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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. Bobio - Nov 23, 2009 at 11:48 AM

    Amen!!!

  2. Anon - Nov 23, 2009 at 11:50 AM

    I agree wholeheartedly with Mauer as MVP. We can nitpick the rest of the ballot, but all that really matters is who wins, and there’s no real question on who should win.
    But I disagree with refusing to consider a player’s contribution to the number of games his team wins, or to a consideration of the number of games the team wins. By your logic, we should just give the award every year to the player who leads the league in VORP. Or the player who leads the league in runs created, or OPS, or whatever statistical runs-measuring metric happens to be in fashion.
    MVP is, indeed, an individual award, and team record or results should not control. No one should be eliminated from contention becuase his team is terrible. But it’s not at all unfair to downgrade a player on the ground of, “how valuable could he be, he led his team to all of 70 wins.”
    Take this hypo – pretend Mauer’s stats were essentially what they actually were. But also pretend that he had 3 hits in the last 3 weeks, committed 3 erros in that time period, and the Twins missed the playoffs. Would it be really unfair for voters to drop him down on the ballot because of this? I don’t think so.
    Context matters, and you do the players and the award a disservice by taking them out of context.

  3. ochocinco - Nov 23, 2009 at 11:56 AM

    I think you forgot someone, Aaron–Mariano Rivera. He is so old and what he has done throughout Yankee’s history especially in the post-season being on so many great teams, he really deserves this award even if he didn’t put up great numbers this year. If the Royals had Mo closing out ballgames, instead of the Mexicutioner, they would have been playing deep into the post season.

  4. JoeK - Nov 23, 2009 at 12:04 PM

    You’re not serious right? This is the most ridiculous post I have ever read. Rivera should be the AL MVP of 2009 because of what he’s done throughout Yankee’s history and he’s been on so many great teams? That makes no sense at all.
    Your suggestion that the Royals would have went deep into the post-season if they had Rivera closing out games is the funniest thing I have read since….well I can’t remember a more hilarious statement.
    Why am I even bothering to posit a response to your post. I hope you’re like only 9 or 10 years old and this is your first ever post online…ever.

  5. B - Nov 23, 2009 at 12:08 PM

    Ocho…you have to be kidding me…right?! Your last line is quite possibly the most absurd comment I have ever read. You can’t truly believe that Rivera would have added 20+ wins to the Royals record. Dude….seriously.

  6. matt - Nov 23, 2009 at 12:09 PM

    “what he has done throughout Yankee’s history especially in the post-season being on so many great teams, he really deserves this award even if he didn’t put up great numbers this year.”
    um… pretty sure this is the award for putting up great numbers this year, which mauer did and mariano did not :\
    idiot

  7. Glanzer - Nov 23, 2009 at 12:14 PM

    JoeK said it well. The honor for lifetime achievements and post-season glory is called the Hall of Fame, for which Rivera no doubt will be a first ballot inductee. If he receives any MVP votes this year, which he might because he did have an excellent season, it will be for his achievements on the field in 2009 and not his playoff success from a decade ago.

  8. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - Nov 23, 2009 at 12:33 PM

    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.

    Just curious as to why you didn’t use WAR, since it factors in defense. It would also make your pick of Greinke look better because the WAR numbers are:
    Greinke 9.4
    Zobrist 8.6
    Mauer 8.2
    Verlander 8.2
    Jeter 7.4

  9. jonny5 - Nov 23, 2009 at 12:35 PM

    Mauer hands down. Jeter is #2? You must be a New yorker in love with the guy………

  10. JJ Metz - Nov 23, 2009 at 12:41 PM

    I find it funny that you keep calling it your “ballot”. Since you don’t really have a vote and all.

  11. J-LO FELL 2 - Nov 23, 2009 at 12:42 PM

    are you drunk from sunday, or did you fall. like J-Lo

  12. J-LO FELL 2 - Nov 23, 2009 at 12:43 PM

    are you drunk from sunday, or did you fall. like J-Lo

  13. DEPP DA PIRATE - Nov 23, 2009 at 12:47 PM

    YOU PIRATE FANS ARE SO FUNNY, I HOPE YOU ARE LAUGHING ABOUT 17 STRAIGHT LOSING SEASONS AND ANOTHER 100 LOSES.

  14. Eagle 57 - Nov 23, 2009 at 12:48 PM

    Mauer! Yes! By any rational, objective view of performance.
    Congratulations to Joe Mauer. Hope he has many more!

  15. RonZ - Nov 23, 2009 at 12:50 PM

    ocho, u shouldnt have the right to post ne thing ne more…ure probably some yankee fan who thinks every player on their team is of god status…. i hate that money apparently buys championships and all the yankees fans dance around like idiots cuz they just bought a championship….but any ways my AL Mvp goes like this.
    1.) Joe Mauer
    2.) Longo
    3.) Greinke
    4.) Miguel Cabrera
    5.) Mark Teixeira

  16. TMW - Nov 23, 2009 at 12:57 PM

    WAR doesn’t have a calculation to catcher defense so you can’t really use it to argue anything here.

  17. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - Nov 23, 2009 at 1:01 PM

    Um yes you can, because even though it doesn’t factor in catcher defense, he’s still third. So imagine that it did. It also is a counting stat, and while he missed a good month of the season, he’s once again third.

  18. ecp - Nov 23, 2009 at 1:01 PM

    Yeah, because the Royals would have just been inspired to score more runs just by Mariano’s mythical presence, huh? What a joke.

  19. James - Nov 23, 2009 at 1:06 PM

    Kendry Morales doesn’t make your top ten list? Really? Maybe if you didn’t have so many pitchers on your list…

  20. Pete - Nov 23, 2009 at 1:20 PM

    I’m pretty sure 85 was joking/baiting you guys into this flame war.

  21. Brian - Nov 23, 2009 at 1:45 PM

    How can you have Mark Teixeira at #6 but not even list Kendry Morales? Kendry was almost as good and didn’t have the benefit of playing half his games in that crazy Yankee Stadium.

  22. Joe - Nov 23, 2009 at 2:05 PM

    You’re an idiot. Never post whenever you’re under the influence.

  23. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - Nov 23, 2009 at 2:13 PM

    per espn:
    Mauer first, 27/28 first place votes
    Tex second 225 votes
    Jeter third, 193 votes
    Cabrera fourth (other first place vote) (wtf!?!?)
    http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=4682842

  24. Will - Nov 23, 2009 at 3:38 PM

    How is Jason Bay not on that list?

  25. jonny5 - Nov 23, 2009 at 4:52 PM

    Sorry, born and bred to bleed red. PHILLIES RED! Now I’m onto my winter green. Let’s not forget the orange and black as well!!!

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