The Tenth Inning – Week 25 MVP Race

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The Tenth Inning – Week 25 – MVP Race ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>


By Mike Ivcic

M. V. P. Three simple letters, really, and taken apart from each other represent nothing more than 1/26 of the standard alphabet used by every English-speaking country and found in every romance language that originated from Greek and Latin. But put those three letters together in that very order, and suddenly sports fans across the globe begin a debate that has never truly been answered.


What does it mean to say someone is the “Most Valuable Player?”

The problem I have always had when applying this argument to baseball is that because the game (and the history of the game) is so numbers driven, we often times get too caught up in a player’s individual statistics and assume that because they were the most productive player in the game that year, they were also the most valuable. I have a strong differentiation in my mind between “best” and “valuable,” and I believe the baseball writers that vote for the respective MVP awards also have a wide array of ideas on this subject. So first, allow me a proposal to help alleviate some of these issues.

Pitchers have the Cy Young award. Fielders have Gold Glove awards. And yes, hitters have Silver Slugger awards, but let’s develop a “Babe Ruth” award and present that to the best position player in the game. Clearly, the focus would be on the offensive numbers more so than any type of fielding percentage, but things like stolen bases and WAR numbers should certainly play into this newly created award. Pure numbers should really be the determining factor here, and not the play of any candidate’s particular team. After all, teams win championships, but a single player’s individual season should not be downplayed or ignored because of the poor performance of those around him.

That opens up the possibility of presenting the MVP award to the player who truly is judged as the most valuable player to his particular team. I find it extremely difficult to give either Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout the AL MVP award if neither the Tigers nor the Angels, respectively, make the playoffs. Think of it this way – if the Tigers with Cabrera miss the playoffs, wouldn’t it suffice to say that the Tigers without Cabrera would have also missed the playoffs? And as such, what difference did Cabrera really make to the Tigers if game 162 of the regular season was the last game they played regardless of Cabrera’s presence on the roster? The same applies to Trout, who should be a shoe-in to win rookie of the year but shouldn’t come close to winning the NVP award. The argument could easily be made he’s not even the most valuable player on his team (where are the Angels without Jered Weaver every fifth day?) so how could he be the MVP of the league?

And that leads into my main point. The MVP needs to be the determination of which individual player had the biggest impact on the entire season. Which player’s performance was the single biggest reason that the season looks the way it does after 162 games, and which player’s removal from his team or lack of performance would have altered the season’s outcome in the biggest way? It’s the reason that the 2008 NL MVP was Brad Lidge, no matter who actually won the award (for the record, it was Albert Pujols). Without his perfect season of saves – 42-for-42 in the regular season, another 6-for-6 in the postseason – the Phillies do not win the NL East and may not even make the playoffs. His performance that year was the single biggest factor in the final results of the regular season – the Phillies won the NL East by 1 game and the season-average of blown saves by a team’s primary closer that season, including Lidge’s numbers, was 3.4 – so subtracting three wins from the Phillies not only removes them from the division lead, but from the playoffs entirely. THAT is a difference maker, and THAT is the definition of an MVP.

With that in mind, who are the AL and NL MVP’s this season using my method? For the American League, assuming Detroit misses the playoffs, the answer is Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers. He’s the only legitimate left-handed bat in the entire lineup, which means he’s virtually solely responsible for carrying the offense against right-handed pitching. Even though he sees almost nothing good to hit from righties in most situations, he’s still managed to hit .284 with 32 homeruns and a .982 OPS – when he’s the only scary lefty in the entire batting order. Multiple managers have said they tell their right-handed pitchers to pitch around Hamilton, and yet he’s still lit up the scoreboard in ways most other players never dream of doing. His team is not only in first place, but holds the best record in what has proven to be the toughest division in baseball. Without Hamilton, the Rangers may be behind both Oakland and Los Angeles, even with a stacked lineup remaining, simply because Hamilton is that important to the Rangers offensive balance. In fact, he is their balance, and as such he’s the AL MVP.

The NL MVP is a bit more difficult to determine. Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun would likely win the newly created Babe Ruth award, but the Brewers absence in the postseason would limit his value in this discussion. R.A Dickey may very well win the Cy Young, but the Mets have been irrelevant in the second half of the season except for boosting the win totals of whomever they’ve played. I’d certainly consider Buster Posey of the Giants, Andrew McCutcheon of the Pirates, Jason Motte of the Cardinals, and Joey Votto of the Reds under this new umbrella, but would ultimately eliminate them because the Giants would win the division away, the Pirates faded in September, the Cardinals win more because of offense than defense, and the Reds actually played better during the time period that Votto was injured. Instead, in this discussion, the NL MVP award almost certainly goes to…

Gio Gonzalez.

Last season the Nationals won 80 games. This season they may win 100. Yes, Stephen Strasburg was a big factor in that jump as well, but Gonzalez is currently the only pitcher in the majors with 20 wins. The Nationals are in first place, and even with Strasburg the removal of Gonzalez from this team makes Washington an 85-win team at best. He’s been the most consistent starter on what currently stands as the best team in all of baseball, and his overall numbers (20-8, 2.84 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 73 walks and 201 strikeouts) has him at least as one of the top three or four candidates for the Cy Young award anyway. He is the single biggest factor in how the National League has developed this season, and without him the Nats may not be preparing to host their first-ever playoff game is D.C. He won’t get a sniff as NL MVP this season, but he should.

And in my mind, he should win.

Playoff “Dead” List
September 24 – Los Angeles Dodgers – In reality, what I’ve now done by making this decision is finalized what I think the playoffs will look like in the National League. San Francisco and Cincinnati are already locked in as division winners, and Washington will play a playoff game of some sort for the first time since moving to D.C. Milwaukee and Philadelphia both made valiant runs, but I’ve eliminated them both already so I’m going all in with Atlanta and St. Louis right now. I can’t eliminate my preseason World Series pick (Angels), nor can I really count out last season’s AL surprise (Rays), nor do I have any real clear indication of who’s winning the Central. Plus, I could very easily see another “dead” team make the playoffs with the A’s this year, so I can’t go through with any AL eliminations just yet. Thus, we’re left with taking the Dodgers off the list and waiting one more week to see what shakes out in the junior circuit.
September 17 – Pittsburgh Pirates
September 10 – Arizona Diamondbacks
September 3 – Boston Red Sox
August 27 – Miami Marlins
August 20 – New York Mets
August 13 – Cleveland Indians
August 6 – Philadelphia Phillies
July 30 – Milwaukee Brewers
July 23 – Toronto Blue Jays
July 16 – Kansas City Royals
July 9 – Oakland Athletics
July 2 – Colorado Rockies
June 25 – Seattle Mariners
June 18 – Houston Astros
June 11 – Minnesota Twins
June 4 – Chicago Cubs
May 28 – San Diego Padres

Three series to watch this week…
1) OAK @ TEX (9/24-9/27) – I won’t lie – because of the A’s inclusion on the list above, I’m rooting hard for a 4-game sweep by the Rangers. That said, a 4-game sweep the other way puts Oakland and Texas in a dead tie atop the AL West, so this is clearly the series with the biggest impact across the entire baseball landscape this week.
2) MIL @ CIN (9/25-9/27) – If the Brewers are serious about catching the Cardinals, they’ll need at least two of the three here against a team that’s still playing for home field advantage for the entire postseason. The irony – the Reds chances (and their intensity level) probably improves for this series if the Nationals lose Monday… to the Brewers.
3) TB @ BOS (9/25-9/27) – Last year the Sox lost out on the playoffs to the Rays on the final day of the regular season. Tampa’s postseason hopes this year were on life support until they rallied for a sweep of the Blue Jays over the weekend. I can’t imagine the Boston players still remaining from last year wouldn’t at least take some solace in the idea of pulling the plug on Joe Maddon’s ballclub this season.

If the season ended today, the playoff teams would be…
National League
1. Washington Nationals
2. Cincinnati Reds
3. San Francisco Giants
4. Atlanta Braves
5. Saint Louis Cardinals

American League
1. Texas Rangers
2. New York Yankees
3. Chicago White Sox
4. Baltimore Orioles
5. Oakland Athletics

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