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Friday, September 08, 2006

The National League MVP Race

It's Friday morning, so I feel not too guilty blogging about something not the least bit law-related: The National League MVP race.

The pundits have basically reduced it to a two-horse show: Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals, and Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies. And those two have certainly had MVP-worthy seasons. Entering today's action, Pujols is hitting .324 with 44 HR and 116 RBI, second in both HR and RBI (tied with Lance Berkman of the Astros) to Howard, whose triple crown split is .308/54/135. And Pujols, who has played in 16 fewer games (and is a better defensive first-baseman), is slugging .681 to Howard's .665. 

Others, especially Mets fans, have trumpteted Carlos Beltran, whose triple crown split is .286/39/113, and who plays a gold-glove-caliber centerfield for the best team in the league. Beltran has been the most consistent power bat for the Mets, and has set new career-highs (and is on the verge of new single-season franchise records) in both homers and RBIs.

But I have a dark horse candidate. I'm horribly biased, but, in my view, the most valuable player this year should be the player who is the most important for the team that is 12 games clear of the entire rest of the league (the Mets). And that player, I humbly submit, is Jose Reyes.

Reyes is having the best year of his career. With his three-run inside-the-park homer last night, he is hitting .301 with a career-high 18 homers and 74 RBIs, batting leadoff, and slugging just a shade under .500.  Reyes has scored 113 runs, more than both Howard and Pujols, has 27 doubles (as many as Pujols and more than Howard), and leads the majors by substantial margins with his 16 triples and his 56 stolen bases. Reyes is also having his best defensive season thus far (although he did make his 12th error last night).  In short, Reyes makes the Mets go, and, whereas Beltran has also had an MVP-like season, Reyes is the total package.

And there's history to boot: The last major leaguer to have at least 16 triples and 16 homers in the same season was Ryne Sandberg in 1984. And he won the NL MVP that year.

I'm sympathetic to the argument that Howard and Pujols are, almost singlehandedly, keeping two teams in the playoff hunt. Indeed, the Cardinals will likely win the NL Central on the strength of Pujols's bat. And if the Phillies win the Wild Card, the same could be said of Howard. But when one team has so thoroughly dominated the National League, and when one player on that team has had a breakout year that has been the key to that team's success, that player should also factor into the MVP debate.

So, that's my Friday morning campaign pitch: Jose Reyes for NL MVP. Thoughts?

Posted by Steve Vladeck on September 8, 2006 at 08:41 AM in Current Affairs, Steve Vladeck | Permalink


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My vote goes out to Albert Pujols for mvp because when you think about it,Albert Pujols is just an amazing hitter, he has proven that he can hit any pitcher in league whether he struggles against that pitcher or not. Also, when you look at the stats, yes, ryan howard had more home runs and rbi's than albert pujols but I look at batting average:albert above 330.Ryan-below 310.and also did ryan howards amazing numbers for his rookie season get the phillies anywhere, NO!THEY FELL SHORT OF THE WILD CARD BY 2 GAMES! IF IT WASN'T FOR ALBERT PUJOLS THE CARDINALS WOULD NOT HAVE WON THE WORLD SERIES OR EVEN MADE THE PLAYOFFS because they limped into the postseason almost blowing a 8 and a half lead in the nl central.And also, you go to who gets the most respect as a great hitter.I almost guarantee you that Albert Pujols has more intentional walks than Ryan Howard this year.I know ryan howard won the hank aaron award.But compared to the mvp award. That dont mean CRAP!

Posted by: John | Oct 29, 2006 10:13:09 PM

How can there hardly even be a mention for Lance Berkman in here, He has had an amazing season and everyone seems to forget who has carried the Astros all year long. I mean .314/44/133 is no mean feat I think people r jumping to comclusion even mentioning Beltran and Reyes ahead of him. I think he is also a real contender especially when u consider he played through injury alot to help the Astros and also missed quiet a few game, through all that still putting up amazing numbers. If the Astros make the playoffs I think he is a real chance of being MVP cause of what he has done to get them there. I am not saying he will win but if he doesn't come under serious consideration I will be very very suprised.

Posted by: Peter | Sep 28, 2006 11:45:56 PM

I simply have to argue against the earlier comment that Jose Reyes shoudl win the MVP. I also disgaree with Carlos Beltran deserving the awards. The Mets are by far the best team in the NL. How can you say that ONE of their players is the MVP. Even without Jose Reyes, this team would be up there, with Beltran, Delgado, Wright, and a tremendous pitching staff. Take out any one of those four, and they'll still be a playoff calibur team for sure. This pretty much breaks it down to a few players: Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, and maybe Miguel Cabrera. My case against Ryan Howard and Miguel Cabrera is simply the fact that at this moment, neither team is in the playoffs. I'd have to say Cabrera is a more valuable player than Howard. Yes, i do look at the numbers, but i also look at the teams. Florida doesn't have many great players. Miguel Cabrera is the lone force keeping them in the playoff hunt, altough they probably won't make it. Ryan Howard has arguably the best stats. He leads the majors in Home Runs and RBI's. However, his team also includes some other stat monsters. Jimmy Rollins is among the leaders in runs and stolen bases. He even puts up pretty good power numbers with well over 20 home runs. Not to mention Chase Utley. The guy does it all. His batting average is great. He has great power. He drives in a bunch of runs. He scores a bunch of runs. He even occasionally steals bases. The fact that neither Philadelphia nor Florida are in the playoffs at this point and time takes my attention away from Cabrera and Howard. On top of it, Howard has a pretty good supporting cast. I didnt even mention Patt Burell. That leaves Albert Pujols. The guy is sick. I personally think he will go down as one of the best players of all time, and that home run mark is his for the taking. In his first season ever, he blasted 37 Home runs. He has never hit less than 34 home runs, and has always had 100-100 in the runs-rbi mark. This year is no exception. He has his career high in home runs and rbi, and has a career low in games played. Had he played as many games as his career average, he would have somewhere near 145 RBI, 55 Home runs, and 125 runs. That is as good as it gets. Even his batting average is around 330. He has single handedly led this team to a playoff spot. Jim Edmonds has had a bad year, and only Scott Rolen is helping out. Grant it they have Chris Carpenter, but every team has their ace. Pujols is the scariest guy to face today in baseball. Hands down. He has had 17 game winnig home runs this season. Enough said. Your NL MVP is Albert Pujols.

Posted by: arman | Sep 28, 2006 1:30:21 AM

I'd say Beltran over Reyes. I dig triples and defense, personally, but I do believe the stats stuff to some extent. (How do you calculate Runs Created per 27 Outs, by the way? I'm a few years behind the times on this stuff, because I don't see my Baseball-Prospectus-subscribing friends nearly as often as I used to.)

Mainly, I just can't believe their magic number is 7. 7!

Posted by: Katherine | Sep 9, 2006 9:32:42 PM

I have to disagree with Professor Lederman's argument that we shouldn't take into account a player's team when deciding the MVP. Surely runs are important, but what good are runs when they don't lead to wins? And what good are wins if they don't help a team get out of 4th place. Let's say a team would have 30 games without their best player but 50 games with him. Now assume another team would have won 85 games and missed the playoffs without their best player but win 95 games and win the world series with him. It's difficult to say the best player on the first team is more valuable than the best player on the second team.

That argument applies to the AL MVP race. Hafner's numbers are excellent, but if you took him off the Indians how much worse off would they be? If you took Jeter or Ortiz off their respective teams, where would those team be? Would the Yankees be in first place? Would the Red be contending for the wild-card? I doubt it.

The Santana argument is better, but it's difficult to give a player who only plays once every 5 days the MVP.

Posted by: Nephtuli | Sep 8, 2006 2:36:30 PM

If we're talking sabermetrics, Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) is a stat that nicely encapsulates the value of a player like Reyes (or Beltran) who is putting up big offensive numbers at a premium position. As the name would indicate, VORP measures the difference in runs created between a given player and a replacement-level player at the same position, a reasonable indication of what a team would lose if the player were removed.

According to Baseball Prospectus's website, Beltran and Howard each have VORPs of 66.2, well ahead of Reyes at 53.4. But there is a significant gap between them and Pujols, who is leading the NL with a VORP of 73.9, and Miguel Cabrera, second at 71.8. As the acknowledged leaders of their teams (one a probable division winner, the other a wild-card contender), Pujols and Cabrera also deserve whatever credit for intangibles one is willing to dole out. A reasonable case can undoubtedly be made for Beltran on the strength of his defense, but Reyes just isn't in the same league as these guys, irrespective of the fact that he plays shortstop.

Posted by: Jonathan | Sep 8, 2006 2:35:00 PM

1. "Is the MVP award these days the award for the best power hitter?" Absolutely not. Chicks dig the long ball, to be sure. And home runs are valuable things -- even more valuable than triples, believe it or not! But all I care about is scoring and preventing runs, period. And if you do those things more than anyone else -- even by getting hit by 325 pitches, laying down 120 bunt sinlges and having a stratospheric range factor -- I'm with ya. Beltran simply adds more runs to the Mets column than Reyes does.

2. Please, everyone, stop mentioning Lo Duca's name in the same paragraph as Beltran, Wright, and Delgado.

3. You want controversy? Apostasy? How about not having Bib Papi or Jeter in one's top three for MVP over in the real league? Hafner and Santana are my 1-2 as of now, with Manny (yup) in third, and Ortiz and Jeter bunched with Thome and Dye, among others. Morneau behind them. Let the battles begin!

Posted by: Marty Lederman | Sep 8, 2006 12:47:42 PM


I agree with you that Reyes (not just Beltran) gets "extra credit" for his offensive numbers (compared to Pujols & Howard) for racking up those (impressive) numbers (1) in Shea and (2) while playing a position at which it's hard to find good offense.

My only disagreement is that, as to Reyes vs Beltran, I just can't see the SS vs CF distinction making up the vast difference in their offensive production.

I do think that non-power hitters can and should win more MVPs. It makes no sense that Boggs and Gwynn didn't win a bunch during their primes, while hitting .340-.370 all those years. Reyes's .303 is soft, though, because he doesn't draw walks; a .280 hitter who draws an average amount of walks, or a .260 hitter who draws lots of walks, gets on base as much.

I don't mean to bash Reyes, because I do think that he should be ranked somewhere between 4 and 10 in the MVP voting. He's a hell of a player, and a fun one to watch.

Posted by: Scott Moss | Sep 8, 2006 12:46:19 PM

Regardless of whether Reyes is the MVP, he is definitely the NL's MEP - Most Exciting Player. This is a highly scientific category whose value cannot be diluted with books of sabermetric statistics. All you need is to be at a Mets game in person when Reyes is on third and Delgado is at the plate. With Delgado Lefty Pull Shift on, Reyes intelligently dances 40 to even 60 feet down the line to taunt opposing pitchers, catchers and third basemen. Even if such actions have not resulted in a higher batting average in such situations for Delgado, it is one of the most entertaining things I have ever witnessed (even more so than watching Reyes run 270 feet in one burst, whether it be home to third or first to home). Such scenes are seldom shown on television due to the odd camera angle involved but if you ever hear the Shea crowd roar and see a pitcher stepping off the mound an unusual number of times, you now know what's going on. Therefore, it is my entirely unbiased opinion that Jose Reyes is the runaway selection of the highly prestigious MEP Award for 2006.

Posted by: PB | Sep 8, 2006 12:10:14 PM

There is a recent corollary for Reyes' MVP candidacy. Ichiro in 2001 played for a team which was far and away the best in its league. He had a similar OPS, 838, though Reyes hits for more power, and Ichiro got on base a lot more. Ichiro beat out Jason Giambi for MVP, despite the fact that in many respects, Giambi improved on his performance in his MVP season in 2000.

However, as was the case for Ichiro in 2001, MVP voters would be misguided to choose Reyes this year.

While to a man, the Mets players might say that Reyes is their MVP, the numbers simply don't stack up to Beltran's. Alan Schwarz wrote a column in the New York Times last year about how a base-stealing threat can improve the batter's performance since the baserunner takes so much of the pitcher's attention. However, the improvement cited was slight. If there was data that showed that LoDuca, Beltran, Delgado, and Wright were considerably better hitters with Reyes on base and in position to steal a base, Reyes' MVP argument would be stonger.

Beltran provides better defense at a premium defensive position (his zone rating is 2nd among center fielders, whereas Reyes is 5th among shortstops). Beltran has scored more runs and gotten on base much more often, two categories that would be important in promoting Reyes' candidacy. Reyes is a better stolen base threat, but Beltran is no slouch himself on the bases.

Regardless of whether one promotes Reyes or Beltran as an MVP candidate, Howard and Pujols have been forced to carry the load for their team to a far greater extent than either Reyes or Beltran, who can rely on each other in addition to several other All Star players in Wright, Delgado and LoDuca.

Posted by: Andrew Weller | Sep 8, 2006 11:25:35 AM

I love the annual debate about the MVP, especially now because it pits the new generation of stat-oriented Sabermetrician types against the old-school instinctualists. (A dichotomy that plays a large role in an excellent book I just finished, Buzz Bissinger's Three Days in August.) I can't quite get with the view that the MVP should be mechanically equated with run creation. Though that's undoubtedly an enormous factor, it seems to me that baseball in particular includes enough intangibles that this tells an incomplete version of the value a player brings to his team (and obviously takes no account of defensive prowess). My favorite example of this (reflecting where I grew up and when I was really into baseball) was Kirk Gibson's winning the NL MVP for the Dodgers in 1988. There's no way his stats alone warranted his winning the award, but what he brought to his team in terms of intangibles was simply invaluable, as anyone who watched the Dodgers closely could tell that year. The old cliche about things that don't show up in a box score doesn't refer to anything measurable, of course, but I don't think that means it's not meaningful. And the fuzziness of the term "most valuable" instead of "best offensive player" seems to contemplate considering these kinds of intangibles.

Posted by: Dave | Sep 8, 2006 11:24:15 AM

To Scott and Scott:

First, if Shea is that crappy a hitters park, that's a further argument for valuing Reyes's stats, at least as compared to Pujols and Howard.

Second, to the argument that Beltran's value is bolstered by his position, so too, Reyes and shortstop. Jimmy Rollins is the only NL shortstop with even remotely comparable numbers, which, if anything, also cuts against the importance of Howard -- where would the Phillies be without J. Ro.?

Third, I think the anti-triples argument is a bit silly. Reyes hits a lot of triples because of the combination of power and speed. And, although I don't know the numbers off hand, I hazard to guess that, from his 16 triples this year, he's scored at least 12 times (providing RBIs for Loduca, Beltran, and Delgado).

Marty's point is, to me, the hardest to rebut -- that Reyes lags behind his own teammates insofar as OPS and Runs Created per 27 Outs (gotta love the Elias stats). But this begs what, to me, is a deeper question: Is the MVP award these days the award for the best power hitter? Ichiro, in 2001, was the last non-slugger to win MVP, and you have to go back to Barry Larkin, in 1995, for the last non-slugger to win the NL MVP. If that's what the world has come to, then yes, Pujols, Howard, and Beltran should be 1-2-3. But if the MVP really means the most _valuable_ player, I think that Reyes should at least factor into the conversation...

Posted by: Steve Vladeck | Sep 8, 2006 11:17:07 AM

My objection to Reyes as MVP doesn't have anything to do with his team, but rather the fact that a player's number of triples are (a) overvalued; and (b) largely dependent on luck. They are overvalued because they usually don't lead to a run, and thus, aren't nearly as likely to help a team win a ballgame as much as an actual home run (which by definition at least scores one run). I say they depend on luck because they are largely a result of where the ball lands on the field, a result over which the player only has marginal control. In comparing Pujols and Reyes, one should also keep in mind that Reyes has alomost 170 more ABs than Pujols.

In conclusion, Jose Reyes is a fabulous player, but Pujols will be a legend.

Posted by: Scott Sullivan | Sep 8, 2006 11:03:24 AM

I'm sympathetic to Beltran for two reasons:

(1) Even setting aside the quality of his CF play, the mere fact that a hitter that good can play CF is huge: if the Phillies or Cardinals didn't have Howard or Pujols, they'd still probably have a good hitter at 1B, because the talent pool there is so deep; but if the Mets didn't have Beltran, they wouldn't have nearly as good a hitter -- it's harder to find someone who can play CF, much less play it well.

(2) The Mets' park (Shea) is one of the worst hitter's parks in the majors, and Beltran is no exception: 15 HR at home, 24 on the road. So in neutral parks, he's hitting HRs at the same clip as Pujols/Howard. And he shouldn't be penalized for hitting "only" 15 HRs at home, because runs are more scarce at Shea, so a HR at Shea is more valuable than a HR on the road.

I'm not a fan of Reyes as a candidate because he's just not in teh same league offensively -- not only because he has so much less power, but also because he doesn't get on base nearly as often despite being a .300 hitter (because he doesn't walk much). Sure, Reyes is a top-10 candidate (maybe top 5?) but not #1; if you ask the Mets whom they would hate to lose more, I bet the answer would be Beltran.

Posted by: Scott Moss | Sep 8, 2006 10:33:24 AM

Well, I'm of the school that believes the MVP should go to the best player in the league in a season, without regard to which team he's on, since that pkayer is the most valuable, in fact -- he'd be of the most value, adding the most runs and wins, to whichever team he were on. So for me it's down to Pujols and Howard, with Howard probably slightly ahead now simply by virtue of the fact that Pujols has played in 16 fewer games.

But even if you insist that Mets should get loads of extra bonus points, and even if that means a Met should win, Reyes has only been the fourth most valuable offensive player on his own team, and by a good stretch. In OPS, it's Beltran 1.011; Delgado .933; Wright .910; Reyes .852. In Runs Created per 27 outs, it's CB 8.75; CD 7.25; DW 7.21; JR 6.78. Reyes is actually ahead of Delgado and Wright on total runs created, and he is, after all, a shortstop, so I wouldn't begrudge him a choice over those two guys. But Beltran is a great center fielder, with offensive numbers far better than Reyes's. Indeed, a good case could be made that Beltran is as valuable as Howard and Pujols because he plays center.

As long as Beltran is there, there's no way to vote for Reyes. I'd put him fourth at best, behind Howard, Pujols and Beltran, and probably behind Cabrera and Berkman, too.

Posted by: Marty Lederman | Sep 8, 2006 10:30:35 AM

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