AL MVP: A Travesty of Justice

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Big Papi Got Jobbed

Originally uploaded by sogrady.

Let me acknowledge a couple of things up front. First, I am in no way unbiased on this topic. Second, I’ll readily concede the point that Alex Rodriguez is the best all around baseball player of his era. Third, Alex Rodriguez had a terrific all around season for the Evil Empire. Last, I don’t like Alex Rodriguez, and I never will – I was ecstatic when the Red Sox proved to be unable to trade for him as I mentioned here (when I was chastised by John Henry, billionaire owner of the Red Sox).

All that said, David “Big Papi” Ortiz got jobbed in losing the American League MVP Award to everyone’s least favorite third baseman (who incidentally should be playing shortstop). His loss, everyone seems to agree, comes down to the fact that he’s a full time DH and thus doesn’t play the field. This is infuriating to me; it would be one thing if the award specified that the winner had to play defense, or made some provision for it – it does not. It’s who’s most valuable, not who spends the most time on the diamond. If you don’t buy that, explain how starting pitchers – who play only once every five days – have won the award. Or explain how Frank Thomas and Jose Canseco – who did actual damage in the field unlike Big Papi who merely did nothing positive – won the award. In short, Big Papi was the victim of a bias, plain and simple, against those who don’t take the field in the top of the inning at home.

A couple of Yankee fans I know have made the argument that Rodriguez’ offensive statistics were outstanding – and they were – but nobody who’s watched Big Papi over the last two years can possibly argue that he’s not the guy you want at the plate in a big spot. Here’s what I wrote on the subject in September (this was before Big Papi went on to hit better than .330 in the playoffs, with Rodriguez hovering around .100 – although the playoffs don’t factor into the vote):

Via DeWitt comes the following debunking of Alex Rodriguez’ MVP credentials: in games decided by 6 or more runs, A-Rod’s hitting an eye popping .420 with an unworldly 1.295 slugging percentage. Great stuff. But how about the close games? Those decided by 1 to 2 runs? A rather pedestrian .255 with an .810 slugging percentage. Big Papi, on the other hand, hits a paltry .231/.835 when the game’s out of hand. When the game’s tight, however, he’s your man: .318/1.119 in games decided by one or two runs. And while I may be off by a homer or two, I believe that 20 of his 46 dingers either tied the game or put the Sox ahead. You tell me who’s more valuable.

Still not convinced? Here’s ESPN’s Jason Stark:

Let’s set aside what happened off the field and concentrate on what happened when these two men just played baseball. That’s where this debate ought to start, anyway.

If you really look closely at what happened in the batter’s box when the biggest games of the year were on the line, it becomes clear that that can’t be why A-Rod won, either — because that, too, was a Big Papi landslide.

Alex Rodriguez had 24 more at-bats with runners in scoring position than David Ortiz this season — and still drove in 18 fewer runs. That ought to tell you something. But if it doesn’t, we’ll spell it out for you.

Ortiz hit 62 points higher than A-Rod did with runners in scoring position (.352 to .290) overall. And that’s an awfully large gap in a race this close. But that’s in all games, in all RBI situations. If you keep looking, you find that as the games got tighter, that gap just kept getting bigger.

In the late innings of close games, A-Rod hit .176 with men in scoring position; Ortiz batted .313. That’s a humongous, 137-point difference. But why stop there?

Ortiz’s OPS (on-base plus slugging) in those situations was 1.224 — to A-Rod’s .813. That’s a 411-point chasm.

But maybe you don’t trust the numbers I dug up or Jason Stark, but just take a look at the inset diagram. Just look at all those Red (Sox) states; can the whole country be wrong? On second thought, don’t answer that 😉

But anyway, I can live with this. Why? Because for all of Rodriguez’ dollars, he has yet to win a championship, and in fact his ex-team mates from the Rangers (whom are none too fond of him) call him “The Cooler” because he cools off whatever team he joins.

And Big Papi? Well, he gave us this and this, which in turn led to this, which in turn led to this. And that’s a hell of a lot more than The Cooler can say. Papi will always have my vote, worthless though it may be.


  1. Impartial observer here (read: Mets fan). Many baseball analysts point to A-Rod’s lead in Win Shares (http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/2004-win-shares-have-arrived), rather than the DH/defense issue. A-Rod ended up with a Win Share of 37, when the top Red Sox player was actually Manny at 34. Big Papi was a 31.

    It will be interesting to see if the Win Shares are mentioned in the NL MVP outcome today. Pujols has a 38; Derek Lee a 37.

  2. interesting comment, Mike. i have tons of respect for James and Win Shares, but i’ve always had difficulty with them as a measurement of value. as such MVP votes do, they tend to depend heavily on how one defines “value,” and obviously i ascribe more importance to situations in which the player makes a real difference. to the best of my recollection, Win Shares do not distinguish the context of the offensive statistics, because James like many sabermaticians has little belief in “clutch” hitting.

    plus, while the analysts might take Win Shares into account, i can guarantee you that all those old school BBWA guys have little if any respect for that metric. they voted against him b/c of bias, IMO, plain and simple.

    good comment tho.

  3. Caveat: I’m not a fan of either team – in fact, I specifically dislike both teams (I’m an A’s fan). Unfortunately for Ortiz, the MVP award (with very rare exceptions such as Kirk Gibson in 1988) is more about who had the best all-around season for a playoff contending team than it is about who was the overall most valuable component of a team. And writers/pundits tend to favor “5 Tool” players. You’ll recall that, as much of a butcher as Canseco was with his glove, writers were fascinated by the 40-40 milestone as it indicated he had a rare power/speed combination. The fact that A-Rod has speed, and is a pretty good 3rd basemen with a good arm means that A-Rod gets to display 3 tools that Papi lacks. Unfortunately, most of the writers/voters don’t have insight into either the “big moments” or the intangibles (clubhouse presence, flair for the dramatic, etc.) that should be a factor in determining who is actually the most valuable player. I think Papi may have also been hurt by the perception that he had a great lineup (especially Manny) around him. Oh well. If it’s any consolation, I think that even Yankee fans realize that it’s guys like Jeter and Williams (cluch hitting gamers who bring a winning attitude to the clubhouse) who feuled the Yanks’ latest run more so than the rent-a-star guys like Giambi and A-Rod.

  4. I think that WPA is the right stat to use for MVP, I wonder if anyone has run that down. Here is an example.


  5. Quit y’er whining, the best man won! 😎

    I think your stat analysis (and that of Stark’s) falls into the common trap of assuming that just because a new statistic can be derived, that it’s necessarily a valuable statistic. For example, BA/RISP, or OPS in late innings in close games, or BA & SLG in 1-2 run games.

    Those statistics are not valuable because they’re not predicitive; somebody with a 50 point BA/RISP advantage in one year is just as likely to have a 50 point *dis*advantage next year. Some folks on rec.sports.baseball did this analysis on several so-called “clutch” statistics about 10 years ago or so, and concluded that a clutch effect, if it existed at all, was indistinguishable from noise.

    I also think that MVP voting should count defensive numbers, and if A-Rod was net-positive defensively he should get credit for that. But if he’s net-negative (over replacement level), that should also count against him. I haven’t checked his defensive numbers, so can’t say.

    When it comes down to it though, .421/.610 in Yankee Stadium beats .397/.604 in Fenway most days of the week.

  6. Drew: good points, but how about Frank Thomas? there was no power/speed combo there. and i can absolutely not believe that he was anything but a net negative at 1B.

    also on the lineup question, true Papi had Manny, but Sheffield’s no slouch.

    in the end, it was bias.

    Alex: as we discussed, would be interested in seeing the numbers. i’m skeptical of them, but would be interested nonetheless.

    Mark, Mark, Mark, need i explain this again? 😉 couple of things: first, i don’t have the numbers at the moment either, but one stat i saw had A-Rod 10th out of 14 3B’s in the league. not great.

    second, what does the ability to be predictive have to do with the current season’s MVP? i’m not worried about whether or not he’s at a 50 point disadvantage this year, b/c the MVP is about measuring what happened *this* year.

    and the numbers – which are not new statistics, mind you, they’re basic BA, OPS, etc – indicate that when it mattered *this* year Big Papi was a much more valuable player.

    now you can argue with what “valuable” means, and you can argue that his “clutch” performance may just be an anomaly, but you can’t argue with the numbers. they’re pretty clear.

  7. I hear you; I agree that those numbers reflected what happened this year. I just prefer to evaluate players with metrics over which they exert control.

    For example, I don’t evaluate pitchers by the number of wins they have because teams win, not pitchers, making wins a bad statistic by which to judge individual performance. But there’s no arguing with the fact that Chris Carpenter had 21 of ’em, and Roger Clemens only 13. Was Chris the better pitcher? Not by a long shot (though I’m a big fan of his, since his Blue Jay days).

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