Verlander’s MVP Chances, Hurricanes And Hackery

All Star Game, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, Management, Media, MiLB, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Trade Rumors

A confluence of events are bringing back a controversy from 12 years ago as the borderline incoherent ramblings of a writer with a partisan agenda and flimsy excuses should again be brought to light.

Justin Verlander‘s candidacy for Most Valuable Player in the American League is discussed in today’s New York Times by Baseball-Reference‘s Neil Paine.

Naturally the arguments will pop up as to whether a pitcher should be considered for the MVP. This debate is generally based on them having their own award (the Cy Young Award); and that advanced metrics dictate that a pitcher’s contribution—no matter how good—doesn’t have the affect on team fortunes that an everyday player’s does. These awards are subjective and voted on by the baseball writers. There are some who know what they’re talking about; some who don’t; some shills for the home team; some simply looking for attention; and some who do what’s right rather than what would be palatable based on team and employer allegiances. Anecdotal evidence doesn’t imply guilt or innocence in a particular vote and there are no rules to dictate who should win various awards. It’s a judgment call.

I look at the MVP as a multiple-pronged decision.

Was the player (pitcher or not) the best in the league that particular year?

Would his club have been in their current position with or without him?

Who are his competitors?

Paine says that Verlander probably won’t win the award—and he’s right; one thing he fails to mention when talking about pitchers who’ve won and been snubbed is how one or two individuals can make a mockery of the process by injecting factional disputes or self-imposed “rules” into their thought process.

In 1999 George A. King III left Pedro Martinez off his ballot entirely.

Martinez’s numbers that season speak for themselves. Martinez went 23-4; struck out 313 in 213 innings; had a 2.07 ERA to go along with the advanced stats Paine mentions. He finished second in the voting to Ivan Rodriguez of the Rangers and should’ve been the MVP in addition to his CYA; but that’s irrelevant compared to King’s response to the rightful criticisms levied upon him.

In this NY Post retort, King discusses a life and death experience surviving a hurricane while he was on vacation as the controversy was taking place. Whether this is a maudlin attempt at sympathy or to provide “perspective” for life out of baseball’s context is unknown. I have no patience for this in a baseball-related discussion because it’s generally disguised as social commentary and a learning tool when in reality it’s a clumsy and self-serving attempt to sound philosophical. Adding his pet and children into his tale of survival is all the more ridiculous.

The most glaring parts of King’s response—in a baseball sense—are also the most inexplicable and unbelievable.

King’s argument that Martinez’s exclusion from his ballot was that he was convinced—EUREKA!!!—the year before that pitchers should not win the MVP.

However, after listening to respected baseball people at last year’s Winter Meetings grouse about giving $105 million to a pitcher (Kevin Brown) who would work in about 25 percent of the Dodgers’ games, I adopted the philosophy that pitchers — especially starters — could never be included in the MVP race.

Furthermore, pitchers have their own award, the Cy Young, something position players aren’t eligible for. Martinez, the AL Cy Young winner, appeared in 29 games this year for the Red Sox. That’s 18 percent of Boston’s games. For all of Martinez’ brilliance, shortstop Nomar Garciaparra was more valuable to the Red Sox. So, too, was manager Jimy Williams, the AL Manager of the Year.

Jimy Williams?

More important than Pedro Martinez?

Then King takes swipes at other writers who ripped him by calling them a “pathetic group of hacks”.

Presumably this group included Hall of Famer Bill Madden, who eloquently discussed the absurdity in this NY Daily News piece; and Buster Olney, then a writer for the NY Times, said it made all writers look dumb.

Leaving Martinez off the ballot is one thing—it was obviously done with the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry in mind and that Martinez was public enemy number 1, 2, and 3 for the Yankees in those days; but to compound it by insulting the intelligence of anyone who can see reality with this kind of whiny, “what does it all mean” junk while simultaneously ignoring the initial point by attacking “hacks” who disagreed with him and said so was, at best, contradictory; at worst, it was pathetic. If King came out and said, “you really think I was gonna vote for Pedro Martinez as MVP after all the stuff he’s pulled against the Yankees?”, it would’ve been unprofessional as well, but at least it would’ve been honest.

I don’t know what’s going to happen at the end of the season; I might even agree if Verlander is bypassed for the award; Adrian Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jose Bautista, and Michael Young all have cases to win; but Verlander deserves to be in the conversation and everyone should adhere to the rule that there is no rule for MVP eligibility and be truthful without self-indulgent qualifiers.

One thing I was unaware of is that King works hard and plays harder. I suppose that’s important as well. But it might alter my decision to call him a Yankees apologist who had a vendetta against Pedro Martinez when he cast his 1999 MVP ballot and left him off intentionally. Was there a rule against voting for then-Red Sox manager Jimy Williams as MVP? I don’t know.

I haven’t decided where I’m going with this as of yet and my excuse could have something due to the rampaging Hurricane Irene heading for New York.

I’ll let you know.

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The Defensive Equation With The Brewers And Rangers

All Star Game, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Players, Trade Rumors

Neil Paine writes a piece in the NY Times about the Texas Rangers recent hot streak, how their defense has contributed to winning this season and last.

They’ve done it without an array of “name” pitchers like those of the Phillies, Giants and Brewers; instead, they’ve relied on converted relievers Alexi Ogando and C.J. Wilson; young, unspectacular strike-throwers Derek Holland and Matt Harrison; and a scrapheap pickup Colby Lewis.

While the names are unfamiliar, the results are excellent.

Is it due to the strategy to tell these pitchers to pound the strike zone and let the superior defense take care of the rest despite pitching in a notorious hitters’ ballpark in Arlington?

It certainly appears so.

The Brewers have gone in the opposite direction as the Rangers in terms of putting their team together. Whereas the Rangers built their club with this intention clearly in mind based on the deployment of players and execution of plans, the Brewers have a starting rotation of Cy Young Award quality-talent with Zack Greinke and Yovani Gallardo; a solid, gutty craftsman in Shaun Marcum; and a workmanlike veteran Randy Wolf.

The Brewers defense is also slow-footed and lacks range. Despite having pitchers in their starting rotation who are better than those on the Rangers, their ERA+ is in the middle-of-the-pack of the National League.

If a team brings in starting pitching the level of that which the Brewers have, ignoring the defense is a huge mistake.

The Brewers are top-heavy with bashers who are more suited to DHing like Prince Fielder; and other regulars who probably shouldn’t be playing at all in Casey McGehee and Yuniesky Betancourt.

The Rangers are deeply balanced and have built their team based on that conscious decision to focus on the factors of pitching and defense with a fair amount of power thrown in.

How much better would the Brewers be if they shored up the defense at third and short and would it behoove them to do so? And would fixing this issue now with the acquisition of a defensive ace at short the likes of Jack Wilson or Jason Bartlett help? There’s been talk of Rafael Furcal who’s been injured and awful, but a pennant race might wake up his game—if he’s healthy. They’d get him for nothing.

The Rangers success with this template is a better option than what the Brewers did. All that great pitching isn’t doing much good if the infielders don’t—or can’t—catch the ball.

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Precision Strikes 7.8.2011

All Star Game, Books, Fantasy/Roto, Games, Management, Media, Players

Explaining Jair Jurrjens.

Neil Paine of Baseball-Reference writes about Jair Jurrjens in today’s NY Times.

Is there a direct statistical explanation for Jurrjens’s sudden success?

You can’t look at the infield defense having been improved because it hasn’t.

His walks have gone down as have his strikeouts, so perhaps he’s making a conscious effort to pitch to contact more than he did in the past.

Are the Braves investing more in an analysis of where the hitters tend to hit the ball and positioning their fielders better? Has the pitch selection changed? Is Jurrjens lucky not just in where the balls have been hit, but in getting umpires favorable to his style of pitching? Have the hitters been helping him out by swinging earlier in the count at pitches they previously would’ve laid off because Jurrjens had a tendency to lose the strike zone?

Is it quanitifiable?

I don’t think league-wide gossip is factored in because there’s no way of knowing what players are whispering to one another. If the word gets out that Jurrjens is pounding the strike zone and you should take your swings earlier than before, that spreads like wildfire whether it’s accurate or not.

These possibilities need to be examined before coming to a conclusion that he’s lucky or has gotten better at whatever it is that’s led to his tremendous first half.

The one missing thing from Dick Williams‘s baseball life.

Dick Williams died yesterday at 82.

With all the things he accomplished amid a Hall of Fame managerial career in which he won two World Series and four pennants—including one in each league—Dick Williams never had the opportunity to manage for (and be fired) by George Steinbrenner.

It almost happened several times.

In fact, Steinbrenner had hired Williams while he was still under contract with the Charlie Finley Athletics and Finley demanded heavy compensation for the hiring of Williams—Yankees prospects Otto Velez and Scott McGregor.

Graig Nettles wrote about this episode in his book Balls:

“You can’t have McGregor because he’s one of our crown jewels. He’s going to be a Yankee forever. And besides, we need him later to get Ken Holtzman.”

Whether Steinbrenner actually said this or it was Nettles being a smartass is undetermined. Both make sense.

Later, Nettles wrote in reference to Williams vs Billy Martin:

Yet I don’t think George would have had an easier time with Williams, because Dick Williams is the same type of manager.

He was right. Williams and Steinbrenner were friends while Williams wasn’t managing for Steinbrenner; had the two ever been engaged in that ring of fire, Williams too would’ve been fired eventually. Whether he’d have indulged in the Martin-Steinbrenner type of hire-fire-hire-fire-hire-fire is the question.

Judging by Williams’s personality, I’d say he wouldn’t.

Considering Jack McKeon and the fact that 80 is the new managerial threshold, one has to wonder whether Williams would’ve been ready to jump back into the arena if someone came calling.

Probably not.

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Batting Orderlies

Books, Games, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players

Neil Paine of Baseball-Reference.com writes a piece on batting orders in today’s NY Times—link.

It brings up an interesting set of questions as to whom should be batting leadoff and why.

Rickey Henderson was probably the best all-around leadoff hitter in history—a fulfillment of perfection for which all leadoff hitters and clubs should aspire; as such, it’s naturally unrealistic to think that you’ll be able to find someone with the combination of keen batting eye, patience, speed and power that was Rickey.

There has to be a balance and factoring of what the rest of the lineup can and can’t do—how they’re most comfortable and best-utlized.

Carl Crawford, for example, doesn’t like hitting leadoff. In some circles, there’s the thought of, “Yeah? So?” when confronted with a player disliking or whining about a position in the batting order or on the field.

In some cases, I’m a huge advocate not of, “Yeah? So?”, but of, “What’re they gonna do about it?”

In others, it would influence me as to whether a player—specifically a struggling veteran like Crawford—is happy and comfortable in his spot.

If you look at the clubs that were mentioned as not using their leadoff position optimally, the other players matter greatly.

Is there anyone who’s better-suited to bat first? And if they are, would they help the team more in that spot rather than their other spot?

The Mariners batted Ichiro Suzuki leadoff last season and he had the third highest on base percentage for leadoff hitters at .358. I’m not getting into another debate about Ichiro batting down in the lineup; that he could and should hit for more power; but Ichiro’s OBP and speed did the Mariners absolutely no good because they literally had no one to drive him in last season. He scored 74 runs because the Mariners offense was historically horrible.

Marco Scutaro and Jacoby Ellsbury combined for a .301 OBP from the leadoff position for the Red Sox last season, but this is taken out of context. Scutaro’s OBP batting leadoff was .336 and he scored 86 runs; Ellsbury had a .211 OBP in an injury-ravaged 2010 season and this dragged the club’s overall percentages down drastically.

Scutaro is nowhere near the hitter Ichiro is, but he scored 86 runs batting leadoff with an OBP .17 lower than Ichiro because there were hitters behind him able to drive him in. I’ve long said that Ichiro’s lust for singles and stat compiling would be far more palatable were he playing for the Yankees or Red Sox and had people capable of knocking him in.

Henderson’s value wasn’t solely dictated by his on base ability in and of itself; he scored plenty of runs because he got on base, stole second and sometimes third and was suddenly able to score without benefit of the subsequent batters doing anything aside from hitting a fly ball.

Look at the 1985 St. Louis Cardinals. Vince Coleman burst onto the scene as a terror on the basepaths, stole 110 bases and scored 107 runs with an OBP of .320. Once manager Whitey Herzog realized what he had on his hands, the top of the Cardinals lineup went as follows: 1) Coleman; 2) Willie McGee; 3) Tommy Herr; 4) Jack Clark.

McGee was no on base machine; he batted .353 and won the MVP that year, but had an OBP of .384; Herr was no masher, but he benefited from Coleman and McGee when they were on base because Coleman would get on, steal second and third and be served up on a plate for Herr to drive in. In fact, based on the preferred argument as to whom should be batting first, Herr should’ve batted leadoff in that Cardinals batting order; but it’s hard to imagine the team scoring more runs that way than they did with the construction as it was.

It was confluence of events and the emergence of Coleman that led to the big RBI year from Herr and the Cardinals pennant. Nor did it hurt that Clark was behind the top three hitters and pitchers didn’t want to walk Herr and run the risk of a big inning with the powerful Clark coming to the plate.

The 1985 Cardinals won the pennant, led the league in runs scored and were 11th (out of 12 teams) in homers.

A batting order isn’t unimportant, but you can’t pigeonhole anything into the category of “s’posdas” based on individual achievement and ability; you have to look at the whole picture before coming to an ironclad conclusion and crediting or criticizing.

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