Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Quite a Race Going for AL MVP

Josh Hamilton has been amazing for the Rangers. Every single day the box score reveals multiple hits, doubles, homers, ribbies. The guy is just on another planet right now. But he's still not a lock for MVP. Another candidate is Miguel Cabrera, who has been putting up his own monster season. Robinson Cano has faded a bit in recent weeks, but if he heats up again, he is currently fourth in the majors in Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Youkilis is a long shot and Morneau needs to come back hot from his concussion.

Those who vote for MVP usually vote on traditional counting stats. Josh Hamilton and Miguel Cabrera lead the way in those categories. Currently first and second in batting respectively, they combine a high batting average with plenty of power and both are driving in runs in prodigious regularity. Hamilton is batting .360. Cabrera is batting .347. Both are amazing averages. Cabrera has Hamilton by one homer and fourteen RBIs. He also leads Hamilton in runs scored by four. Those are the traditional stats that MVP voters look at when the season is over. But there are other factors. If any of the voters are interested in some of the newer statistics, we'll get to those in a minute.

Team factors will arise for voters. Cano will have problems because he plays with a bunch of superstars. Hamilton isn't the only force in the Rangers' lineup. Young, Kinsler and especially, Vlad Guerrero, are all having great years. So that may be a detraction from Hamilton. Cabrera is the only great hitter in his lineup. Yes, rookies Austin Jackson and Brennan Boesch are having good seasons. But they can't carry the lineup like Cabrera can. The problem Cabrera might face is if the Tigers fall out of the race and become irrelevant. If that happens, Cabrera's chances will suffer.

Youkilis and Morneau will have arguments as well. Morneau led all of baseball in WAR for most of the season until the last couple of weeks. Youkilis has had a great season and has been a rock for the Red Sox in a season of injury and upheaval. If the Red Sox cannot catch up to the two top teams in the AL East, he'll have problems getting votes. Morneau has been slowed by his concussion, but he also has a problem with his own teammates. Joe Mauer is considered one of the best players in baseball at a premier position and Delmon Young is having an amazing breakout season. Young might be the Twins MVP right now. Both Morneau and Youkilis have one other problem that Cabrera shares. They are all first baseman and because that position is so loaded throughout baseball (the NL MVP will come down to two first basement too in Votto and Pujols), all those great players get jumbled up in jumbo.

Will anybody with an MVP vote care about the newfangled statistics? Probably a few. If so, Cabrera leads all of baseball with an OPS of 1.067. Morneau is second and Hamilton is third. Morneau leads all of baseball in wOBA at .447. But that category is really tight. Cabrera is at .444 and Hamilton is at .441. Youkilis is fourth at .421. There is another stat called Win Probability (WPA) and Cabrera is first in that category and Hamilton second. Nobody is remotely close to them in those categories.

Where it gets dicey is if you go by value which includes fielding. Cabrera still isn't considered an elite first baseman. He has improved, no doubt. But he is not great. Hamilton is having a fine season in left and Morneau is having a great season in the field. When you add fielding to batting, you get a statistic called WAR or Wins above Replacement which is used to figure a dollar value on a player's performance. Hamilton leads the majors with a WAR of 5.4 and a value of $21.6 million. Morneau is second at 5.2 and $20.6 million. Carl Crawford, a long shot for this award, is a surprising third at 5.1 and $20.5 million. But it's really not that surprising to those who look at these kinds of numbers. Crawford has hit for some power, steals bases and is the best left fielder in the game today.

So where are we? Well, we have to take into consideration what the old-fogey voters vote for. They want average. They want power. And they want their winner to be on a contending team. Hamilton fits. Crawford fits, but again, he suffers from playing with Longoria and Zobrist who will distract some votes. Cabrera will lose out because the Tigers are fading and because he is a first baseman. That leaves us with Josh Hamilton, who would win if the vote was held tomorrow. And for once, the voters would not be wrong.

1 comment:

Josh Borenstein said...

For me, it's got to be Hamilton or Cabrera. Cano was in the discussion and may be still when it's all said and done, but he's slowed down a lot. I don't see the Tigers beating the Sox or the Twins in the Central, so that'll hurt Cabrera's chances. Meanwhile, I don't see the Angels overtaking the Rangers in the West, so that should help Hamilton's case. It's hard to win the MVP if your team isn't in the playoffs.

However, if Cabrera wins the Triple Crown, end of discussion.