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Monday, November 10, 2003

Baseball Primer’s 2003 American League MVP

100% guarantee of no Shannon Stewart content.

The time has come to announce the winner of Baseball Primer’s American League Most Valuable Player award for 2003.  And there’s probably not much point in trying to build suspense about his identity.  Our American League MVP is Texas Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez.  Now, I suppose I could just dust off the handy Alex Rodriguez AL MVP template article we have on file here at Primer Headquarters, change the year and the stats, and be done with it.  But why not take this chance to take a look at the early history of the Most Valuable Player award?

To find out about the beginnings of this prestigious award, I sat down with noted historian Sylvester Francis Howard.  Howard might more accurately be described as a pre-historian, as the primary focus of his research is human society in its earliest stages.  Specifically, Howard’s tale of the origin of the MVP award takes us back 70,000 years, to what is now known as California, but what was then called Jorak.

“Several tribes of pre-historic humans lived in one area of Southern California,” said Howard.  “These tribes were typically cooperative, but they competed in small ways, similar to what we now think of as sports.  One such event happened every fall, as each tribe sent its best men on a big hunt.  Hunting was nothing unusual, but the desired prey on these days was: Smilodon fatalis.  The sabertooth cat.  This was of course very dangerous, but it was seen as the ultimate test of the tribes’ and the hunters’ courage.”

One tribe that always sent its hunters called themselves the Rayin-Gurs.  The Rayin-Gurs had the most fierce and strong of all the hunters, Arog.  Arog was so good at hunting that his tribe gladly let him have a full one-third of the spoils of every hunt.  “It’s not about the spoils,” Arog insisted.  “I just want to be with a tribe I love, and do the best I can to help them catch mastodons and all.”  Unfortunately, many of the other Rayin-Gurs were notoriously bad at hunting.

Before one autumn’s annual hunt, a group of the era’s greatest thinkers held a meeting.  They planned to study the sabertooth cat hunt, and determine the most effective hunting techniques.  They called themselves “sabertoothmetricians.”  The leader of the group was Stak.

“Stak was the inventor of what we now call the stack,” said Howard.  “Of the many great and important inventions of the time, the stack is perhaps the most overlooked.  Imagine where today’s grocery stores would be without the stack.  Also, fully sixty percent of the land surface of the Earth would have to be devoted to lumberyards.  It’s easy, when you think about it, to see how tremendously important Stak was.

“In those days, it was common when inventing something to name it after yourself, as Stak did.  There just weren’t enough words to do otherwise.  The meeting that Stak called before the Smilodon hunt included many of the age’s most advanced thinkers and inventors, including Weel, Rampp, Pog, Frij-Maggnit, Nok Nok-Johke, and Kahnsta-tu-shenl Mawnar-kee.”

The day of the hunt came, and as the hunters left on their missions, two groups drawn from all the tribes followed along to watch.  One group was the sabertoothmetricians.  The other was the Cave-Painters’ Association of Jorak (CPAJ).  The cave-painters took it upon themselves to immortalize great hunters on the walls of caves.  This year, at Stak’s suggestion, they would give special honor to the hunter deemed most valuable.  Everyone was excited to see who it would be.

At the outset, it appeared that Arog’s skill alone would guide the Rayin-Gurs to victory.  Before long, he had cornered a huge pack of sabertooth cats in an arroyo.  All that was left was for the tribe to carefully slay them from above.

However, the rest of the Rayin-Gurs proved too careless.  “They were a little too enthusiastic,” Howard pointed out.  “Instead of waiting for Arog’s guidance, they assumed the hunt was over, and that they had won.  They jumped down into the arroyo to finish of the cornered cats.”

Instead, the physically superior cats, suddenly without the disadvantage of being trapped in a hole beneath their hunters, made short work of most of the Rayin-Gurs, as Arog watched in horror from above.  Arog couldn’t handle the pack of cats alone, so he was forced to return empty-handed.

After the hunt, two important members of the CPAJ, Flufpeece and Hatchitt-Jobb, came to consult with the wise sabertoothmetricians.  The CPAJ had chosen the most valuable hunter, and they were wondering whether Stak and his colleagues had reached the same conclusion.

“We have decided Spag was the MVH,” said Flufpeece.  “He really came through in the clutch, and his kills late in the evening made the difference for the Flarmugs.”

“We felt the MVH was Arog,” replied Stak.  “Were it not for the inadequacy of his tribemates, he would have made more difference than anyone.  Any tribe would be better with Arog than with their best hunter.”

“What?  Arog?” bellowed Hatchitt-Jobb.  “His tribe could have been eaten by smilodons without him.  Why don’t you get your nose out of the numbers and watch the hunt?”

This comment greatly offended the sabertoothmetricians, especially Numm-Br.  “Think what you will,” said Stak.  “We say it’s Arog.”

“Arog,” Hatchitt-Jobb muttered as he turned to leave.  “It’s hard to be a good hunting tribe when one hunter eats a third of the spoils!  And have you noticed the size of his head?  Personally, I suspect he’s evolving.”

“You can pick Arog,” said Flufpeece.  “But we’re the ones who paint the caves.”

“Maybe, but someday, we’ll have our own way to disseminate our opinions to many people, too!” cried sabertoothmetrician Algor.

And that is the story of the first MVP award.  Now, let’s take a look at our top finishers for 2003:

Alex Rodriguez

A-Rod’s hitting stats alone are pretty worthy: His on-base percentage was .396 (8th in the league), he slugged .600 (best in the league), and put up an OPS of .995 (3rd).  He led the league in runs (124) and home runs (47) and was second in RBI (118) and total bases (364).  He also played in 161 games and was fifth in the league in plate appearances with 715.  And, of course, he did all of that while playing excellent shortstop.

Carlos Delgado

Delgado’s incredible hitting earned him a second-place spot in the final tally.  His 1.019 OPS and 145 RBI led the American League, and he played in 161 games (147 at first base) and amassed 705 plate appearances.

Jorge Posada

Posada had one of the best years of his career in 2003, with a .405 on-base percentage and a .518 slugging percentage.  His 146 OPS+ was a career high.  And, of course, that his performance came as a catcher greatly enhanced his value.

Bret Boone

Boone’s 2003 line of .294/.366/.535 is another example of the superb hitting he’s done since arriving in Seattle.  In 2003, he was the best-hitting second baseman in the league even without considering the effect of Safeco Field.  He also played in a career-high 159 games, compiled a career-high 705 plate appearances and was third in the league in RBI (117).

Manny Ramirez

Manny Ramirez had such a good year in 2003 that immediately afterwards, his team offered him to anyone willing to take him, and no one did.  Ah, the financial side of baseball.  Nevertheless, Ramirez had an excellent 2003 campaign, leading the league in OBP (.427) and finishing second in OPS (1.014) and batting average (.325).

The voting:

Player            1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10    #Ballots  Pts
A. Rodriguez      9                                   9      126
C. Delgado           4  3  1  1                       9       73
J. Posada               2  1  3  2  1                 9       55
B. Boone             1  1  3     1  1     1           8       49
M. Ramirez           3  1     1     1         2       8       47
C. Beltran           1  2     1        1              5       34
N. Garciaparra                   4  1     2   1       8       29
T. Hudson                  2  1                       3       20
V. Wells                      1  1     1  1   1       5       17
B. Mueller                 1        1     2   1       5       16
E. Loaiza                     1     1  1              3       13
J. Giambi                        1     1  1   1       4       11
R. Halladay                1           1      1       3       11
A. Soriano                             2  2           4       10
F. Thomas                           1  1              2        7
M. Ordonez                          1         1       2        5
E. Chavez                           1                 1        4
J. Moyer                               1              1        3
A. Huff                                       1       1        1
Dan 'The Boy' Werr Posted: November 10, 2003 at 06:00 AM | 14 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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Reader Comments and Retorts

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Statements posted here are those of our readers and do not represent the BaseballThinkFactory. Names are provided by the poster and are not verified. We ask that posters follow our submission policy. Please report any inappropriate comments.

   1. The Original SJ Posted: November 10, 2003 at 03:55 AM (#613881)
Eric Chavez?
   2. Old Matt Posted: November 10, 2003 at 03:55 AM (#613882)
Sorry, but the AL MVP has become like the Golden Gloves for the SABRmetric community. Just give it to Alex Rodriguez based on reputation until he gets too old to hit or misses the entire season.

Carlos Delgado had an OBP .030 better than A-Rod and a better OPS. In fact, he led the league in OPS and just missed leading the league in OBP by .002. Of course, I forgot. OBP isn't an important stat in the SABRmetric community. Of course, Delgado also was better than Alex Rodriguez in Runs Created and grounded into fewer double plays. And Delgado had a better BA. And, of course, he also had a whole bunch more RBI.

The only way you could possibly justify giving it to Alex Rodriguez over Delgado is if you decided that A-Rod's defense more than made up for his inferiority on offense this year as compared to Delgado. But I'll need to see some proof for that.
   3. Chris L Posted: November 10, 2003 at 03:55 AM (#613885)
Matt,

I'll need to see some proof from you that Delgado's deficit in defensive contribution is sufficiently offset by his purported offensive superiority to take the MVP award away from A-Rod.
   4. Old Matt Posted: November 10, 2003 at 03:56 AM (#613887)
Jhat - I like VORP as much as the next guy and while A-Rod blows everyone off the map in AL VORP, if you just go by that then Brett Boone has to come in second and Posada doesn't even come on the map. If Mr. Werr was using VORP as his leading criterion then I wouldn't argue with the choice of Rodriguez, but it doesn't appear that he is and I think he's shortchanging Delgado.

Incidentally, www.baseballgraphs.com has just posted 2003 Win Shares and it appears Rodriguez and Delgado are tied with 32 apiece.
   5. tangotiger Posted: November 10, 2003 at 03:56 AM (#613889)
ARod was +35 in UZR from 2001-2003. He is an excellent fielder, according to UZR. He's also excellent according to the coaches.

To compare positions, you do:
1 - Compare Player's offense relative to league overall
2 - Compare Player's fielding relative to position
3 - Compare average fielder at that position to average fielder at a neutral position

For #3, I provided a chart for that somewhere. I think you do +11 for a SS, and -12 for a 1B (or some such).

For #2, ARod would probably be around +10. I didn't check what Delgado was.

For #1, it's pretty straightforward.

Add them up, and there you go.
   6. Danny Posted: November 10, 2003 at 03:56 AM (#613891)
Eric Chavez?

I assume you're questioning how anyone could put Chavez in the top 10.

Well, Chavez finished 13th in the AL in VORP (among position players). Without considering defense, Chavez appears to be in competition for a top 10 vote, though not quite there.

Accordig to UZR, Chavez was 13 runs better defensively than the average 3B. He was 12.3 runs better than average per year over 2000-2002.

Let's look at the six players directly ahead of Chavez in VORP.

Frank Thomas is 3.4 VORP ahead of Chavez. Despite playing nearly all of his games at DH, Thomas still ends up 1 run worse than average per year defensively. Chavez clearly moves ahead after defense is considered.

Alfonso Soriano is also 3.4 VORP ahead of Chavez. Soriano comes in at 6 runs below average defensively per year for 2001-2002. Soriano also benefits by receiving more PA by batting leadoff for a great offense. Either way, Chavez comes out significantly ahead.

Edgar Martinez finished 2.5 VORP ahead of Chavez. Edgar, like Thomas, rarely plays the field, but he's below average when he does. From 2000-2002, Edgar was one run below average per year. Again, Chavez moves past him.

Nomar finished 2.5 VORP ahead of Chavez. Nomar finished 3 runs above average per year defensively from 2000-2002. Chavez moves past him, too.

Dimitri Young also finished 2.5 VORP ahead of Chavez. Young was 9 runs below average defensively from 2000-2002, so he spent most of the year at DH. Chavez, with his +12 defensive rating, moves past him.

Jorge Posada finished 0.7 VORP ahead of Chavez. Posada was 2 runs below average defensively per year from 2000-2002. Chavez moves past him.

Of position players, that leaves A-Rod, Boone, Delgado, Ramirez, Mueller, and Wells ahead of Chavez. By simply adding UZR to VORP, Chavez moves ahead of Mueller and ino a tie with Ramirez.

I realize that UZR is not going to convince many people, but every defensive rating system has Chavez as excellent. He won the Gold Glove, he led AL 3B in Win Shares, BPro rates him about the same as UZR. The offensive difference between him and the aforementioned players is small, meaning that Chavez should move past many of them once defense is considered. Most of the top AL hitters are poor/mediocre fielders.

The votes that puzzle me: Jamie Moyer??? Not a single vote for Pedro? Halladay wins the CYA, but Hudson beats him in MVP?
   7. Dan 'The Boy' Werr Posted: November 10, 2003 at 03:56 AM (#613892)
If Mr. Werr was using VORP as his leading criterion then I wouldn't argue with the choice of Rodriguez, but it doesn't appear that he is and I think he's shortchanging Delgado.

First of all, just to be clear, these selections weren't made by me alone but by voting among the authors, as the chart indicates.

Second, I don't use any one metric to make my choices. There's always a lot to consider with park effects and positional adjustments, but I don't think that Delgado's offensive superiority came close to compensating for the extra value A-Rod delivers by playing excellent shortstop. In fact, I personally had Delgado fourth on my ballot. I also had Posada sixth.

The quality of Arod's defense is not firmly established. True, he has won the last two gold gloves. However, I believe UZR rates him as a fairly average SS. In contrast, I believe Boone is considered a fairly excellent defender by both the Gold Glove voters and UZR. After accounting for defensive contributions, I would say the vote is closer than it is made out to be here at Primer.

Actually, UZR rated A-Rod from 2000-2002 as 35 runs above average and Boone as 10 runs above average. As a Mariner fan and Bret Boone fan (and I used to sponsor his B-R page), I would love to give my vote to Boone, and was happy that it looked like I'd be doing that through much of the year. But the way it ended up, with A-Rod clearly ahead on offense, and probably at worst even on defense and positional value, there's no way I could justify it.

But no one's going to have the objective, right answer, and in that sense, it's nice to take a vote. Obviously, A-Rod was unanimous, but there's no reason good cases can't be made for other players.
   8. GregD Posted: November 10, 2003 at 03:56 AM (#613895)
Kirk,
I'm shocked to hear that humans live in California now.
   9. Marc Posted: November 12, 2003 at 03:57 AM (#613959)
After you've given Bill Miller (the 3B who cannot spell) credit for the achievements of David Ortiz, BY (I am the poster who cannot spell relief pitcher's names) Kim, Shea Hillenbrand, Theo James, Pete Rose and George Foster, I should say he would finish higher than 10th.

But his own achievements in his own PAs? 20th would be good.
   10. Carl Goetz Posted: November 17, 2003 at 03:58 AM (#614015)
I am a Sox fan and a David Ortiz fan, but Fenway's not exactly a pitcher's park and Ortiz doesn't contribute anything defensively. As for Shannon Stewart, the only line of reasoning that makes him MVP is: "The Twins were in 3rd place when they acquired SS and they went on the win the division afterwards, therefore SS is the MVP" The Twins improved starting pitching (compared to the 1st half of the season) is far more responsible for their late surge than SS is. This is a Sabremetric site, and I for 1, am glad to see that no one fell for these BBWAA-style MVP arguments.
   11. The Original SJ Posted: February 26, 2009 at 06:37 PM (#3087078)
THIS AWARD BELONGS TO POSADA!!!!!!!!!
   12. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: February 26, 2009 at 06:46 PM (#3087084)
Delagdo deserves it as he was clean.
   13. Danny Posted: February 26, 2009 at 06:59 PM (#3087093)
Yikes.
   14. Jeff K. Posted: February 28, 2009 at 09:37 PM (#3088996)
One tribe that always sent its hunters called themselves the Rayin-Gurs.

sabertoothmetrician

Weel, Rampp, Pog, Frij-Maggnit, Nok Nok-Johke, and Kahnsta-tu-shenl Mawnar-kee."


#######, I hate you.

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