Monday, September 29, 2008

At Season's End

The regular season of Major League Baseball is at an end. That is always a bummer to me. One of the reasons that I like baseball so much is that it is played every day. Every day something interesting happens. Of course the playoffs are here, but there is not much joy in those for me this year. No Braves. No A's. No Giants. At least there are no Yankess or Mets, though...

It is always fun to look back at the season, and of course, to speculate on the future. Who should win the awards? And, who should win in the postseason? Being a numbers man, the awards are the most fun to examine.

This is a close race because there are no outstanding candidates. In fact, top AL hitters were significantly weaker than NL hitters this year. If Lance Berkman or Chipper Jones was in the AL, you could make a very strong case for them as MVP... Let's look at a couple of relevant stats. First, runs created:

1.) Grady Sizemore, 128
2.) Josh Hamilton, 122.8
3.) Dustin Pedroia, 120.2
4.) Nick Markakis, 118.4
5.) Aubrey Huff, 116.5

That is a nice advantage for Grady Sizemore. One reason for the advantage over the other players is that he played a lot and lead off, leading to a lot of plate appearances. Still he had a very good season. Who would guess that a lead-off hitter would have 33 home runs and 98 walks? Perhaps he should not be hitting lead-off... A more weighted number is runs created per 27 outs. Here is that top five.

1.) Milton Bradley, 8.97
2.) Alex Rodriguez, 7.89
3.) Kevin Youkilis, 7.8
4.) Carlos Quentin, 7.67
5.) Nick Markakis, 7.42

Only one hold-over from the previous top five, and that is the very underrated Markakis. Perhaps he is the MVP? Perhaps. The other leaders in total runs created are all in the top eleven in runs created per 27 outs. For a final measure, let's look at the top 5 in VORP.

1.) Alex Rodriguez, 65.6
2.) Grady Sizemore, 62.7
3.) Dustin Pedroia, 62.3
4.) Aubrey Huff, 58.4
5.) Josh Hamilton, 57.1

Another very different top five! Even missing some games, A-Rod provided the most "value" for his team. Don't tell Yankee fans this, as I am sure they are working on a way to blame their postseason absence on A-Rod. I can just imagine "Ah, Moose got us 20 wins, if only A-Rod could have hit some!"

From a pure statistical consideration, Milton Bradley was the most "potent" hitter, but only played 126 games. Throw him out, and it sure looks like you would have to go with A-Rod as MVP, once again. If I had a vote, that is who I would go with.

That is not going to happen, and everybody knows it. People like to vote for players who are on "winners". You have to be clearly the best (and even that is not good enough often) to get a MVP trophy and be on a team that is not playing in October. So the people they list are folks like Boston's Pedroia and Youkilis, as well as Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer from the Twins. If Carlos Quentin had not broken his hand during a temper tantrum, he would surely be a front runner. The other name I've heard is Francisco Rodriguez, from the Angels.

Given that, it would seem that Pedroia has the advantage over the other "candidates."

This one is a little easier. Albert Pujols lead the league in all of the stats mentioned previously. He was clearly the best hitter in the league, and nobody is really arguing this one. Ryan Howard's .251 average pretty much guaranteed that he is not in the mix. He is the only guy with "traditional" stats (HRs/RBIs) that beat Pujols, and he plays for a division winner. He also finished very strong, just as his team did, coming from behind to pass the Mets in the last month. But there's no chance of this argument working! Let us hope not at least...

AL Cy Young
This is viewed as a two horse race between Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay. That is good, but that is how it should be. They were far and away the two best pitchers in the AL. Nobody was even remotely close. Most people think that Lee will win because, well because he is a winner. His 22 wins jumps out. He also led the league in ERA. It is rare for a pitcher to lead in both of those stats and not win the Cy Young. For what it's worth, he led the league in VORP as well, edging out Halladay. You can make nice arguments about how pitched against weaker compettition, but it's hard to imagine too many people buying that. Cliff Lee should win and will win.

NL Cy Young
Now this is more interesting. Once again a lot of people think it should be a two-horse race. Once again they are right, but they've got the wrong horses. Most people think it is between Brandon Webb and Tim Lincecum. This may indeed be the two "finalists" for the award, but it should not be that way. Webb was nowhere near as good as Lincecum. He just has a lot more wins, and people get carried away over wins. So Lincecum should be Cy Young, right?
I won't argue against it, especially since I root for the Giants against most teams. However, there is a guy who has been just as good, and maybe even a little better than Lincecum: Johan Santana. He edged Lincecum in ERA, and in VORP (73.4 to 72.5.) Statistically, over the course of the season, he was worth about one extra run (total) more than Lincecum. By comparison, Cliff Lee edged Halladay by about 3.5 runs in VORP.
If you start making the "they played for a winner" argument, then clearly Santana has the edge over Lincecum. You can take that one step further. The Mets were battling the Phillies for the NL East crown this weekend. On Saturday they sent Santana out on short rest and he delivered better than you could hope for by throwing a complete game shutout while striking out nine. I think "clutch" is an illusion, but most people belive in it and I am sure they would say that Santana was as clutch as it comes. He definitely did everything he could to get his team in to the playoffs.
So if people were talking about Lincecum vs. Santana, I would guess they would pick Santana. But they are not. They are only mentioning Lincecum vs. Webb. Lincecum is the clear choice there. Personally if I had a vote ... I would vote for Santana. He has been a little better. The NL East is much better (in terms of hitters) than the NL West.

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