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J.D. Martinez doesn’t think writers would ever make a DH an MVP

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Red Sox DH J.D. Martinez put up some outstanding numbers last season, helping his team reach the postseason and eventually win the World Series. During the regular season, he hit .330/.402/.629 with 43 home runs and a major league-best 130 RBI across 649 trips to the plate. However, he finished a distant fourth in AL MVP Award voting. Teammate Mookie Betts got 28 of 30 first-place votes, handily winning the award over runner-up Mike Trout. José Ramírez finished in third place.

Looking at traditional stats, it might be hard to see the justification for Martinez’s distant finish. Advanced statistics, though, paint a clearer picture. Martinez didn’t even outhit Betts or Trout, going by weighted on-base average (wOBA). FanGraphs rated him 10th overall in Wins Above Replacement (WAR), which factors in defense. On account of being a DH, Martinez didn’t often play defense. When he was in the outfield, he played it poorly. WAR also makes positional adjustments, debiting hitters for their production at positions where such production is more plentiful. Betts had 10.4 WAR; Trout 9.8; Ramírez 8.0. Martinez had 5.9.

The numbers are in part why Martinez feels BBWAA voters would never vote a DH for MVP, Chris Mason of The Eagle-Tribune reports. Martinez said, “The writers would never allow it. They’d get blackballed. There’s a reason why a lot of people didn’t. You’ve got to think of it like this: Writers want to be what?”

Martinez continued, “They want to work where? They want to work in the front office. They want to get jobs with teams and (expletive). These guys that do all the analytics and all the stuff like that. To me, that’s what they look at. That’s what they’re going to value. That’s my opinion. If you go against the grain and you’re the guy that says that, then you have everybody saying you’re bad at your job. It’s easier to go with the crowd.”

While it is true that BBWAA has in recent years opened its ranks to online writers (most with an analytical bent) and a sizable portion of those writers have gone on to take front office jobs with teams, it’s a pretty wide brush with which to paint. Most of the analytics wonks in front offices right now were dismissed early in their writing careers anyway. And if writers are guilty of one thing, I’d argue it’s being contrarian for the sake of being contrarian, not trudging along with the general consensus.

Furthermore, it is only a recent development that major league teams have poached front office talent from newsrooms and websites. But DHs have historically had a tough time in MVP balloting because their contribution on only one side of the ball, so to speak, has been obvious since the inception of the rule. Jim Rice won the MVP in 1978 (49 of 163 games at DH), Don Baylor won it in 1979 (65 of 162), and Juan González won it in 1996 (32 of 134) and ’98 (38 of 154) spending a significant amount of time at DH. That’s really about it among AL MVP Award winners from the DH spot.

I will never fault a player for tooting his own horn. This is a business and the squeaky wheel gets the grease, as they say. Martinez speaking up, however illogical I think it may be, may help him get more votes down the line. Winning the MVP Award, or placing higher than he otherwise would have, could help him land another contract for a longer term and more money after his current one expires at the end of the 2022 season. He might be more marketable. That being said, Martinez’s evaluation of his own production and his own position needs updating. Could it be true that the current popular analytics are flawed and could be undervaluing him? Absolutely. But it remains true that Martinez didn’t even out-slug his own teammate. Betts beat him there .640 to .629. Then factor in that Betts plays a premium position with terrific defense while running the bases well; Martinez had none of the above. You don’t need WAR to figure that out. Martinez wasn’t the MVP of his own team last year, let alone of the entire American League. Not even close. Blame the writers if it helps you sleep at night, I guess.

Cubs owner Tom Ricketts continues to cry poor

Tom Ricketts
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MLB owners and the MLB Players Association continue to hash out details, some in public, about a 2020 baseball season. The owners have been suggesting a shorter season, claiming that they lose money on every game played without fans in attendance. The union wants a longer season, since players are — as per the March agreement — being paid a prorated salary. Players thus make more money over the 114 games the MLBPA suggested than the 50 or so the owners want.

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts has been among the more vocal owners in recent weeks, claiming that the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing shutdown of MLB has greatly hurt MLB owners’ business. Speaking to ESPN’s Jesse Rogers, Ricketts claimed, “The scale of losses across the league is biblical.”

Ricketts said, “Here’s something I hope baseball fans understand. Most baseball owners don’t take money out of their team. They raise all the revenue they can from tickets and media rights, and they take out their expenses, and they give all the money left to their GM to spend.” Ricketts continued, “The league itself does not make a lot of cash. I think there is a perception that we hoard cash and we take money out and it’s all sitting in a pile we’ve collected over the years. Well, it isn’t. Because no one anticipated a pandemic. No one expects to have to draw down on the reserves from the past. Every team has to figure out a way to plug the hole.”

Pertaining to Ricketts’ claim that “the league itself does not make a lot of cash,” Forbes reported in December that, for the 17th consecutive season, MLB set a new revenue record, this time at $10.7 billion. In accounting, revenues are calculated before factoring in expenses, but unless the league has $10 billion in expenses, I cannot think of a way in which Ricketts’ statement can be true.

MLB owners notably don’t open their accounting books to the public. Because the owners were crying poor during negotiations, the MLBPA asked them to provide proof of financial distress. The owners haven’t provided those documents. Thus, unless Ricketts opens his books, his claim can be proven neither true nor false, and should be taken with the largest of salt grains. If owners really are hurting as badly as they say they are, they should be more than willing to prove it. That they don’t readily provide that proof suggests they are being misleading.

It’s worth noting that the Ricketts family has a history of not being forthcoming about their money. Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts got into hot water last year after it was found he had used inaccurate information when paying property taxes. In 2007, he bought two properties and demolished both, building a new, state-of-the-art house. For years, Ricketts used information pertaining to the older, demolished property rather than the current property, which drastically lowered his property taxes. Based on the adjustment, Ricketts’ property taxes increased from $828,000 to $1.96 million for 2019, according to The Chicago Tribune. Ricketts also had to pay back taxes for the previous three years.

At any rate, the owners want to pass off the financial risk of doing business onto their labor force. As we have noted here countless times, there is inherent risk in doing business. Owning a Major League Baseball team has, for decades, been nearly risk-free, which has benefited both the owners and, to a lesser extent, its workforce. The pandemic has thrown a wrench into everybody’s plans, but the financial losses these last three months are part of the risk. Furthermore, when teams have done much better business than expected, the owners haven’t benevolently spread that wealth out to their players, so why should the players forfeit even more of their pay than they already are when times are tough?