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.

Murray Chass rightfully nails Major League Baseball on minority hiring

Rob Manfred
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When Murray Chass lays off his vendettas against the people he feels have wronged him, he’s still capable of making some sharp points. Particularly when he’s working in his old bailiwick of the business of baseball.

On Sunday he wrote a blog post about minority hiring in baseball. As in, the nearly complete lack of it, at least in front offices:

Manfred has talked a better job on minority hiring than he has performed. He has created a pipeline program through which members of minorities are supposed to be able to advance into major league front office positions. However, no role models seem to exist as inspiration for younger employees.

In Manfred’s 20 months as commissioner, clubs have hired or promoted 19 high-ranking executives. Eighteen of the 19 are white males. The lone minority is Al Avila, the Tigers’ general manager.

Chass reports that Rob Manfred and, in the past, Bud Selig have leaned on clubs to hire friends or trusted lieutenants but claim they have no power to tell clubs who to hire when it comes to minorities. It’s pretty dang good point.

Moving beyond Chass’ points, it’s worth observing that one way baseball could better populate the executive ranks would be to hire more minorities in entry-level positions. What a better way to become a friend and crony than to have, you know, been there a long time? The game has had a horrible track record in doing this, however, for one simple reason: it pays crap wages for all but the highest of executive positions, pushing away candidates for whom money is, in fact, an object to pursuing a dream in baseball which, by demographic necessity, favors the rich and thus favors whites. Earlier this year MLB launched a pipeline program aimed at getting more minority candidates into entry level MLB jobs. That’s a good start to addressing the problem, but it’s going to take years for that to bear fruit, assuming it ever does.

Back in June Kate Morrison and Russell A. Carleton of Baseball Prospectus wrote a four-part series regarding this very issue, and it’s well worth your time. Among the points made is one that, given his vendettas, Chass surprisingly didn’t make himself: sabermetrics is partially to blame! Go read Kate and Russell’s work on that, but the short version: front offices want MBA/STEM types now, not people with athletic backgrounds. People with those degrees have expensive educations and, in turn, cannot afford to take pennies to work in baseball when they can make far more in other industries, thereby continuing to favor the rich and the white.

I don’t think Rob Manfred or Bud Selig before him or the people who run major league baseball teams are bigots. I don’t think that baseball, as a whole, wants to keep minorities out of top jobs. Chass doesn’t make such a claim either and he, like I, noted the pipeline program.

But baseball is a business rife with cronyism and nepotism which leads those in power to hire friends and relatives, thereby keeping the executive class overwhelmingly male and white. Baseball has shown that, when it wants to, it can lean on teams to make certain hiring choices. Will it do the same to push for greater minority representation in management ranks? Or will it continue to throw up its hands up and say “hey, that’s on the clubs?”

Tim Tebow hits a homer in his first instructional league at bat

PORT ST. LUCIE, FL - SEPTEMBER 20: Tim Tebow #15 of the New York Mets hits a home run at an instructional league day at Tradition Field on September 20, 2016 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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Because of course he did.

It wasn’t just his first at bat, but it was his first pitch. It came off of John Kilichowski, an 11th round draft pick of the St. Louis Cardinals out of Vanderbilt.  The ball went out to left center, off the bat of the lefty Tebow.

Next time, meat, throw him a breaking ball.