"Re-awarding" the MVP awards may be the dumbest thing ever

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You know what would be a reasonable response to the NCAA stripping Reggie Bush of his Heisman trophy yesterday?  Acknowledging that Bush is almost certainly not the only Heisman trophy winner who took cash in violation of the rules and deciding that the exercise of changing history like that is pointless and empty.

You know what would not be a reasonable response? Looking back at the baseball MVP awards and deciding how the Reggie Bush approach would work to strip known steroid users of their hardware.  That’s what Tom Weir does over at USA Today this afternoon.

Of course, stripping Barry Bonds of his awards is the easy part. How Weir knows that Mike Piazza, Moises Alou and Luis Gonzalez — just to name a few of the alternate universe recipients — didn’t take PEDs is beyond me.  What’s even farther beyond me is how Weir could follow the PED in baseball discussion these past few years and not acknowledge that the primary lesson of the Mitchell Report and subsequent test results is that fans’ and reporters’ steroid parlor games are
pointless, because for every obvious case like Barry Bonds, there are
several more guys who were juicing that you never would have suspected.

Does that sound familiar? Long time readers may remember me saying nearly the same thing. Why? Because Rick Reilly did the same little exercise that Weir does today over at ESPN in February 2009, and I went after his take too.  It was just as dumb as Weir’s piece. OK, Reilly’s was dumber, but only because he probably makes 20 times the money Weir does to peddle his stuff.

But hey, they met deadline and posted something, and that’s all that matters, right?

First-quarter awards: AL MVP

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justin morneau trot.jpgSame drill as the NL award. Let’s begin with VORP.
1. Justin Morneau – 28.8
2. Kevin Youkilis – 22.4
3. Robinson Cano – 21.8
4. Doug Fister – 21.7
5. Miguel Cabrera – 21.1
6. Evan Longoria – 20.7
7. Shaun Marcum – 20.3
8. Vernon Wells – 20.2
9. David Price – 19.7
10. Ricky Romero – 19.7
11. Matt Garza – 18.9
12. Ty Wigginton – 18.8
13. John Danks – 18.6
14. Vladimir Guerrero – 18.5
15. Jeff Niemann – 16.7
16. Phil Hughes – 16.2
17. Nelson Cruz – 16.0
18. C.J. Wilson – 16.0
19. Paul Konerko – 15.5
20. Carl Crawford – 15.2
And move right on to RAR
1. Justin Morneau – 30.4
2. Kevin Youkilis – 21.8
3. Robinson Cano – 19.9
4. Evan Longoria – 19.7
5. Vernon Wells – 19.5
6. Carl Crawford – 19.2
7. Alex Rios – 19.2
8. Magglio Ordonez – 19.1
9. Ricky Romero – 17.5
10. Austin Jackson – 16.8
11. Dustin Pedroia – 16.2
12. Shin-Soo Choo – 16.1
13. Miguel Cabrera – 15.7
14. Ben Zobrist – 15.5
15. Franklin Gutierrez – 15.3
16. Francisco Liriano – 14.9
17. Joe Mauer – 14.7
18. Jon Lester – 14.3
19. John Danks – 14.0
20. Alex Rodriguez – 13.8
WARP and RAR are in much better agreement here than in the NL, at least as far as the hitters go. Cabrera is the big change, as the UZR component of RAR rates him poorly.
I agree with RAR that none of the pitchers are seriously in the mix here. RAR actually has Romero as the league’s most valuable pitcher to date, but that’s not taking schedule strength into account and Romero has had it about as easy as any AL pitcher.
Here’s how they rank by OPS:
1. Justin Morneau – .362/.477/.681 – 1158 – 29 RBI
2. Kevin Youkilis – .324/.459/.593 – 1053 – 26 RBI
3. Miguel Cabrera – .340/.428/.603 – 1030 – 38 RBI
4. Paul Konerko – .262/.372/.631 – 1003 – 30 RBI
5. Ty Wigginton – .305/.369/.617 – 986 – 27 RBI
6. Evan Longoria – .323/.389/.589 – 978 – 37 RBI
7. Robinson Cano – .338/.390/.588 – 977 – 28 RBI
8. Vernon Wells – .301/.359/.596 – 955 – 32 RBI
9. Vladimir Guerrero – .342/.372/.551 – 923 – 35 RBI
10. Luke Scott – .283/.348/.575 – 923 – 20 RBI
11. Joe Mauer – .344/.410/.500 – 910 – 20 RBI
12. Jose Bautista – .242/.352/.556 – 907 – 33 RBI
It’s a clean sweep for Morneau. And I agree that he’s the league’s MVP to date. However, I don’t think it’s as overwhelming as RAR or OPS suggest. Morneau’s suddenly stellar walk rate has let to remarkable OBP, but he’s hitting just .273 with a .455 slugging percentage with runners in scoring position, which is why he has the rather modest RBI total. He’s 0-for-5 with a walk while hitting with the bases loaded this season.
Compare that to Cabrera, who is hitting .426/.534/.660 with RISP. He’s also 4-for-6 with the bases loaded. There’s the difference in RBI right there. Morneau has one RBI in six plate appearances with the sacks packed. Cabrera has 10 in seven plate appearances.
Youkilis also has fewer RBI, but in his case, it’s much more a matter of an opportunity. He hasn’t had a single plate appearance with the bases loaded. He has, however, hit .303/.510/.606 in 33 at-bats with RISP.
As for the other contenders, Longoria is at .340/.387/.547 with RISP, while Cano is at .326/.392/.581.
I’m not really liking the idea of placing three first basemen in the top three, but I think that’s the best arrangement for now. There’s little evidence that either Longoria or Cano is playing Gold Glove-quality defense at the moment, and Mauer did miss a week earlier this month.
First-quarter AL MVP
1. Morneau
2. Cabrera
3. Youkilis
4. Longoria
5. Cano

First-quarter awards: NL MVP

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andre ethier followthrough.jpgThrough one-fifth of the season, I imagine everyone would have said Andre Ethier was the National League MVP. However, he is losing ground while on the DL because of a fractured finger. Let’s look at how a couple of systems rank the NL’s top 20 players.
VORP
1. Ubaldo Jimenez – 32.3
2. Roy Halladay – 28.3
3. Andre Ethier – 26.4
4. Livan Hernandez – 23.7
5. Ryan Braun – 22.8
6. Chase Utley – 22.4
7. Tim Lincecum – 22.1
8. Jaime Garcia – 21.4
9. Adam Wainwright – 21.0
10. Barry Zito – 20.7
11. Albert Pujols – 20.2
12. Dan Uggla – 18.8
13. Casey McGehee – 18.6
14. Jayson Werth – 18.4
15. Joey Votto – 18.1
16. Alfonso Soriano – 18.1
17. Tim Hudson – 18.0
18. Roy Oswalt – 17.6
19. Josh Johnson – 17.5
20. Marlon Byrd – 17.0
VORP adjusts for position, but doesn’t try to take defense into account otherwise.
Here’s RAR from Fangraphs, which uses UZR to account for defense.
1. Chase Utley – 26.4
2. Roy Halladay – 23.6
3. Marlon Byrd – 20.7
4. Ubaldo Jimenez – 19.5
5. Tim Lincecum – 18.9
6. Adam Wainwright – 17.8
7. Dan Uggla – 17.7
8. Joey Votto – 17.7
9. Albert Pujols – 17.2
10. Ryan Ludwick – 16.9
11. Ryan Zimmerman – 16.8
12. Alfonso Soriano – 16.8
13. Jayson Werth – 16.6
14. Josh Johnson – 16.6
15. Stephen Drew – 15.9
16. Casey McGehee – 14.7
17. Chase Headley – 14.6
18. Andre Ethier – 14.5
19. David Eckstein – 14.5
20. Ryan Braun – 13.9
Some big changes there. For one thing, UZR is convinced that Ethier has been one of the game’s worst defenders this season and it costs him nearly half of his offensive value. Braun also loses big here, while Byrd and Ludwick get surprisingly large boosts.
Of course, this is the folly of taking a quarter-season’s worth of defensive data and trying to weight it on the same scale as offense.
RAR also rates Halladay’s performance ahead of Jimenez’s, under the theory that Halladay has gotten less help from his defense, but I’m not buying that.
Throwing out the pitchers for a moment, here are the NL OPS leaders:
1. Andre Ethier – .392/.457/.744 – 1201 – 38 RBI
2. Jayson Werth – .324/.404/.634 – 1037 – 31 RBI
3. Chase Utley – .307/.430/.593 – 1023 – 23 RBI
4. Alfonso Soriano – .323/.386/.615 – 1002 – 23 RBI
5. Albert Pujols – .323/.426/.561 – 988 – 29 RBI
6. Joey Votto – .311/.408/.570 – 977 – 31 RBI
7. Ryan Zimmerman – .311/.361/.607 – 967 – 25 RBI
8. Casey McGehee – .325/.395/.570 – 965 – 37 RBI
9. Ryan Braun – .333/.413/.551 – 965 – 30 RBI
10. Kosuke Fukudome – .310/.406/.552 – 958 – 21 RBI
11. Dan Uggla – .291/.377/.570 – 947 – 28 RBI
Worthy of note from that group is that Braun is also making a difference on the basepaths, having gone 9-for-9 stealing bases to date.
I see three serious candidates for NL MVP here, and nicely enough, they’re the No. 1s on the three lists about: Jimenez, Utley and Ethier.
Jimenez has thrown 63 1/3 innings and amassed a 0.99 ERA. He’s won eight of his nine starts, with his lone loss coming in a 2-0 shutout. It’s hard to get much more valuable than that.
Utley has offered the NL’s best combination of offense and defense, and it doesn’t hurt his case that the Phillies have the NL’s best record at the moment.
Ethier not only leads the NL in OPS by a wide margin, but he’s also come up huge in big situations. He’s hit .450 with eight homers in 60 at-bats with runners on and .500 with six homers in 38 at-bats with RISP.
I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the three, but since Ethier has missed the last week, I’m going with Jimenez. Not that I put much stock in it, but the Dodgers have stayed on a roll even without Ethier. The Rockies, on the other hand, are 12-20 when Jimenez doesn’t pitch.
First-quarter NL MVP
1. Jimenez
2. Ethier
3. Utley
4. Halladay
5. Votto

First-quarter awards: AL Cy Young

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doug fister throwing.jpgNo Zack Greinke, Felix Hernandez, CC Sabathia, Justin Verlander or Jon Lester here.
We’ll turn to VORP again here to give us a top 10 list:
1. Doug Fister – 21.4 – 3-2, 1.96 ERA, 25/10 K/BB in 55 IP
2. Shaun Marcum – 20.0 – 3-1, 2.61 ERA, 45/14 K/BB in 62 IP
3. David Price – 19.4 – 6-1, 1.81 ERA, 44/20 K/BB in 54 2/3 IP
4. Andy Pettitte – 18.7 – 5-0, 1.79 ERA, 29/16 K/BB in 45 1/3 IP
5. Matt Garza – 18.7 – 5-1, 2.38 ERA, 48/17 K/BB in 56 2/3 IP
6. John Danks – 18.4 – 3-3, 2.26 ERA, 45/16 K/BB in 55 2/3 IP
7. Jeff Niemann – 16.4 – 3-0, 2.54 ERA, 31/16 K/BB in 49 2/3 IP
8. Ricky Romero – 16.4 – 4-1, 2.88 ERA, 59/21 K/BB in 56 1/3 IP
9. Phil Hughes – 16.0 – 5-0, 2.25 ERA, 42/15 K/BB in 44 IP
10. C.J. Wilson – 15.7 – 3-1, 2.55 ERA, 39/19 K/BB in 53 IP
Yeah, matches my preseason rankings exactly.
Relievers worth adding to the mix include Jose Valverde (0.51 ERA, 10 saves in 11 chances) and Rafael Soriano (1.59 ERA, 10 saves in 10 chances).
By ERA, Pettitte has been the AL’s top pitcher. However, he’s made just seven starts and he ranks 15th in WHIP.
The league WHIP leaders are Fister at 0.91 and Marcum at 0.97, with Hughes, Jason Vargas and Dallas Braden right behind at 0.98.
Unlike in the NL, strength of schedule isn’t much of a factor here:
Fister – 720 OPS against
Marcum – 730
Price – 731
Pettitte – 715
Garza – 717
Danks – 731
Niemann – 730
Romero – 698
Hughes – 741
Wilson – 733
I think Hughes has been the American League’s best pitcher so far, but like Pettitte, he’s made seven starts, while the competition has made eight or nine. And he’s not far enough out in front to make up for the gap in innings.
Fister has miraculously limited hitters to a .203 average despite striking out just 25 batters in 55 innings. He’s getting a ton of help from a top-notch defense. Safeco Field is playing a part as well; 70 percent of Fister’s innings have come at home.
Marcum is getting less help from his defense and his ballpark. Plus, like Fister, he’s yet to allow an unearned run. Still, while I’m not big on win-loss records, it is disappointing that he’s won just one-third of his starts despite decent run support.
Price is the only AL starter with six wins. He’s yet to allow more than three runs in a start. The Rays scored a total of three runs in his loss and no-decision. He has allowed three unearned runs, but they all came in wins.
This just isn’t an easy call. And none of the pitchers under consideration now are close to sure things to be in the mix at season’s end. I’m going with Price, in large part because of his innings advantage over Hughes. I wouldn’t argue against Fister, though. While his defense has shouldered much of the load, he’s been ridiculously effective.
First-quarter AL Cy Young Award
1. Price
2. Hughes
3. Fister

First-quarter awards: NL Cy Young

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Here are the top 10 NL starters according to VORP, along with some relevant statistics.
1. Roy Halladay – 28.1 – 6-2, 1.64 ERA, 58/10 K/BB in 71 1/3 IP
2. Ubaldo Jimenez – 27.8 – 7-1, 1.12 ERA, 54/21 K/BB in 56 1/3 IP
3. Tim Lincecum – 23.7 – 5-0, 1.76 ERA, 69/15 K/BB in 56 1/3 IP
4. Livan Hernandez – 23.6 – 4-2, 1.62 ERA, 19/18 K/BB in 55 2/3 IP
5. Jaime Garcia – 21.3 – 4-2, 1.28 ERA, 42/20 K/BB in 49 1/3 IP
6. Barry Zito – 20.5 – 6-1, 2.15 ERA, 34/20 K/BB in 54 1/3 IP
7. Adam Wainwright – 18.6 – 5-2, 2.48 ERA, 49/15 K/BB in 58 IP
8. Tim Hudson – 17.8 – 4-1, 2.41 ERA, 23/19 K/BB in 52 1/3 IP
9. Josh Johnson – 17.3 – 4-1, 2.68 ERA, 63/18 K/BB in 57 IP
10. Roy Oswalt – 16.8 – 2-5, 2.62 ERA, 52/13 K/BB in 55 IP
I don’t think any of the relievers are worth throwing into the mix. Matt Capps and Tyler Clippard have provided the Nats with a ton of value in the early going, but Capps isn’t exactly dominant and Clippard has allowed a bunch of inherited runners to score while racking up his seven wins.
Most will be surprised to see Halladay ranked over Jimenez, but those extra 15 innings weigh pretty heavily.
I like VORP as a tool for balancing quality and quantity in cases like this, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. For one thing, here are the opposing OPSs of the batters faced by the top five:
Halladay – 719
Jimenez – 742
Lincecum – 688
Hernandez – 720
Garcia – 728
Jimenez has his sterling record despite facing one of the toughest schedules of any NL pitcher. Lincecum leads the NL in strikeouts and WHIP, but he’s been doing it against one of the league’s easiest schedules.
Of course, those things should begin to even out over time. I’d say Halladay and Lincecum remain the favorites to win the Cy Young Award this season. Jimenez did throw 218 innings last season and still perform better after the All-Star break than before. However, he doesn’t have the same track record of durability as the other two. Predicting the order of finish for the full season, I’d currently go: Halladay, Lincecum, Jimenez, Wainwright, Johnson.
But this isn’t about the full season. A quarter of the way through, Jimenez has been the NL’s top pitcher. I’d put Halladay second because of the innings and the schedule. Then it’s Lincecum versus Hernandez for the third spot. Hernandez has the advantage when it comes to ERA and strength of schedule. But Hernandez asks so much more from his defense. In the same number of innings pitched, Lincecum has a ridiculous 50 additional strikeouts. He’s also allowed four fewer homers.
First-quarter NL Cy Young
1. Jimenez
2. Halladay
3. Lincecum