This column should relate my feelings about what happened in Kansas City on Monday, but I still can't quite believe what I saw so I'd better write about something that actually makes sense. The following letter comes from a reader named Josh, in response to my small contribution to ESPN's predictions page.
Wow. The A's win it all with Eric Chavez, Tim Hudson, and Bobby Crosby winning the MVP, Cy Young and ROY awards. You are so in love with Mr. Beane, it's pathetic.
Ah, a chance for self-examination. As a columnist, it's my sworn duty to avoid such messy things as introspection, but since the Royals (Mendy Lopez!) have left me somewhat numb, today I'll forget my duty and try to figure out if I really have lost my objectivity when it comes to the A's.
Let's take a look.
Rookie of the Year: I'm not apologizing for this one. Crosby's credentials speak for themselves, and of the 16 other "experts" who submitted choices for AL Rookie of the Year, eight picked Crosby and six chose Joe Mauer (Alan Schwarz came up with Alexis Rios, who should be a good player once he's promoted from Triple-A). I think Mauer's going to be great, but he's a 20-year-old catcher who probably won't play more than about 120 games, so I'm going with the 24-year-old shortstop with the impeccable minor-league track record.
Cy Young: Yes, I'm the only one who picked Tim Hudson. But am I wrong, or is everybody else? Seven other starting pitchers were named in the balloting; here's what those seven plus Hudson have averaged over the last three seasons, per season:
IP ERA W- L
P. Martinez 168 2.27 14- 4
T. Hudson 238 3.01 16- 8
C. Schilling 228 3.07 17- 7
R. Halladay 204 3.11 15- 6
B. Zito 225 3.17 18- 8
J. Santana 103 3.28 7- 3
J. Vazquez 228 3.52 13-12
B. Colon 233 3.62 16-11
What else do you want in a Cy Young? Hudson's No. 1 in innings, No. 2 in ERA, and No. 3 in wins (tied with Colon). You think I'm stacking the deck in Hudson's favor, looking at the last three seasons? Fair enough, but if we look at the last two seasons Hudson's still No. 2 on the ERA list, at 2.84 (Pedro's off the charts, 2.24), and No. 2 on the innings list (behind Halladay).
I included wins and losses in that table only because you expect it of me; wins and losses are products of innings, performance, and run support, and Barry Zito's edge in wins per season is solely a matter of his good fortune.
All eight of those guys are solid candidates, and you can throw Mike Mussina and Kevin Brown in there, too. Along with a wild card representing all the other good pitchers who might be great just this once (remember John Denny? Pat Hentgen?). So in the absence of a durable Pedro Martinez, there are something like a dozen viable Cy Young candidates in the American League.
And you know what? I believe, after running the numbers for the first time, that Tim Hudson is the most viable of the viable candidates. His three-year (and two-year) combination of durability and performance is unmatched by anybody else in the league, and those are the two main ingredients in Cy Young-quality numbers. The only ingredients, really, other than run support and bullpen support. And the A's will score more runs in 2004 than they scored in 2003 (the bullpen is a question mark, but management has a good track record in that regard).
So I'm sticking with Hudson.
MVP: Chavez, on the other hand, is a reach. As my friend Rob Wood demonstrated a few years ago, by far the two most important factors in MVP voting have been 1) leading the league in RBI, and 2) playing on a league or division champion. All eight named MVP candidates play for contending teams, so let's leave that aside for a moment, and focus just on the RBI. I'll include averages of all the Triple Crown stats for the last three seasons, with the proviso that the first two aren't all that important. Just as with the Cy Young, the ESPN experts came up with eight MVP candidates.
E. Chavez 26 .282-32-108
A. Rodriguez 28 .305-52-132
Ja. Giambi 33 .302-40-116
G. Anderson 32 .303-29-121
G. Sheffield 35 .316-33-105
C. Beltran 27 .295-26-102
V. Guerrero 28 .324-33- 99
D. Jeter 30 .309-16- 67
There are, of course, all kinds of extenuating circumstances here, most notably Vladimir Guerrero's and Derek Jeter's injuries last season. But any way you want to look at those numbers, it's Alex Rodriguez's that jump out at you. Here's why I didn't pick him ... One, he's going from a home ballpark that inflates run production by nearly 25 percent to a home ballpark that deflates run production by somewhere between five and 10 percent. He's a great hitter, of course, but his numbers are probably going to suffer some. And two, he could face some stiff competition from his teammates (three of whom appear in the table above).
Does Chavez get a little extra credit for being the best-fielding third baseman in the major leagues? Does he get a little more for being only 26, and thus having his best years ahead of him? Yes, and yes. Is he the best MVP candidate in the league? No (and no again, if that gives you any pleasure). Alex Rodriguez is the best candidate, even if he is playing out of position. And if the Angels win the West, Vlad Guerrero's going to win the award (c'mon gang, he's a lot better than Garret Anderson). But you know, the Angels aren't going to win the West. The A's are, and I'm saying that mostly because that's what the numbers say. It's what Baseball Prospectus' numbers say, and it's what Diamond Mind's numbers say. You can pick Alex or one of his pinstriped friends, but for the sake of argument I'm sticking with the third baseman wearing the green hat.
All that said, I don't blame Josh for thinking I was less than objective in my predictions. It was completely subconscious -- I wasn't aware of my all-A's choices until they were pointed out -- but it's hard for me to argue plausible denial. Siding with Mr. Beane, though? Maybe, but what would be the point? In the journalism business, there's a name for reporters who write nice things about their subjects in hopes of currying favor; they're called "source greasers" (and yes, I learned that just yesterday from Slate's Jack Shafer). In case you haven't noticed, though, I rarely bother with sources. The down side of that is that I don't have much inside information. The up side is that I'm beholden to nobody. Just ask Billy, who's probably sick as hell of me writing about Scott Hatteberg and Jermaine Dye and (especially) Terrence Long. Granted, I'm no genius. But my mother didn't raise a complete fool. If I really wanted to get in Billy Beane's good graces, the words "Terrence" and "Long" wouldn't have appeared in this space since early in the 2001 season.
I do admire Billy, and I do wish the Athletics well. If there was a sentimental choice among my predictions, it was the A's winning the World Series. Is that really so preposterous, though? Yes, I could have picked the Yankees because they're the Yankees. But to paraphrase Crash Davis, "Relax, let's have some fun out here! This game's fun, OK? Fun, dammit!"
Predicting another championship for the Yankees isn't any fun and predicting one for the Royals is delusional, which leaves me the Red Sox and the A's. And I picked the Red Sox last year.
Senior writer Rob Neyer writes three columns per week during baseball's offseason. This spring, Fireside will publish Rob's next book, "The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers" (co-written with Bill James); for more information, visit Rob's Web site. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.