First-third awards: 2011 AL MVP

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Closing out the selections with the one no-brainer in the bunch.  Still., there’s a good race for second place.

First, the OPS leaders:

1.276 – Jose Bautista (OF TOR): .360/.502/.773, 20 HR, 40 RBI, 5 SB in 172 AB
1.064 – Matt Joyce (OF TB): .364/.423/.642, 10 HR, 31 RBI, 4 SB in 173 AB
1.001 – Miguel Cabrera (1B DET): .311/.432/.568, 11 HR, 40 RBI, 0 SB in 190 AB
.964 – David Ortiz (DH BOS): .313/.382/.582, 13 HR, 28 RBI, 0 SB in 201 AB
.960 – Curtis Granderson (OF NYY): .278/.348/.612, 17 HR, 41 RBI, 8 SB in 209 AB
.918 – Adrian Gonzalez (1B BOS): .329/.377/.541, 10 HR, 46 RBI, 1 SB in 231 AB
.908 – Jhonny Peralta (SS DET): .314/.373/.535, 8 HR, 31 RBI, 0 SB in 172 AB
.901 – Howie Kendrick (2B LAA): .322/.388/.520, 7 HR, 18 RBI, 4 SB in 177 AB
.901 – Mark Teixeira (1B NYY): .257/.367/.535, 16 HR, 38 RBI, 1 SB in 202 AB
.899 – Mitch Moreland (1B TEX): .307/.384/.515, 7 HR, 18 RBI, 2 SB in 163 AB
.897 – Paul Konerko (1B CWS): .310/.381/.516, 12 HR, 44 RBI, 1 SB in 213 AB
.896 – Carlos Quentin (OF CWS): .258/.351/.545, 13 HR, 37 RBI, 0 SB in 198 AB
.875 – Asdrubal Cabrera (SS CLE): .299/.352/.522, 10 HR, 39 RBI, 7 SB in 224 AB

A couple of shortstops and a second baseman find their way into the the top 13 here. A few other notables:

.877* – Alex Avila (C DET): .281/.349/.527, 8 HR, 30 RBI, 2 SB in 146 AB
.852 – Kevin Youkilis (3B BOS): .254/.377/.475, 8 HR, 34 RBI, 1 SB in 181 AB
.839 – Robinson Cano (2B NYY): .284/.324/.514, 11 HR, 37 RBI, 5 SB in 208 AB
.809 – Russell Martin (C NYY): .242/.352/.458, 9 HR, 26 RBI, 6 SB in 153 AB

Avila falls short of qualifying for the batting title, hence his placement in the second list.

Now we’ll see what WAR has to say about it. Baseball-Reference first:

4.9 – Jose Bautista (OF TOR)
3.4 – Matt Joyce (OF TB)
3.2 – Denard Span (OF MIN)
2.4 – Adrian Gonzalez (1B BOS)
2.3 – Curtis Granderson (OF NYY)
2.2 – Kevin Youkilis (3B BOS)
2.1 – Miguel Cabrera (1B DET)
2.1 – Howie Kendrick (2B LAA)
2.0 – Alex Gordon (OF KC)
1.9 – Alex Avila (C DET)
1.9 – Asdrubal Cabrera (SS CLE)
1.9 – Jacoby Ellsbury (OF BOS)
1.9 – Yunel Escobar (SS TOR)
1.9 – Maicer Izturis (INF LAA)

I left the pitchers off the list. Josh Beckett, who ranked third at 3.3 WAR, is the only one I’d consider worthy of a down-ballot vote right now.

B-Ref thinks Span has been the AL’s best defender by a huge margin. He’s credited with 1.8 WAR defensively. The next highest are Alcides Escobar and Brett Gardner at 1.0 WAR.

The Cabreras are taking big defensive hits. Miguel and Asdrubal rank third and fourth here with 2.6 and 2.4 offensive WAR, but both lose half a win with their gloves.

On to Fangraphs’ WAR:

4.9 – Jose Bautista (OF TOR)
3.2 – Matt Joyce (OF TB)
2.9 – Howie Kendrick (2B LAA)
2.9 – Curtis Granderson (OF NYY)
2.7 – Alexei Ramirez (SS CWS)
2.6 – Denard Span (OF MIN)
2.3 – Ben Zobrist (2B-OF TB)
2.2 – Alex Rodriguez (3B NYY)
2.2 – Jhonny Peralta (SS DET)
2.1 – Miguel Cabrera (1B DET)
2.1 – Alex Gordon (OF KC)

Fangraphs also rates Span as the league’s top defender. The shocking thing is that Kendrick comes in second. Zobrist and A-Rod are also getting big points there.

One last list: WPA. Yesterday, I used only the positive component in discussing the NL MVP race, but I’ve reconsidered and will go actual WPA today.

3.52 – Jose Bautista (OF TOR)
3.02 – Miguel Cabrera (OF DET)
2.60 – Matt Joyce (OF TB)
2.19 – Curtis Granderson (OF NYY)
2.09 – Adrian Gonzalez (1B BOS)
2.00 – Michael Young (INF-DH TEX)
1.93 – Justin Smoak (1B SEA)
1.79 – Adam Jones (OF BAL)
1.54 – Bobby Abreu (OF LAA)
1.24 – Michael Brantley (OF CLE)

So, yeah, that’s four lists and Bautista tops every one of them. It gets more complicated after that.

WAR favors Joyce for the second spot, but he didn’t play against lefties early on and he’s started just 47 of the Rays’ 56 games. Consequently, he’s tied for 17th in the league in RBI. I think those factors knock him down a bit.

Granderson looks like a pretty strong choice for the second spot despite the middling .348 OBP. Hitting lefties for the first time in his career, he’s second in the league in homers and fourth in RBI while playing a quality center field.

I really want to put Asdrubal up near the top, too. He’s the biggest reason the Indians have ranked as the game’s surprise team for two months. Peralta has been just as good offensively, but I’m not buying into the idea that he’s really the superior defensive shortstop.

AL MVP
1. Bautista
2. Granderson
3. A. Cabrera
4. Joyce
5. A. Gonzalez
6. M. Cabrera
7. Peralta
8. Beckett
9. Young
10. Gordon

That’s the list. I gave some thought to sneaking Avila on, as he’s easily been the league’s best catcher to date, yet three Tigers seemed like overkill. Instead, I went for the guy who has been far and away the top left fielder, Gordon.

MLB Network airs segment listing “good” and “bad” $100 million-plus contracts

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On Wednesday evening, Charlie Marlow of KTVI FOX 2 News St. Louis posted a couple of screencaps from a segment MLB Network aired about $100 million-plus contracts that have been sigbned. The list of “bad” contracts, unsurprisingly, is lengthier than the list of “good” contracts.

As Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus pointed out, it is problematic for a network owned by Major League Baseball to air a segment criticizing its employees for making too much seemingly unearned money. There’s a very clear conflict of interest, so one is certainly not getting a fair view of the situation. MLB, of course, can do what it wants with its network, but it can also be criticized. MLB Network would never air a similar segment in which it listed baseball’s “good” and “bad” owners and how much money they’ve undeservedly taken. Nor would MLB Network ever run a segment naming the hundreds of players who are not yet eligible for arbitration whose salaries are decided for them by their teams, often making the major league minimum ($545,000) or just above it. Similarly, MLB Network would also never think of airing a segment in which the pay of minor league players, many of whom make under $10,000 annually, is highlighted.

We’re now past the halfway point in January and many free agents still remain unsigned. It’s unprecedented. A few weeks ago, I looked just at the last handful of years and found that, typically, six or seven of the top 10 free agents signed by the new year. We’re still at two of 10 — same as a few weeks ago — and that’s only if you consider Carlos Santana a top-10 free agent, which is debatable. It’s a complex issue, but part of it certainly is the ubiquity of analytics in front offices, creating homogeneity in thinking. A consequence of that is everyone now being aware that big free agent contracts haven’t panned out well; it’s a topic of conversation that everyone can have and understand now. Back in 2010, I upset a lot of people by suggesting that Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract with the Phillies wouldn’t pan out well. Those people mostly cited home runs and RBI and got mad when I cited WAR and wOBA and defensive metrics. Now, many of those same people are wary of signing free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer and they now cite WAR, wOBA, and the various defensive metrics.

The public’s hyper-sensitivity to the viability of long-term free agent contracts — thanks in part to segments like the aforementioned — is a really bad trend if you’re a player, agent, or just care about labor in general. The tables have become very much tilted in favor of ownership over labor over the last decade and a half. Nathaniel Grow of FanGraphs pointed out in March 2015 that the players’ share of total league revenues peaked in 2002 at 56 percent, but declined all the way to 38 percent in 2014. The current trend of teams signing their talented players to long-term contract extensions before or during their years of arbitration eligibility — before they have real leverage — as well as teams abstaining from signing free agents will only serve to send that percentage further down.

Craig has written at great length about the rather serious problem the MLBPA has on its hands. Solving this problem won’t be easy and may require the threat of a strike, or actually striking. As Craig mentioned, that would mean getting the players all on the same page on this issue, which would require some work. MLB hasn’t dealt with a strike since 1994 and it’s believed that it caused a serious decline in interest among fans, so it’s certainly something that would get the owners’ attention. The MLBPA may also need to consider replacing union head Tony Clark with someone with a serious labor background. Among the issues the union could focus on during negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement: abolishing the draft and getting rid of the arbitration system. One thing is for sure: the players are not in a good spot now, especially when the league has its own network on which it propagandizes against them.