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Wednesday, December 05, 2001

Baseball Primer’s 2001 National League MVP Award

Our picks.

Well, the suspense is over. To my immense relief, the BBWAA’s blither about Sosa or Gonzalez or Pujols being better MVP votes than Bonds turned out to be just that. Bonds copped 30 of 32 first place votes, with two hardball scribes registering symbolic "yeah, but he’s a jerk" second-place votes. And not to knock the three aforementioned wielders of the wood, each of whom would have been a viable MVP candidate in most of the years in baseball’s history. Just not this year.

I’d like to think this will be the year we retire the Bonds-bashing in the   press. I mean the Bonds-personality-clubhouse thing, of course; anything   he does between the lines (okay, I’ll give you the dugout) is fair game, but   let’s just cross the adjectives arrogant, jerk, prima donna, and   nobody-likes-him out of the lexicon for a while? I’m sure some ‘puter   boffin can gin up a macro that will check for the pairing of Bonds and those   terms and police you, if you like.

And to those of you who have seen first-hand evidence of Barry behavior that   justifies the adjective ordnance, keep it.

I’ve heard enough of Bonds being interviewed to realize he is quite   intelligent and articulate. To the very limited extent it is possible to   infer a personality from interviews, he seems at times utterly unconcerned   with how the media portrays him, almost toying with them in a sort of   postmodern "I dare you to misquote THAT" game. Yet if you prick him,   he   doth bleed; he is not as utterly unconcerned as he appears to be - judging,   again, by the number of times HE brings up the subject of how he is treated.

But enough. I got pulled into the Bonds headshrink game. It doesn’t matter   what his personality is. He may be a misunderstood, hurt, inner child, or   he may be the sociopath of the century. Don’t get too mushy-headed about   your sports heroes; that clay on their feet comes from more than the   infield. Let’s all, collectively, Get Over It. Okay?

Let’s talk, instead, about that performance. Babe Ruth was great. He was   so great his 1927 was not his best season, or even his third-best.   Statistally speaking, his best hitting years were when he was 25 26, and 28   years old. Those are the peak seasons of the best hitter who ever lived.   They were seasons nobody thought would be bettered, ever. An .847 slugging   average? What a joke. As if anyone could do that in the modern age, facing   the cream of the baseball talent of a base of at least 400 million people.   With night baseball, purebred closers, Randy Johnson, in a pitcher’s park,   with no fearsome (sorry Jeff, you had a good year, but c’mon.) hitters   behind him.

Oh, wait. That happened. I saw it on TV. He did it. And I wasn’t even   thinking about the 73 homers. Okay, I was. But also the .863 slugging   percentage, best of all time. And the .515 on-base percentage, the first   one since Ted Williams. (Here’s a quick rule of thumb on OBP: just   subtract a hundred points (a .400 OBP is as easy a benchmark as a .300   hitter, isn’t it? So Barry had a .415 "smart batting average. That’s how   good .515 is.) And let’s not forget those 13 stolen bases, huh? Pretty   spry for an old guy.

Did I mention he did all this while being pitched around the english are   naming roundabouts after his bases-on-balls. There are 177 of them, one for   each of the times Barry did the leisurely toss of the armor to his son the   batboy. That’s enough to drive around the Albert Hall.

Just think about that for a minute. You saw the last couple of weeks of the   season, when Dierker gave him four wide ones with his team down 8-1. (thus   giving back a big chunk of my respect that he earned as a pretty good   manager). Barry wasn’t getting one good pitch an at-bat, he was seeing one   a SERIES. And yet: 73 homers, 156 hits, 107 of them for extra bases. Did   he miss ANY hittable pitches? I guess so, but a man who does what Barry did   this year is about as locked-in as the laws of biomechanics allow, and   probably beyond what has ever been measured.

Okay, I’ve waxed rhapsodic enough. We saw a one-season performance by a   37-year old left fielder that can be placed next to any season, by any   player, ever. Any of Babe Ruth’s seasons, any of Hornsby’s, any of Cobb’s.   I think that’s worth a little wax job.

I know that, underneath the savoring or should-be savoring of this unique   event, some people are cheesed off, and more than the Barry-bashers. The   fact that a 37-year man CAN put up numbers that stand where his stand would   by inside indicate that the offensive pendulum has reached the end of its   swing and knocked over the little peg, and it’s time for the game to swing   back toward a smaller brand of ball.

No argument from me there. I wouldn’t mind a game with more Ichiros and   fewer Eric Karroses and Ben Grieveses (sorry guys, just the first names that   popped up for me - nothing personal) myself. Just rememeber that that   preference is mostly aesthetic. And remind yourself that, even though   we’re in a era of offensive domination of the game that has rarely been   equalled, there were 749 of the best baseball players in the entire world,   peak athletes in peak condition having peak years at the peak of an   offensive era, who didn’t come close to what Barry Bonds did in 2001.

It’s going to be a while before we have some perspective on that.

Unless somebody hits 80 homers next year. Against all that contraction   pitching.

Here’s the Baseball Primer Staff’s picks:

NamePts.Ballots First
Barry Bonds1541111
Sammy Sosa9511
Luis Gonzalez7910
Randy Johnson6511
Rich Aurilia488
Chipper Jones469
Albert Pujols389
Curt Schilling379
Lance Berkman319
Shawn Green178
Gary Sheffield72
Todd Helton63
Jim Edmonds51
Vlad Guerrero22
Paul LoDuca21
Greg Maddux21
Phil Nevin21
Jimmy Rollins21
Bobby Abreu11
Cliff Floyd11


Tom Austin Posted: December 05, 2001 at 05:00 AM | 7 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Colin Posted: December 05, 2001 at 12:16 AM (#604363)
Is Jim's comment meant for another page?

And who left off Luis Gonzalez?
   2. Jim Furtado Posted: December 05, 2001 at 12:16 AM (#604408)
Yes it was, so I removed it.
   3. Tom Austin Posted: December 06, 2001 at 12:16 AM (#604415)
you're right, of course, Allan. I was trying to be conservative, in a way. Those (like my Dad) who still value a .300 BA over any of that "suspicious" OBP stuff are more likely to come on board the OBP train if there's a nice round number, like .400, to hang on to.

That's not a criticism. There's so much baseball lore around that .300 number we should respect it for its aesthetic beauty. "The magic .380 OBP line" doesn't do much for me, but I can get behind .400.

by the way, sorry about the typos in the article. I thought I'd gotten them all.
   4. Tom Austin Posted: December 07, 2001 at 12:17 AM (#604431)
I agree with you, Ed. I'd also take the .260 hitter in this case. OBP has been well proven as superior to batting average as an indicator of offensive performance.

What I was trying to get at was that there is still a whole army of baseball fans relying on batting average, simply because it's familiar and pleasing to them. Sabermetricians have done their fair share of looking down their nose at this type of fan.

I was trying to take a more positive approach, by way of "packaging" OBP with the .400 rule of thumb. That way, this kind of fan (we'll call him "Dad") can look in the paper, see that, say, "Joe Carter" has a .290 batting average but a .312 OBP and think "hmm. .312 - that's like a .212 hitter, and I don't like .212 hitters." rather than ".290 - not bad. I want this guy on my team."
   5. Law Boy Posted: December 10, 2001 at 12:17 AM (#604445)
Comparing stats across generations is like comparing music across generations!! N-SYNC has sold more albums than the BEATLES but does that mean N-SYNC is the better group? Bonds hit 73 homers this season , does that mean Ruth's 59 and 60 from back in the '20s are not as great a feat? Baseball today is a BILLION dollar business. If any of the so called "BASEBALL FANS" cease to believe that the expansion of the league over the last 20 years and the distance the ball flies has anything to do with comparison of stats across eras , then they should rethink their methods of comparison. Baseball is a show at this point. The baseballs are made to fly into the pulled in stands so people will remain interested in what was once AMERICA'S PASTTIME. Get with it! Bonds didn't do anything so fantastic. We will see more 70 and 80 homer seasons real soon. HMMMMM , I wonder what guys like Mantle and Cobb would do these days. Probably only hit 40 homers and hit .310 respectively , but that would because they'd be playing drunk because the competition was horrible!!!!
   6. Tom Austin Posted: December 12, 2001 at 12:17 AM (#604483)
It's a fairly straightforward argument, Joshua.

Yes, Sammy scored more and drove in more runs than Barry. However, his teammates share credit for those achievements. Every time Sammy drove in a runner other than himself, that other guy had to get on base. Sammy batted more times with runners on base than Barry, because the guys hitting in front of him got on base more than the ones in front of Barry. Ditto for scoring runs.

There's no question that Sammy had a great season, and was a huge factor in the Cubs doing as well as they did. But if you replace Barry with an average left fielder, the Giants don't come close to the playoffs - without doing the numbers, I'd bet the Giants would be a sub-.500 team with an average left fielder instead of Bonds. He carried them to within two games of a Division championship.

If you replace Bonds with an average LF, another effect happens: Sammy wins the MVP. As I said in my article, Sosa's season was good enough to win most years of this century. Wrong place, wrong time for Sammy.
   7. Tom Austin Posted: March 01, 2002 at 12:24 AM (#604876)
You're absolutely correct, David. The "1.3" correction to OBP has been suggested before, although now I understand the derivation.

In the context (Joe Fan) I was speaking of, however, "(1.3*OBP)+SLG" contains just a tad too much math to count as the "quick" in "quick and dirty".

It is more accurate, however.

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