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My ballot: American League MVP

Nov 23, 2009, 11:40 AM EDT

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.

  1. Sam - Nov 23, 2009 at 4:55 PM

    Aaron-Great points on Mauer, way to give him the respect he so richly deserved. Unfortunately, though, the article was somewhat ruined for me because of your inconsistency with Mark Teixeira.
    When presenting your criteria for your definition of the MVP, you call the award “individual” with “nothing to do with the quality of his teammates.” Then, to my extreme dismay, you move the switch-hitting, Gold Glove-winning, American League home run and RBI champion Mark Teixeira down several spots on your ballot because you consider his performance to be largely influenced by his “MLB-best teammates” and a product of his “batting in the middle of a great lineup.”
    That discrepancy is a little disturbing. Was Mark Teixeira the 2009 AL MVP? No, of course not. But is it fair to devalue him because of his All-Star teammates when you clearly stated in your introduction that the MVP is an independent award? YES INDEED.

  2. Brian - Nov 23, 2009 at 5:26 PM

    Jason Bay plays horrible defense. When you factor that in, he falls quite a bit in value.

  3. carl - Nov 23, 2009 at 7:20 PM

    Why no love for Jason Bartlett? By the way – was getting Bartlett and Garza for Delwyn Young the greatest trade of the decade or what?

  4. RonZ - Nov 23, 2009 at 7:21 PM

    not to mention will bay finished at like .265 me being a redsox fan couldn’t put him on the list either

  5. Mike - Nov 23, 2009 at 9:39 PM

    Actually it was Delmon…
    and being a Twins fan, thats not even the worse trade we’ve done under Billy Smith…
    How about Johan for what turned out to be JJ Hardy, Jon Rauch and Deolis Guerra?

  6. Jeff Lewis - Nov 23, 2009 at 10:12 PM

    My interpretation was not that Aaron was downgrading Teixeira for being on a good team, but that voters would overvalue his contributions. Teixeira was better than Youklis, Cabrera, and Morales, but not by a huge margin. Obviously, this is because first baseman hit really well relative to other positions, and unless you have a tremendous year at the plate, it’s hard to differentiate yourself as a first baseman (see Pujols). However, Texeira’s gaudy RBI numbers are partly a function of his teammates getting on base. Replace Teixeira with Cabrera, and Cabrera would have had gaudy RBI numbers too.

  7. Larry - Nov 24, 2009 at 1:58 AM

    Has this guy ever heard of Kendry Morales? How does he not make your top 5 let alone your top 10? Pull your head out buddy! Can’t take your list serious when you have a pitcher on a last place team at #5.

  8. Dave - Nov 26, 2009 at 10:38 AM

    I love Joe Mauer as much as the next guy (probably more), but I’m growing weary of seeing a lot of people including the ESPN bloggers use stats like AVG, OBP, SLG and OPS side-by-side.
    My beef isn’t that this approach favors a guy like Mauer (though it does). It’s just not good statistics to cite multiple stats that measure the same thing: batting average is the largest component of all four.
    Maybe less familiar metrics like Walk Rate, Secondary Average, etc should be part of these comparisons.
    PS VORP: love it.

  9. Darrel - Nov 27, 2009 at 8:18 AM

    I noticed the glaring mistake too. Can’t believe Morales doesn’t make the top ten – he easily makes my top four!

  10. Ted Sverchek - Feb 7, 2010 at 11:38 AM

    Just want to tell you thanks for all the great info found on your blog, even helped me with my work recently :) keep it up!

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