Excluding A-Rod would be lunacy

The single most common response to Wednesday's column about Alex Rodriguez's worthiness as an MVP candidate was, "Only an idiot would vote for a player on a last-place team."

I'm tempted to simply consign those people to the lunatic fringe, but I won't do that because 1) it's not nice, and 2) anyway, there are too many lunatics to be considered merely the fringe. Instead, I'll just say it's a matter of taste, and there's no point in arguing with taste ("I know what I like, and I don't like great players on fourth-place teams"). I won't even mention that Saint Cal Ripken won an MVP Award playing for a team that lost 95 games, or that "Mr. Cub" won MVP Awards playing for a sixth-place team. Twice.

I won't mention anything about the lunatics ... until the end of the column (and don't skip ahead, you lunatics!).

    Rob, just read your column plugging A-Rod for MVP. The best argument I know of: He's put up the numbers he has while not facing the worst pitching in the majors (that of his own team) even once this season. Imagine if he got to face the Rangers a dozen times or more each season!

    -- Garrett McKinnon

That's a good point, Garrett.

It's not uncommon to consider a team's schedule when we're forming our opinions. Most of us, I think, would agree that it's harder to win 90 games in the American League West than in the American League Central. But we rarely (if ever) do the same thing for players. Why don't we? Because it's really, really hard.

But leave aside Rodriguez's not getting to face Rangers pitching ... what about having to face the Mariners and Athletics all those games? This was even more significant before the 1960s, when a team would play 22 games against each of the other teams in its league. But it's recently become worth looking at again, with the adoption of the unbalanced schedule. Among all the other arguments for the notion that Alex Rodriguez is the best (and in my opinion, the most valuable) player in the American League, we'll have to find room for the schedule he's played.

    A couple of things from a Red Sox fan concerning AL MVP.

  • If Jorge Posada is in consideration because he is a catcher, why not Jason Varitek? Similar offensive numbers, but Posada's defense and calls behind the plate can't compare to Varitek's.

  • Have you seen Manny Ramirez in left field lately? He's not a gold glover, but he has been very solid this year.

  • Did you forget to mention Magglio Ordonez?????

    -- Kevin

No, I didn't forget Magglio Ordonez. Nor did I forget Esteban Loaiza, Garret Anderson, Vernon Wells, David Ortiz or Miguel Tejada (all of whom were touted as serious MVP candidates by various e-mailers).

I did list my top seven candidates and mentioned Bill Mueller in passing. And yes, Anderson and Wells and Ordonez probably belong in the discussion somewhere. But you can't talk about everybody, you know? If I go a dozen deep, I promise you that partisans of No. 13 will be upset (David Ortiz?). My top seven candidates -- Rodriguez, Posada, Boone, Delgado, Giambi, Ramirez, and Garciaparra -- are all legitimate MVP candidates. I would vote for Rodriguez, but an intelligent person might construct a rational argument for any of the other six. An intelligent person cannot construct a rational argument for listing Garret Anderson or Miguel Tejada first on the MVP ballot.

About Ramirez, I know you're serious, but I wish you weren't. Let me just say this ... If you go back and check, you'll find that nearly every Red Sox left fielder has been considered, at least by somebody, as "solid" out there. Why? Because a) there's not much ground to cover in Fenway Park, and b) with a little practice, it's not hard to look fairly competent when fielding caroms off the Green Monster. Ramirez isn't a terrible left fielder, but he doesn't get any extra credit. His position is Hitter.

And finally, the "If Posada, why not Varitek?" question was the most common specific question/criticism/screed that readers had. The answer is simple: Varitek hasn't been nearly as good as Posada this season.

It's funny. I remember getting the same reaction just before the 2000 season, when I argued that Posada was the better player. Varitek had clearly been better than Posada in 1999, but it was just as clear -- to me, at least -- that Posada was the guy you'd rather have, going forward.

Well, since then it hasn't been close, and it's not this year, either.

Everybody tells me that Varitek is better behind the plate. Funny, you can't tell by the team ERAs ... but we'll leave that aside for a moment, and assume that Varitek really is better. Is that edge really big enough to balance Posada's big edge at the plate?

Posada plays in a tougher park for hitters, and yet he leads Varitek in runs (78-60), hits (127-116), home runs (28-24), walks (87-50!), and on-base percentage (.404-.356!). Varitek leads Posada in doubles (29-20) and slugging percentage (.519-.514). Essentially, that five-point edge in slugging percentage is the only advantage he has, and it hardly balances all those other things. Varitek's having a good season, but it's just not comparable to Posada's.

    OK, so the Twins on paper have the easiest schedule from here on out. But don't forget the Twins already have played the Yankees and Red Sox. In fact when the Twins played the Yankees, they were at their hottest. If the White Sox have a so-called tougher schedule coming up, they apparently had an easier schedule up to this point. Well up to the point of this letter they are 1 1/2 games behind.

    Get my point?

    Tom Grout

I think I get your point, Tom: You're a Twins fan, right?

Oh, that's not your point? No, your point is that the Twins and White Sox will wind up playing exactly the same schedule, and to mention that the Twins have the easier schedule (on paper!) from this point forward is diminishing the Twins' accomplishment.

Fair enough. That's not really what I meant, but I understand how you might take it that way, especially if you're a Twins fan. And if you're a Twins fan, you might also have forgotten that the Twins and White Sox have not played the same schedule this season.

Twins Sox
vs. Cubbies 0 6
vs. Brewers 6 0

Mind you, I'm not shedding any tears for the White Sox. They agreed to play three extra games against the Cubs because they wanted the money, so if they wind up losing the pennant by one game, it's on them. But let's at least be honest about the schedule, which is not the same for both clubs.

    Rob, your article about A-Rod for MVP, you say Jorge Posada should receive extra consideration for the award since he's a catcher. I know it's already a foregone conclusion that Bonds or Pujols will win the NL MVP, but does Javy Lopez deserve any consideration for the award? His offensive numbers are well above Posada's, and he's underrated defensively. Does the fact that he plays fewer games and hits lower in the order hurt him, or does that just make what he's done this season more remarkable?

    -- T.J. Sigler

Most seasons, Lopez would be a solid candidate. Not this year, though. Not with what Bonds and Pujols have done. My top five for National League MVP:

1. Bonds
2. Pujols
3. Lopez
4. Sheffield
5. Giles

That's right, three Braves in the top five. With two Phillies -- Thome and Abreu -- right behind them. I don't want to get into this today, but the Bonds vs. Pujols argument is pretty interesting, and I'll probably revisit them in November.

    Rob, just read your article about A-Rod deserving the MVP. I would agree, except isn't an MVP someone who, if you took him out of the lineup, that would significantly hurt the team he plays for? Texas would be in last place if he left, and they're in last place now. Chasing the big Texas dollars has one drawback: with A-Rod, they can't afford pitching. By my standards, I think Frank Thomas for MVP. I don't think Chicago would be contenders if he wasn't there.

    -- Rich

First of all, the White Sox don't have anybody remotely resembling an MVP candidate. They're still in the pennant race because a number of players are having very good seasons, most notably Thomas, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Lee, and Esteban Loaiza. But none of those guys are among the dozen or so best players in the league.

Second, there's a big, big problem with the Without Him Argument ("Without him, where would they be?"), which is that if you're going to use it against players on last-place teams, shouldn't it also apply to players on first-place teams?

In 2001, Ichiro Suzuki was the American League's MVP. He wasn't my choice, but he did have a great season, and the rest of the world didn't seem to mind. But the Mariners won 116 games in 2001. If the Mariners had put Tom Goodwin in right field rather than Ichiro, they'd still have finished in first place. Comfortably.

And please, spare me the dollars argument, too. Yes, the Rangers might have better pitchers if Alex Rodriguez didn't make more money than God. But if that's our criteria, the MVP in the American League should be ... I don't know, Alfonso Soriano or maybe A.J. Pierzynski. Salary is an important consideration if we're engaged in some hypothetical discussion of "value," but when we're talking about the Value in MVP, check your contracts at the door.

Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. His new book, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups," has just been published by Fireside. For more information about the book, visit Rob's Web site.