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.