Wednesday, November 22, 2006

AL MVP voters: a confederacy of dunces

To the surprise of baseball observers everywhere, and to the shock of the winner himself, Justin Morneau beat Derek Jeter for the AL MVP award. Of the 28 voters, 15 picked Morneau as #1 on their MVP ballots. This is ridiculous and a complete shaft job.

Compare these two hitters and their numbers:

.321, 34 HR, 130 RBI, 97 R, .375 OBP, .559 SLG
.290, 35 HR, 121 RBI, 113 R, .392 OBP, .523 SLG

Not much difference, right? One had a higher batting average and slugging percentage, the other had many more runs scored and a better on base average (and the baseball number geeks will tell you (1) the 17-point OBP spread is statistically equal to the 36-point SLG spread for purpose of runs created and win shares and (2) OBP is more important than batting average). The first player listed is Morneau; the second player finished 13th in MVP voting and allegedly had a bad year -- that's Alex Rodriguez.

Three Twins players, Morneau, batting title winning catcher Joe Mauer and Cy Young winner Johan Santana, finished in the top 7 in the voting. Jeter is the only Yankee in the top 10.

The Yanks won 97 games despite losing two-thirds of their starting outfield (2005 output = 57 HR, 239 RBI in 1213 AB; this year 14 HR in 323 AB) for more than 200 player-games, despite their "ace" pitcher pulling a 5.00 ERA, despite a weak bullpen (more losses when leading after 7 than anyone in the AL but the Royals), despite losing Robinson Cano for 40 games.

Jeter finished second in the league in hitting, hitting with runners in scoring position, and runs scored. Morneau was not first in any of those categories. Jeter won a Gold Glove award for the third-straight season. Both won the Silver Slugger.

There should be no contest -- Jeter was the best player on the best team in the AL. There are STILL idiots who think that if Jeter was out of the lineup, the Yanks would still roll right along -- one dingdong from Chicago placed Jeter SIXTH! -- and they still have their voting cards.

The premise is wrong, especially this year. As The Monk has shown before, Jeter produces no matter how good or bad the Yankees' lineup is. Why is it that doubters of Jeter's greatness become apostles when they see him play day in, day out (see Bowa, Larry)? Probably because he really is that good.

There is a lot of stupidity in baseball voting, and some of the worst of it in MVP races (1991 Ripken over Fielder, Pendleton over Bonds; 1998 Sosa over McGwire). But usually the voters are in the right area. Not even close this year -- after all, the #3 in the balloting was Fat Papi, but his team collapsed in a heap in August and fell into third place for the first time since 1997.

There are ultimately two problems, one specific and one general. The specific is anti-Yankee animus. In 2003, Angel Berroa beat out Hideki Matsui for AL Rookie of the Year. Some voters said Matsui was not a "true" rookie because he'd played so long in Japan. Somehow that consideration was not relevant for Mariner imports Ichiro Suzuki or Kaz Sasaki two and three years earlier. Matsui's numbers, especially in the clutch, embarrassed Berroa who is now barely serviceable.

In 2005, Rivera (43 sv, 1.38 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, .177 BAA, 50 H in 78 IP) was routed for the Cy Young Award. The Monk proved before the voting that Bartolo Colon was not even the best pitcher on his team, never mind in the league. Worse yet, six voters left Mo off the ballot. That's either anti-reliever animus (for which each of the voters should have lost voting privileges) or anti-Yankee).

Yeah, so A-Rod won MVP in '05 -- he played top-notch defense and his only competition was a DH. The numbers for the two were relatively close (although Ortiz had big advantages in clutch hitting), but both players were far superior to the competition. In other words, A-Rod was not interchangeable with 5 other players like Colon or even Morneau (compare him to Hafner, Thome, Thomas, Ortiz and 13th-place vote-recipient A-Rod).

The general problem is the nature of the voters. Each city or beatwriter region of the 14 American League teams gets two voters (that's how a Tacoma writer becomes a voter -- his paper covers the Mariners). In other words, there are no NATIONAL baseball writers in the mix. Peter Gammons, Buster Olney, Jerry Crasnick, Tom Verducci, John Donovan, etc. do not get to vote. The men who actually look at the big picture of the whole league (or of all baseball) are completely shut out of the voting for the postseason awards.

This results in regionalism (Chicago writers see the Twins 18+ times, the Yankees 6-7). Worse yet, it results in localism: writers in KC, Minnesota, Oakland, Tampa and other small markets will resent Yankees; writers in LA, Oakland, Chicago, Minnesota and markets with competitive teams will resent Yankees and RedSucks thanks to the hyperbole that comes with that rivalry.

The Yanks have had one each of Cy Young/MVP/RoY winner in the last 13 seasons, when the Yanks reached the playoffs 12 times (only miss = 1994 strike season). No similar run of greatness (read: Braves, Atlanta; 1950s Yankees) has lacked individual awards to that extent. The Yanks have played as a team throughout . . . but their individuals have not received some accolades they deserved.

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