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Alex Gordon and the M-V-P chants

Aug 28, 2014, 9:42 PM EDT

Alex Gordon Getty Getty Images

Every time Alex Gordon steps to the plate at Kauffman Stadium these days, fans chant, “M-V-P, M-V-P,” which is fascinating on so many levels. Let’s start with the most basic of those.

At the moment, Alex Gordon is hitting .281 with 16 home runs and 59 RBIs. Nothing at all about that looks MVPish. He is not in the American League Top 10 in any offensive category, save hit by pitch. On this Royals team he does not lead the team in batting average, he’s tied with Omar Infante (yeah, Omar Infante) in RBIs, and he has just one more home run than Mike Moustakas, who spent time in the minor leagues this year.

Still, people chant “M-V-P.” And they SHOULD chant M-V-P. Why? Well, I think it really comes down to three reasons:

1. The Royals are having their best season in a generation and what fun is that if you don’t have an MVP candidate?

2. Nobody else on the team is even a remotely viable MVP candidate, save one unusual case.

3. WAR.

We’ll get to WAR in a minute … let’s start with more traditional numbers. Look around baseball these days. Here is a potentially fascinating statistic: There’s a chance this will be the first full season in baseball history without either a 40-home run hitter or a 20-game winner.

Think about that for a second: First time ever. Now, it might not turn out – Nelson Cruz, Chris Carter, Jose Abreu and Giancarlo Stanton all have a shot at 40 homers, and Clayton Kershaw among others might win 20 games. But the fact this is even a possibility as we enter September speaks to how dramatically the game has changed. The numbers that used to define baseball are disappearing on us. There are no more .350 hitters. Twenty game winners are almost extinct. And now, with the dramatic drop in power across baseball, home runs are becoming rare events. The home run rate across baseball is lower than at any point since before the 1994 strike. Kansas City, in particular, is going to have to hustle just to get to 100 home runs as a team.

With those sorts of numbers down all over baseball, we need to look a little deeper to find our MVP candidates. There are players – Abreu, Trout, Stanton and Victor Martinez – who are putting up what you would call traditional MVP type numbers. They’re all hitting in the general range of .300, are on pace for 30-plus homers and 100 plus RBIs. But those are the only four, as of right now, who are good bets to get there, which is crazy.

In 2001, there were TWENTY EIGHT players who hit .at least 290, 30, 100.

In 2006, there were 15 of those players.

In 2011, there were nine of those players.

Last year, there were three.

This year, I’m guessing there will be four – so the very idea of MVP numbers is changing on us. This is one reason why I think Gordon is getting the MVP chant. In another year, his .281, 16, 59 through August would look utterly pedestrian. In a season like this, those numbers are more valuable than you might thing..

And … the Royals have to chant M-V-P for SOMEBODY. When a team potentially breaks through for the first time, there’s just a powerful need to believe that one great player led the way. This has long been true in MVP voting. Zoilo Versalles famously won the award in 1965 with ordinary numbers because the Twins won the pennant more or less out of nowhere. When the Angels reached the postseason for the first time in team history in 1979, Don Baylor won the MVP award as a DH with the 10th best slugging percentage in the league. When the Atlanta Braves went from worst to first in 1991, Terry Pendleton won the award with somewhat drab MVP numbers. The same was true for Jimmy Rollins in 2007, when his Phillies made the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.*

*In all four of those cases, a teammate –  Tony Oliva in 1965, Bobby Grich in 1979, Tom Glavine in 1991 and Chase Utley in 2007 – almost certainly had better years than the MVP. Just kind of interesting.

This is one of the absurdities of  the MVP award – baseball teams do not win because of one player. This is why I have become a pretty strict literalist when it comes to MVP voting – the MVP to me is the best player. Period. I no longer care at all how his team did — not for that individual award. Mike Trout was the best player in baseball the last two years and the Angels were irrelevant. This year, he’s the best player in baseball and the Angels are winning. He should be (and should have been) the MVP all three years.

Still, he Royals are winning, and so they must have someone to shout MVP for, and there really isn’t anyone else, certainly not in the lineup. Gordon has created 17 more runs than anyone else on the team because he leads the team in doubles, homers, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. It should be said his slugging percentage is a somewhat plain looking .455. It is still 40 points higher than anybody else in the lineup.

I mentioned one other player who could (and I suspect will) get some MVP consideration — that’s reliever Wade Davis. There’s precedents for relievers having absurd statistical seasons getting a lot of MVP love (and, in the case of Jim Konstanty, Willie Hernandez and Dennis Eckersley, actually getting the away). Davis is having an absurd statistical season. He went 38 straight appearances without giving up an extra base-hit, which is truly absurd. He has not given up a run since June. The trouble with Davis is that he will probably throw just 70 innings this year, which just isn’t much and (I suspect) willl prevent people from giving him the award. That said, I’m wagering he gets some real MVP consideration, especially if he keeps pitching like this through September. On the sabermetric side, he does lead all relievers in baseball with 3.2 WAR.

Anyway Davis doesn’t pitch enough to get all the M-V-P chants, so the focus is on Gordon even if his basic offensive numbers inspire yawns.

That’s where Wins Above Replacement come in.

Gordon’ is second in the major leagues in Fangraphs WAR – that would be AHEAD of Giancarlo Stanton. He’s fourth in the American League in Baseball Reference WAR. How is this possible? Well, he plays spectacular defense in left field (and it really is special defense). He’s also an excellent base runner. We’ve already pointed out that his offensive numbers, in context, are better than they look. When you add it all up WAR style – you get a legitimate MVP candidate.

Or do you? This, to me, becomes a more and more interesting question. I’m working on a piece now about the statistical revolution in baseball, and among the statistical people I’m speaking with there seems to be a growing concern that we as a so called “advanced-statistics community” are beginning to make many of the same leaps of faith and broad generalizations that doomed the old statistics. I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but it’s fair to say there’s a growing sense among some that WAR is becoming the advanced version of RBIs or batting average or pitcher wins – that is to say that people, to quote Vin Scully, are using WAR the way a drunk using a lamppost, for support and not illumination. Heck, I might be the Foster Brooks of WAR.

So, I’m not sure of the answer on that one. I’m a huge Alex Gordon fan and have been for some time. I really do believe he has been one of the most underrated players in baseball because he does a lot of things well. I think he SHOULD be an MVP candidate. That said, is his defense in left field SO GOOD that it makes up for the 25 or so more runs that Jose Abreu and Victor Martinez are creating offensively? Can you even BE that good in left field to make up such a gap?

WAR says yes. I want to believe it’s true. So I believe WAR.

That’s definitely support and not illumination.

Anyway, Gordon is the Royals best every day player, and if the Royals continue this miracle he will get a lot of MVP support. I don’t think he will win, but there’s a month yet to go — and he’s in the conversation. He will hear a lot of M-V-P chants. And that’s fantastic because an M-V-P chant at Kauffman Stadium in late August sounds to me a lot like Springsteen live.

READ MORE JOE POSNANSKI PIECES ON HBT

  1. asimonetti88 - Aug 28, 2014 at 9:57 PM

    It won’t happen. Mike Trout will win his third straight MVP, even if it will only be his first official one

    • alexo0 - Aug 29, 2014 at 8:16 AM

      Sorry, but I agree with Poz here. If the Royals hang on, Gordon has to be seriously considered. His elite range on defense and baserunning makes up for the difference in offense between him and Trout.

      • yahmule - Aug 29, 2014 at 9:28 AM

        Yeah, because Trout’s defense and baserunning are really suspect. Enjoying your wake and bake?

    • sportsfan18 - Aug 29, 2014 at 2:14 PM

      Jose Abreu scares me…

      yeah, the Sox aren’t winning so that’s an obstacle for him…

      but he’s tearing it up

  2. The Bronx Bombers - Aug 28, 2014 at 10:12 PM

    Jeter = True M-V-P

    • longfootlefty - Aug 28, 2014 at 10:31 PM

      The best thing about this season-long Jeter wank-fest is that keeping his impotent bat in the #2 spot and his laughable defensive on the field everyday may be detrimental enough to keep the team out of the playoffs.

      He might as well be Neifi Perez this year.

      • SocraticGadfly - Aug 28, 2014 at 10:57 PM

        Totally agreed. Girardi said some while back he had no commitment to keeping Jeter in the 2 hole, but yet he has. Wonder if somebody upstairs whispered to him?

        The second best thing, beyond the Yankees not making the playoffs, will be that they could well be worse next year.

      • yahmule - Aug 29, 2014 at 9:30 AM

        Somebody loved Neifi.

        http://www.salon.com/2010/03/30/top_of_the_order_neifi_perez/

  3. whatacrocker - Aug 28, 2014 at 10:25 PM

    Mediocre Veteran Presence?

  4. kcrobert10 - Aug 28, 2014 at 10:42 PM

    Guy just hit a hr and tied the game with the twins in the bottom of the 7th. He is pretty damn good.

  5. gerard33 - Aug 28, 2014 at 10:56 PM

    Why are you ignoring that Salvador Perez is equally as valuable, if not more, to the team?

    • SocraticGadfly - Aug 28, 2014 at 11:02 PM

      By the stats? On B-R, Gordon’s 2 full WAR points ahead of him. Sorry.

      • ezthinking - Aug 29, 2014 at 11:57 AM

        And both WAR systems admit that they do not appropriately quantify the value of a catcher.

        Sorry.

  6. SocraticGadfly - Aug 28, 2014 at 10:59 PM

    Good points, Joe. I’m not a subscriber to Baseball Prospectus, but I’m sure it’s WAR(P) varies yet again from Fangraphs’ and B-R’s WAR.

    I know Fangraphs and B-R vary wildly at times on dWAR. I know this because of the no-MVP, no-playoffs Yankees with fans like Bronx Bombers wildly overestimating Jeter, I point out that on B-Ref, Ozzie has a higher career WAR.

  7. gerard33 - Aug 28, 2014 at 11:00 PM

    Also, on Wade Davis: He has more wins (7) than extra base hits given up (2) and both were doubles hit rather weakly.

    • storebrandcookies - Aug 29, 2014 at 1:02 AM

      Pretty amazing stat.

  8. phillysports1 - Aug 28, 2014 at 11:13 PM

    @ the first dumb comment on this article. Wow, just forget the numbers that Cabrera put up huh ? Did the angels even make the postseason last couple of years ?

    • longfootlefty - Aug 28, 2014 at 11:21 PM

      Are you still pretending that making the playoffs matters when voting for MVP?

      Trout has been a better player than Cabrera and it’s not really close. It’s called the Most Valuable Player award….defense and baserunning count too.

      • kindasporty - Aug 29, 2014 at 6:52 AM

        I was with you until “it’s not really close”

      • longfootlefty - Aug 29, 2014 at 7:27 AM

        Trout was better offensively than Miggy in ’12 and ’13. Not by a ton, but by enough. Trout is considerably better offensively then Miggy this year.

        But that ignores the fact that Trout is an above-average defender and baserunner, which Miggy is basically a brick with a glove in the field and a brick without a glove on the bases.

        When you add up all the aspects of the game, not just what they do at the plate, Trout has been a better player than Miggy….and like I said….it’s not really close.

    • tolbuck - Aug 29, 2014 at 7:00 AM

      You do realize that in ’12 the Angels had a better record than the Tigers, right?

      • 18thstreet - Aug 29, 2014 at 1:34 PM

        If Mike Trout were truly valuable, he would have realigned the divisions to get the Angels into the playoffs.

  9. edelmanfanclub - Aug 28, 2014 at 11:16 PM

    Gordon isn’t going to be the MVP but its nice to hear their fan base chanting something positive about the team after all they have been through since their last playoff appearance (Which was a World Series if I am correct?)

    Anyways, my playoff picture and each teams MVP looks as follows

    BAL (E) MVP Markakis/Cruz
    KC (C) MVP Gordon
    LA (W) MVP Trout
    OAK (WC) MVP Donaldson
    SEA (WC) MVP Cano

    Trout is the MVP as we all know, Cano is up there too. Gordon is very valuable to KC though.

    • longfootlefty - Aug 28, 2014 at 11:27 PM

      I know many people dislike giving the MVP to pitchers, but I’d give the Mariners team MVP to Felix rather than Cano.

      Also, Cano and Gordon are just about neck and neck in terms of WAR.

      • edelmanfanclub - Aug 28, 2014 at 11:36 PM

        Good point Felix and Kershaw are sure to be in the running for MVP for both leagues.

      • longfootlefty - Aug 28, 2014 at 11:45 PM

        I’d think Kershaw would have a better shot at actually getting the MVP than Felix will. There’s just not a lot of strong competition for it among the hitters in the NL…..certainly not like Trout or Abreu or Cruz.

      • yahmule - Aug 29, 2014 at 9:32 AM

        Why do people keep mentioning the swooning Cruz?

      • longfootlefty - Aug 29, 2014 at 11:08 AM

        Because voters often like to pick players on playoff teams (deserving or not) and Cruz is that.

  10. schrutebeetfarms - Aug 28, 2014 at 11:46 PM

    I wish people would quit interpreting the MVP into something it isn’t. MVP doesn’t stand for best player, it stands for most valuable to the team. You can argue plenty who should still win, but to say it should be the best player is asinine.

    • longfootlefty - Aug 28, 2014 at 11:54 PM

      MVP = Most Valuable Player. You are the one interpreting it into being limited “to the team”.

    • moogro - Aug 29, 2014 at 1:26 AM

      Asinine

      Asinine

      Asinine

      Asinine

      Asinine

      Asinine

  11. ningenito78 - Aug 29, 2014 at 12:47 AM

    Brett Gardner MVP MVP MVP

  12. gwh88 - Aug 29, 2014 at 1:17 AM

    Royals are just happy to be relevant

  13. hushbrother - Aug 29, 2014 at 3:27 AM

    I thought the “lamppost” quote was by Bill James.

    • yahmule - Aug 29, 2014 at 9:34 AM

      Vinnie was saying that before anybody heard of Bill James.

      • 18thstreet - Aug 29, 2014 at 1:35 PM

        Nope. It’s Winston Churchill. Or Mark Twain. I forget which one.

  14. phillysports1 - Aug 29, 2014 at 10:20 AM

    Lmao Cabrera was the triple crown winner and you’re still saying that Trout put up better numbers that season? What world are we living in? Is it because he’s a young white stud? Of course he’s favored!

    • longfootlefty - Aug 29, 2014 at 11:02 AM

      We’re living in a world that acknowledges that there is more to the game than the kindergarten stats of AVG, HR, and RBI. If you’re still playing with fingerpaints and using safety scissors, fine….but the rest of the world has moved on.

  15. phillysports1 - Aug 29, 2014 at 11:35 AM

    Dude, Cabrera was the triple crown winner ! Just stop it already !

    • edelmanfanclub - Aug 29, 2014 at 1:20 PM

      I actually felt Cabrera was more valuable during Trouts rookie year, but the reason the triple crown doesnt matter is because hitting is half the game for a non-pitcher.

      • longfootlefty - Aug 29, 2014 at 1:43 PM

        And the triple crown categories don’t do much to accurately reflect how much hitting a player is actually doing.

    • 18thstreet - Aug 29, 2014 at 1:40 PM

      Why am I bothering arguing with this?

      There’s more to baseball than the statistics that make up the triple crown. Here’s a brief list of things the triple crown stats ignore.

      – defense
      – baserunning
      – that doubles are better than singles
      – that triples are also better than singles
      – that drawing a walk is a good thing
      – runs scored

      … never mind the fact that ballparks are different from one another, so actually 40 homeruns in the Baker Bowl is less impressive than 39 homeruns in the Astrodome, even though 40 is a bigger number than 39.

      Philly — please make a passing attempt to understand why, for many of us, your simplistic answer doesn’t end the debate. We understand your side. Please TRY to understand ours.

  16. kazi05 - Aug 29, 2014 at 10:38 PM

    Pretty sure Joe should just hop right into bed with Trout. He is average this year and already on the decline. Wait a minute…. Is this only his 3rd full year in the league? I will be laughing in a couple of years when people say…. Who is Mike Trout?

  17. kazi05 - Aug 29, 2014 at 10:49 PM

    Let me clue everyone in on something Defense does not win games. If you don’t score any runs the outcome will be the same every time. How many people enjoy a 2-0 game? It’s boring. But let’s go back to the roid era where McGwire, Sosa, Bonds where hitting all those long balls. Now that was entertainment. Offense is everything in every sport.

  18. musicman495 - Aug 31, 2014 at 12:52 AM

    Please stop. First of all, if the award were supposed to be for Best Player of the Year it would be called Best Player of the Year, like the Oscar. It is called Most Valuable Player for a reason, and the majority of those who vote vote that way, no matter how they vote at HBT.

    Second, Alex Gordon is not even the MVP of his own team. The Royals win when Gordon is not in the lineup, they do not win when Omar Infante is not in the lineup. That should tell you something.

    3rd, for those who are still arguing numbers for Mike Trout as MVP for a 3rd place team in 2012 over Cabrera winning the triple crown for the first time in 45 years for a World Series team in 2012, here is the only number that matters – 22-6. Those are the 1st place MVP votes for Cabrera.

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