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.

Red Sox look to punch their ticket to the World Series tonight

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Thanks to some amazing defense, some big hits and — to continue to beat this horse, a bad call by Joe West — the Red Sox have a 3-1 lead in the ALCS and look to clinch the AL Pennant tonight down in Houston.

If you believe in momentum, you’d have to say it’s on Boston’s side. If you believe that momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher, however, you’d have to say things favor Houston more than the standing of the series would suggest. All of which makes me wish Game 5 was starting right now, because it figures to be a tense and exciting affair.

ALCS Game 5

Red Sox vs. Astros
Ballpark: Minute Maid Park
Time: 8:09 PM Eastern
TV: TBS
Pitchers: David Price vs. Justin Verlander
Breakdown:

If someone told you that you had to win one baseball game against the Martians to save the human race, you could do far worse than calling on Justin Verlander to be your starting pitcher. Among the pitchers still in the postseason, he’d almost certainly be your choice right now.

Does Verlander himself appreciate the situation? This is what he said about that yesterday:

“I mean, these are all must-win games at this point. Every time you take the mound I don’t think there’s any difference whether it’s 2-2 or 3-1.”

Look, we’re asking him to beat the Martians here, not win the National Math Bee, so let’s let that go. The point is that after all of these years he’s still one of the most dominant pitchers in the game and after the exhausting, see-saw battle of Game 4, he stands the best chance of giving Houston what it needs: a quick, quiet and drama-free win.

Not that the Red Sox are likely to roll over for that. They didn’t the first time they faced Verlander in this series. They Astros won, yes, and Verlander limited them to two runs on two hits. But he also issued four walks and wasn’t his sharpest overall. Boston didn’t capitalize on his mistakes as best they could, but he’s not invincible.

For Boston it’s David Price. He allowed four runs on five hits and four walks over four and two-thirds innings in Game 2, not factoring in the decision. That’s not great, but given the talk leading up to that game being all about how Price is a postseason flop, the fact that the Sox won it in the end had to bouy him at least a little. As does the fact that, here, tonight, it’s not 100% on his shoulders. Sure, the Sox want to close this out, but with a 3-1 lead there is less pressure on Price than on his former teammate Verlander. Worth noting, though: Price is on short rest and warmed up in the bullpen last night in case he was needed to bail out Craig Kimbrel. He may not go deep into this game.