The AL MVP: Keep on Debatin’ in the Free World
November 16, 2005 10 Comments
From the newspaper to the Internet, from ESPN to MSNBC to numerous pages hosted by Blogspot, the A-Rod/Ortiz AL MVP debate just won’t stop.
Some people have shown A-Rod to be more deserving of the MVP. He out-homered and out-fielded DH-extraordinaire David Ortiz. Others have, using convoluted metrics, done everything to show why Ortiz was more valuable to the Red Sox than Alex Rodriguez was to the Yankees.
One of the more popular, and pointless, arguments floating around the baseball world was the one espoused by Mike Celizic on MSNBC. Calling the vote an “injustice,” Celizic manages this gem:
But the numbers that count more than any other are production from the seventh inning on games when his team is either a run down, a run ahead or tied. That’s clutch time, when games are won or lost, when a team’s best hitters are standing in against the other guy’s best reliever, when the pressure is ratcheted up to nearly intolerable levels.
Ortiz had 78 at-bats in clutch time and he emerged with a .346 average, 11 home runs and 33 RBIs. A-Rod had 75 at-bats in clutch time, and he hit .293 with four dingers and 12 RBIs.
That’s nearly three times the homers and RBIs when Ortiz’s team most needed them. There’s not a player on the Red Sox who won’t tell you that without Big Papi, they don’t make the playoffs. No one in Boston will argue that anyone else on the team or in the league was more valuable…
But if you asked Yankees fans who the team’s MVP is, I don’t think A-Rod would win the vote. Rivera would probably win for the very good reason that no one was more critical in the Yankees’ winning the division than Mo. Jason Giambi might even finish higher than A-Rod, because, as good as A-Rod was, Giambi’s hitting from June through the end of the year was the real difference-maker in the Yankees’ run. Derek Jeter, the most feared clutch hitter in the Yankees lineup, would also take votes away from A-Rod.
Celizic’s argument is absurd on so many levels. Yet, this has been repeated on countless blogs on numerous discussion threads arguing the award. First, why do those close and late numbers count more than any other? It’s just as important to score runs in the first inning as it is in the seventh inning. If you’re winning, you’re winning. The runs count the same.
Next, Celizic gets into some good old fashioned Derek Jeter worshipping. Let’s look at what he’s saying about the close and late situations and throw that out the window. As much as I think Derek Jeter is the current heart and soul of a team growing increasingly soulless, Derek was not clutch this year. If Ortiz wins the MVP award for being great in close and late situations, it’s borderline ridiculous that Celizic would then argue that Jeter deserves the MVP on the Yankees over A-Rod. In those same close and late situations, the Yankee Captain hit a pedestrian .267/.353/.400 with 3 home runs and just 11 RBI in 90 at bats. With runners in scoring position this year, Jeter hit .261/.386/.355 with 2 home runs and 51 RBIs in 138. Now, I love the way Jeter plays, but let’s not get carried away here. He didn’t really come through that often in the clutch this year. It happens. But it’s absurd to say Jeter would take away votes from A-Rod because of his clutch hitting when it didn’t happen this year. If close and late were the only indicator of an MVP candidate, as Celizic seems to suggest, well, cross Derek off that list.
Meanwhile, with everyone so fascinated by this close and late scenario, I took a look at another scenario. This time, I compared A-Rod to Ortiz when playing against the American League’s other .500 ballclubs. I looked at how A-Rod did against the Red Sox, the White Sox, the Indians, the Twins, the Angels, and the A’s. I looked at how Ortiz did against the Yankees, the White Sox, the Indians, the Twins, the Angels, and the A’s. I then calculated runs created using the 2002 version of runs created. Here’s how the two compared.
So what we see emerging here is a different picture of clutch hitting. While Ortiz may succeed in “late and close” games (which, by the way, does not distinguish between games when the Red Sox were ahead by one run in late innings or behind, an important distinction), Alex Rodriguez seems to excel against the better teams. He had a higher on-base percentage by over 30 points, a higher slugging by over 110 points, and he helped create more runs.
So does that mean that Alex Rodriguez was definitely the MVP? People arguing for David Ortiz say that his close and late hitting is a good enough reason to award him the trophy. I, however, say no, this doesn’t prove anything.
All my thought experiment shows is that if you take the right numbers you get a situation where one of these players emerges clearly superior to the other. A-Rod here steps it up a notch against better teams. Ortiz seems to excel with the game on the line. Does one player’s winning the trophy over the other constitute an “injustice,” as Celizic said? No. Of course note.
This year, the MVP race was exceeding close. Both players deserved it, and only one could win it. While people can argue who is the better MVP candidate until they are blue in the face, the truth is that both of David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez was very valuable to their teams. Beyond that, it’s simply up to the voters, however flawed a process that may be.