
candidates.

WPA, for those who don’t know, measures how much every at-bat in every game increased or decreased a team’s chances of winning.

1. Johnny Damon – 3.12
2. Jason Bay – 3.10
3. Ben Zobrist – 2.91
4. Franklin Gutierrez – 2.47
5. Joe Mauer – 2.29
6. Mark Teixeira – 2.24

Gutierrez really sticks out like a sore thumb, but he has his OPS up
to 801 now and he’s one of the game’s most valuable defensive players.
He isn’t far away from deserving serious consideration for down-ballot
votes.

OK, enough lists. Let’s try to figure this out. I do have a top 10 in mind:

Mauer
Bartlett
Zobrist
Youkilis
Bay
Jeter
Longoria
Morneau
Hunter
Ichiro

Teixeira’s numbers are Yankee Stadium inflated, so I’m comfortable
leaving him out. Cabrera doesn’t offer much defensively, and he has
just 50 RBI. Aaron Hill and Brandon Inge were the next two players on
my list, and considering their gloves, there’s pretty good arguments
for including both in the top 10.

In terms of quality, Mauer is undeniably the AL’s MVP to date. The
problem is that he’s played in only 72 percent of Minnesota’s games.
Then again, several other top candidates have missed time, Bartlett
most notably. Youkilis has sat out 14 games, and while Zobrist has
played in 81 games, he’s started only 64.

Quantity is important, so I think it’s worth looking at the RBI
list. Bay leads with 72, followed by Morneau at 70, Longoria at 66 and
Hunter at 65. Hunter may well be overrated with the glove at this point
in his career, but he’s still contributing quite a bit on defense, as
is Longoria. Bay and Morneau are the only ones in the top 10 who really
aren’t. Hunter and Ichiro are Gold Glove locks, and Mauer, Bartlett and
Longoria are top contenders. The numbers say Jeter is playing an
average shortstop, which is plenty valuable. Youkilis and Zobrist both
add a great deal to their value by playing multiple positions.

I have to say that after all of this, I’m just about as confused as
I was going in. I’m ready to put Mauer at the top of the list, though
I’d feel more comfortable about it if he had played an additional 8-10
games. I also believe that Greinke has to be on there somewhere, and
Ichiro is the most logical candidate to get the boot. While he’s
currently sporting a career-high 873 OPS, he hasn’t been nearly as good
with runners on. And, yeah, it’s mostly the fault of his teammates, but
he has fewer runs+RBI than Bay or Morneau have RBI alone.

AL MVP

1. Mauer
2. Zobrist
3. Bartlett
4. Youkilis
5. Jeter
6. Greinke
7. Bay
8. Morneau
9. Hunter
10. Longoria

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Getty Images
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.