Friday, September 29, 2006
MLB's big questions answered
By David Schoenfield
It's going to be a wild final weekend. Will the Cardinals complete the most monumental collapse of all time? Will the Astros complete the most improbable pennant-race comeback ever? Who wins home-field advantage in the AL? Will Roger Clemens pitch his final game?
Great drama. And room for plenty of final weekend debates. Here are 10 to think about as you watch the action unfold.
Who is the Twins' MVP, Justin Morneau or Joe Mauer?
|If we're talking AL MVP, we should be talking about Mauer, not Morneau.|
MVP voters recently have fallen in love with Morneau, thanks to his gaudy RBI total (second in the American League). He's suddenly an AL MVP favorite.
Which is a surprising argument, since he's not even the most valuable player on his own team.
Here's the deal: You can be a sophisticated analyst and understand that Mauer gets on base much more often (.432 on-base percentage to .378 for Morneau), plays a premium defensive position and plays it well. Or you can just look at RBI totals.
Mauer's OPS is actually just one point less than Morneau's heading into the weekend (.941 to .940), but here's another more telling statistic: Baseball Prospectus' VORP stat tells us how many runs a player has produced over a replacement-level player for his position. Mauer is ninth in the majors at +65.8 runs; Morneau is 24th at +53.0. Factor in Mauer's excellent defense and he's clearly the Twins' most valuable player (umm
leaving aside the whole Johan Santana argument).
Does that make Mauer the American League MVP?
Here are the AL leaders in VORP:
Travis Hafner, 81.0
Derek Jeter, 75.8
David Ortiz, 74.7
Grady Sizemore, 69.1
Joe Mauer, 65.8
Jim Thome, 65.2
We can throw out Hafner and Sizemore since the Indians were never in the race. We can throw out Ortiz and Thome since they're designated hitters and not obviously superior to any other hitter in the league.
So it comes down to Mauer vs. Jeter.
• Mauer is hitting .349/.432/.509 with 13 HRs, 84 RBI, 85 runs
• Jeter is hitting .340/.414/.483 with 14 HRs, 96 RBI, 115 runs
Jeter's raw totals are a little higher, in part since he has a better offense around him and because he's played 13 more games; but Mauer's rate stats are a little higher.
Two more notes: Mauer has come up big in September with the Twins fighting for a playoff spot (.351/.463/.506, 17 runs) and played very well against the Tigers (.379) and White Sox (.306) this year. Jeter did most of his damage vs. the Devil Rays (.371, 14 RBI) and Orioles (.354, 13 RBI).
Factor in that Mauer is considered an excellent defensive catcher (he's fourth in the majors in throwing out base runners at 38.6 percent) and Jeter is an average-at-best shortstop, I give the slight edge to Mauer.
Is the Yankee lineup the greatest ever?
It's easy to consider this possibility, considering Robinson Cano -- who might win the AL batting title -- hit ninth the other night. This Yankee lineup doesn't rate among the best ever for an entire season, since Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui missed most of the year. For example, the Yankees have scored 913 runs so far; the 1999 Indians scored 1,009. In a different offensive era, the 1976 Reds scored 857 runs (only two other NL teams even scored 700 that year) and led the NL in runs, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, walks and stolen bases.
Of course, what's fun is knowing that if all these players were at their peak, it might be the greatest collection of offensive talent in one batting order. Here is the Yankee lineup with each player's best season:
Johnny Damon, CF (2000) .327/.382/.495 16 HR 88 RBI 46 SB
Derek Jeter, SS (1999) .349/.438/.552 24 HR 102 RBI 19 SB
Bobby Abreu, RF (2004) .301/.428/.544 30 HR 105 RBI 40 SB
Alex Rodriguez, 3B (2002) .300/.392/.623 57 HR 142 RBI 9 SB
Jason Giambi, DH (2000) .333/.476/.647 43 HR 137 RBI 2 SB
Gary Sheffield, 1B (1996) .314/.465/.624 42 HR 120 RBI 16 SB
Hideki Matsui, LF (2004) .298/.390/.522 31 HR 108 RBI 3 SB
Jorge Posada, C (2000) .287/.417/.527 28 HR 86 RBI 2 SB
Robinson Cano, 2B (2006) .343/.366/.528 15 HR 78 RBI 4 SB
Ahh, and there's the rub: Only one of those seasons has come in 2006. So, yes, Twins, Tigers and A's fans, don't give up hope.
Is Jose Reyes really a superstar?
|Reyes is very exciting, yes, but he's not the best in the Big Apple yet.|
A recent national magazine just put the Mets' blazer on its cover, with the billing: "The best shortstop in New York is about to do something amazing."
No offense to my colleagues at ESPN The Magazine, because Reyes is undoubtedly one of the most exciting players in baseball, but that's obviously a bit of hyperbole.
He's not as good as Jeter.
Not yet anyway.
There's a little something called on-base percentage where Reyes still has a lot of growing up to do -- Jeter owns a 60-point advantage there. That's not a minor thing; it's what makes Jeter an MVP candidate and Reyes merely a very good player at this point. (And, no, Reyes' unique "first player to have this many runs, hits, homers and steals" does not make him a superstar, either. It merely makes him unique.) He's not yet in the class of Rickey Henderson, Tim Raines or Craig Biggio as a leadoff hitter. If he was, he would have scored 150 runs in that Mets lineup instead of the 122 he has scored.
Is Trevor Hoffman really a Cy Young candidate?
Watching a game the other night, I heard an announcer say Hoffman should win it. He leads the NL with 44 saves, has a 1.92 ERA and a .199 batting average against. What really makes him a candidate, however, is that no NL starter has more than 16 wins. On the other hand, Hoffman has pitched only 61 innings -- the fewest ever for a Cy Young winner is Rollie Fingers' 78 innings in 1981, which was a strike year. The fewest in a full year was 80, by Dennis Eckersley in 1992.
Anyway, Hoffman's innings are a low total for a closer, even in this era. He also has five blown saves. He shouldn't win the Cy Young. Brandon Webb has a 2.88 ERA over 231 innings, with a 173/48 SO/BB ratio and .242 average against. Who do you think has been more valuable?
Unfortunately, Hoffman might win the award in a Steve Bedrosian-1987 type of scenario.
Do people realize how good Lance Berkman is?
Well, I suspect that if the Astros amazingly win the NL Central, Berkman suddenly will become an MVP candidate. Ten days ago, he wasn't even being mentioned.
Of course, the whole "your team must be a contender" MVP debate seems to be getting a little out of hand. Compare Andruw Jones' 2006 numbers to 2005:
2006: 41 HRs, 128 RBI, .264/.365/.538, .903 OPS
|Berkman just might be the most underrated player in the majors.|
2005: 51 HRs, 128 RBI, .263/.347/.575, .922 OPS
Last year, Jones was one of the best players in baseball, and second in the MVP voting. This year he'll be lucky to pick up a couple of 10th-place votes.
Anyway, Berkman once again has piled up monster numbers on a contending team, and done it with no fanfare. He's one of the best six or seven hitters in baseball.
Is the National League competitive or mediocre?
How come a bunch of 9-7 teams in the NFL is considered a good thing, but a bunch of 85-win teams in the NL is considered crap baseball? You can't have it both ways, pundits!
One other bone to pick: I heard a radio guy talking about this the other day, and he was quick to dismiss baseball's competitive balance and credit the Patriots' three Super Bowl wins in five years to "smarts." He must have missed my article from March.
Bottom line: Baseball does have competitive balance. And, like Matt Millen and the Detroit Lions, maybe the Pirates keep losing due to front office incompetence. (The Twins and A's are once again in the playoffs despite low payrolls and old stadiums.)
As for the National League -- well, yes, it's still crap baseball.
If Ryan Howard hits 62 home runs, does that make him the all-time single-season champ?
Do we want to see Roger Clemens in the postseason?
Umm, instead of Jason Marquis or Jeff Suppan? Like my colleague Eric Neel, I vote yes.
Who would you rather have on the mound, Mariano Rivera or Joe Nathan?
Nathan has been baseball's best closer this year: 7-0, 36 for 38 in saves, a lights-out .157 opponents' batting average and 93 K's in 67 innings. Rivera still is great, but he's not as dominant as Nathan, plus he's got a sore elbow.
Nathan is the reason the Twins will beat the Yankees (my man Joe Mauer beats Rivera with a ninth-inning double in Game 4), win the American League and then beat the Astros in the World Series (my man Joe Mauer goes 3-for-4 with a home run off Clemens in Game 7, as Santana outduels the Rocket for eight innings, Nathan fans Berkman to end it, and the Twins win 1-0).
David Schoenfield is the lead editor for Page 2. Sound off to Page 2 here.