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If All MVP Voters Were Statheads

This morning, Dave made a compelling argument in his NL MVP piece that the selection of Albert Pujols is proof baseball award voters have matured into a stats-savvy electorate, weighing the exact sabrmetric analysis they have so often discounted.

Well, today's AL MVP announcement could prove that baseball voters are even more statistically inclined than Dave's giving them credit for. Or it could emphasize how voters can subjectively overcompensate for past errors in judgement ... or it could prove that they're right on the Bill James wavelength they seem to be on.

Heading into today's announcement, the front runners are widely reported to be, in no particular order: Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia (second in AL batting average at .326, league-leading 54 doubles, 17 home runs and stellar defense), White Sox outfielder Carlos Quentin (led the league convincingly with 36 homers when he broke his wrist September 1 and led the AL Central champs in OBP at .394), Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez (single-season record 62 saves), Twins catcher Joe Mauer (won his second batting title in three years with a .328 average and finished second in OBP at .413, all while molding a young pitching staff in divisional contenders), Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis (led the Wild Card-winning Red Sox with 29 home runs while playing gold glove caliber defense at both first and third base) and Twins outfielder Justin Morneau (hit .300 and racked up second-highest RBI total with 129).

Now, of those players, Pedroia and Mauer would be in a for a head-on collision if the contest was based purely on VORP; value over replacement player. Here's a much more thorough breakdown of VORP if you want to know exactly what it's made of. Mauer's VORP of 32.1 is a tick above Pedroia's 28.2, but even that would seem to downplay his defensive significance, something that's almost impossible to quantify with catchers because of their role in helping build pitching staffs.

The plot thickens further, however, when you consider a more newfangled metric that's still gaining traction in baseball's statistical hierarchy: WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player). Trying to use WARP may be a little bit like saying Does It Offend You Yeah? is a postmodern Clash; just because many don't understand the parameters of an argument doesn't necessarily invalidate it.

As Baseball Prospectus' Jay Jaffe writes this morning, the top three finishers in WARP are all pitchers: Cy Young winner Cliff Lee (WARP of 10.4), Yankees closer Mariano Rivera (WARP of 10.3) and Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay (WARP of 9.8). Dustin Pedroia is the top position player, tying Halladay at 9.8 and followed closely by Mauer at 9.6.

The most interesting WARP revelation? The lowest-rated contender for the award is K-Rod, whose WARP works out to 7.6, an indication that he really may have had quite a bit of luck during his streak.

So what can we make of the battle for the league's best player? Well, Pedroia probably is the best bet. He's a top statistical contender and was the young emerging leader of a team that made the playoffs ... and nearly the World Series. That's just part of the argument that Boston Herald turned Globe scribe Tony Massarotti is citing here. Sure, that shortchanges Mauer yet again -- if I had a vote it'd go to Mauer -- but it's hard to see the voter's picking Mauer when one of his own teammates had stronger numbers in a traditional sense.

Then again, you can't discount the possible reach vote turning up for Rodriguez. It's been years since a pitcher won an MVP -- 16 to be exact -- and the last time a vote was this wide open was in 2006, when Johan Santana's compelling case was completely and utterly sandbagged by that of teammates Morneau (who won) and Mauer (who finished sixth).

No matter how it shakes out, this race definitely will be worth watching the spread ... and waiting for Dave to break it all down later.

By Cameron Smith  |  November 18, 2008; 12:01 PM ET
Categories:  Angels , Red Sox , Twins , White Sox  
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Next: AL MVP: Dustin Pedroia


Had to snicker about how little people recognize about Morneau, even though he's won an MVP.

"Twins outfielder Justin Morneau (hit .300 and racked up second-highest RBI total with 129)"

Cameron - you owe us an edit!

I'm kind of in the Mauer camp, but for my loyalty to Youk!!!!!

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | November 18, 2008 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Mauer is at least as worthy, and the note about grooming a young pitching staff is support to this claim that you just won't see in the stats. And when you take into consideration his .413 OBP and how it helps the hitters in front of him (Span and Casilla, .294 and .281, respectively), you get a sense of how he's setting the table for a good deal of Morneau's 129 RBI.

I'm no Twins apologist - I'm a Nats fan first and foremost. But when you compare how young and inexperienced this Twins team was to the success it experienced, you get a better sense of the value of a guy like Mauer.

Posted by: JohninMpls | November 18, 2008 2:29 PM | Report abuse

Dave, it seems to me that your VORP figures are wrong. Baseball Prospectus has Pedroia at a VORP of 59.8 and Mauer at a VORP of 57.1. You can view the list here:

Posted by: mattymatty2000 | November 18, 2008 6:40 PM | Report abuse

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