My ballot: American League MVP

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Later today the Baseball Writers Association of America will announce their choice for AL MVP, but first here’s how my ballot would look:
1. Joe Mauer, Minnesota
2. Derek Jeter, New York
3. Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay
4. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay
5. Zack Greinke, Kansas City
6. Mark Teixeira, New York
7. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit
8. Kevin Youkilis, Boston
9. Felix Hernandez, Seattle
10. Roy Halladay, Toronto
Let’s make a few things clear right away. First, when a Gold Glove catcher leads the league in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage–which no AL catcher has ever done before and no AL player of any position has done since George Brett in 1980–he’s the most valuable player. There’s no real need for any type of serious argument beyond that unless you’re just trying to be difficult. Second, pitchers are on my ballot because, you know, they’re “players” and have “value.”
Third, my definition of “valuable” has everything to do with how many runs a player contributed offensively and defensively, and nothing to do with the quality of his teammates. MVP is an individual award, and as such I’m interested in player performance rather than team performance. You don’t get extra credit for being on a good team or reduced credit for being on a bad team, you simply get credit for how many runs you contributed to making the team good or bad.
In addition to winning his third batting title and the sabermetric triple crown, Mauer also led the league by a wide margin in Value Over Replacement Player. According to VORP he was 91 runs better than a replacement-level catcher offensively. For comparison, last year Dustin Pedroia was 60 runs better than a replacement-level second baseman on his way to the AL MVP and Mauer’s closest competition this season was Derek Jeter at 73 runs better than a replacement-level shortstop.
In other words, based on VORP at least Mauer was 50 percent better than last season’s MVP and 25 percent better than the anyone else this year. And that’s counting only offensive contributions, so his value rises even further once you factor in 939 innings at the most demanding defensive position. He should be a no-brainer choice, but at least a few BBWAA voters surely won’t see it that way. In terms of where my ballot is mostly likely to differ from the BBWAA results, I’d guess Ben Zobrist, Zack Greinke, and Mark Teixeira.
Zobrist probably won’t receive many votes, let alone finish anywhere close to third, but he should. He hit .297/.405/.543 with 27 homers, 91 walks, and 17 steals to rank third in VORP and fourth in OPS. He also played primarily second base (with some outfield and shortstop mixed in) and graded out extremely well defensively. He was largely an unknown prior to this season and no one seems quite sure what to think about his future, but for 2009 he was clearly one of the AL’s best handful of players.
Greinke rightfully won the AL Cy Young, but will probably finish behind multiple pitchers in the MVP balloting because voters are funny that way. The argument against pitchers for MVP is usually that they only take the field every fifth day, but in doing so Greinke actually faced 915 batters this season. By comparison, Aaron Hill led the league with 734 plate appearances. The amount of runs that Greinke prevented stacks up against the amount of runs that any hitter added, and that’s basically the criteria for my ballot.
Teixeira may end up finishing runner-up to Mauer, but if that happens it’ll be due his AL-leading RBI total and MLB-best teammates. Thanks to batting in the middle of a great lineup Teixeira had 508 runners on base when he came to the plate, which led the AL. By comparison, Mauer batted with 355 runners on base. Teixeira had 153 more runners to drive in, so it should be no great shock that he ended up with 122 RBIs compared to 96 for Mauer. However, take a look at these stats from four first basemen:

                AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS
Player A       .305     .413     .548     .961
Player B       .292     .383     .565     .948
Player C       .324     .396     .547     .942
Player D       .306     .355     .569     .924



Those lines belong to Teixeira, Miguel Cabrera, Kevin Youkilis, and Kendry Morales, and the point is that unless you memorized the numbers it’s tough to tell which is which. Yet because one of those four guys had the league’s best teammates and most runners to drive in he’ll be singled out by voters as much more valuable. Teixeira put up very good numbers at a position where lots of guys put up very good numbers every year. Mauer put up extraordinary numbers at a position where few in baseball history can compare.

Report: Umpire John Tumpane pulled a woman from the edge of the Roberto Clemente Bridge

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Stephen J. Nesbitt and Steph Chambers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette have an enthralling report involving umpire John Tumpane. On Wednesday afternoon, prior to the game in Pittsburgh between the Rays and Pirates, Tumpane had finished a run and lunch. As he was crossing the Roberto Clemente Bridge just outside of PNC Park, he noticed a woman climb over the bridge’s railing above the Allegheny River.

Tumpane was worried and headed towards the woman. What began was an act of heroism. He started a conversation with the woman, who said, “I just wanted to get a better look of the city from this side,” and then said, “I’m better off on this side. Just let me go.”

Tumpane refused to let her go. He had his arms wrapped around her and spoke words of encouragement until police and paramedics arrived. As the woman was being put into the ambulance, Tumpane asked for her name and prayed for her. He said he hopes to reconnect with her before he leaves town for the next series. He called it an “interesting afternoon.”

The recap here doesn’t do Chambers and Nesbitt’s reporting justice, so please head over to the Post-Gazette to read the full story.

In a sport in which home plate umpires are some of the only ones wearing caged masks, it’s easy to forget that they are human beings, too. We curse at them for making calls that go against our teams, but they can be capable of greatness, too. Tumpane certainly showed that on Wednesday.

Tim Tebow homered on his first day with Single-A St. Lucie

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Edit: The title initially said that Tebow homered in his first at-bat with St. Lucie. He played in Game 1 of Wednesday’s doubleheader and went 1-for-2 with a walk. He homered in his first at-bat of the second game of the double-header.

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Mets minor league outfielder and former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow was recently promoted from Single-A Columbia to advanced Single-A St. Lucie. Critics suggested that, because Tebow wasn’t exactly lighting up competition with Columbia, the promotion was just about marketing.

Tebow, to his credit, has gotten off to a good start with St. Lucie. On his first day with his new team, he hit a two-run home run, turning a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead. The home run came on a 3-1 count against starter Junior Fernandez of the Palm Beach Cardinals. Fernandez is the Cardinals’ No. 10 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.

With Columbia, Tebow was hitting a paltry .220/.311/.336 with three home runs and 23 RBI in 244 plate appearances.