Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Guide to Picking the AL MVP

As published over at Blog Critics. Click on the link to read it here.


Adam Hoff said...

As baseball season has opened with exciting games and a surprising amount of offense, I've been playing catch up on all the "preview" columns and magazines. I love to see which teams experts and writers are picking to win it all and which players they have taking him individual awards. This year, I have noticed a very interesting trend in regard to the American League MVP Award. Namely, that people are making some very surprising picks.

The Cleveland Indians host a plethora of sudden MVP candidates among their young stars, most noticeably do-it-all outfielder Grady Sizemore. The A's are being hailed as a World Series contender and many pundits have latched on to Oakland shortstop Bobby Crosby as an MVP candidate to boot. No less authorities on the game than Peter Gammons, Jayson Stark, and Harold Reynolds have all predicted MVP hardware for Crosby.

On some level, these "reach" picks make sense. One reason is that everybody loves to pick a sleeper. It is the reason that you see people try to guess the upsets in the NCAA Tournament. It is more fun to be right about George Mason reaching the Final Four than it is to correctly pick UCLA to play in the title game. It is natural to see "creative" predictions, because being right is a lot more impressive when you are coming out of left field.

However, with the American League, I think it goes deeper than that. The prime candidates are Vlad Guerrero (injury concerns), A-Rod (unlikable and a boring choice since he won last year and in 2003), David Ortiz (still limited by his DH position), and Manny Ramirez (clearly insane). None of these players are appealing choices, so the desire to take a shot on someone fresh and exciting is even more appealing.

While it might make sense to cast your lot with a guy like Sizemore or Crosby, Is there any historical precedent for predicting a second or third-year player to win the AL MVP? Let's take a look at the last 10 winners and see what recent history tells us about the award. Where any of these winners young breakout stars?

1996 - Juan Gonzalez, OF, Texas Rangers. Juan Gone won the award in his sixth full season and already posted seasons of 43 and 46 home runs and in 1993 hit .310 with 46 home runs and 118 RBI.

1997 - Ken Griffey Jr., OF, Seattle Mariners. Griffey was no graybeard when he won the MVP Award, but he was in his ninth season. He was one of the biggest stars in the game and had gone .303/49/140 the year before (he probably should have been MVP over Gonzalez in '96).

1998 - Juan Gone again. This was obviously his eighth season and it was his third straight season of at least 40 home runs and 125 RBI.

1999 - Ivan Rodriguez, C, Texas Rangers. Like Griffey, Pudge was an annual All-Star that won the award in his ninth season. He had hit for an average of .300 or better in each of the previous four seasons. This MVP win was a little out of nowhere, especially the 35 HR's, which look a little shady in retrospect considering that he never hit more than 21 before that year or 27 after. The strange Rangers love fest continued with the third AL MVP winner in four years.

2000 - Jason Giambi, 1B, Oakland A's. Giambi felt a bit like a breakout star, but he won the award in his fifth full season and had posted fantastic numbers (.315/33/123) the year before, so he can hardly be considered as such.

2001 - Ichiro Suzuki, OF, Seattle Mariners. Ichiro won in his rookie year, but it is a little different considering his long career in Japan prior before coming to the big leagues.

2002 - Miguel Tejada, SS, Oakland A's. Tejada won during his fifth season and is probably the closest to a breakout star on this list. Still hard to classify him as such though, considering that he hit at least 30 home runs and drove in at least 113 runs in each of two previous seasons. His batting average did jump almost 30 points though.

2003 - Alex Rodriguez, SS, Texas Rangers. A-Rod won his first MVP in his eighth full season. Had hit 52 and 57 home runs each of the two previous seasons, so not much of a surprise here.

2004 - Vlad Guerrero, OF, Anaheim Angels. Amazingly, Vlad was in his eighth season when he won the MVP award. Heading into 2004, he already had two 40 HR seasons (including a 40-39 season) to his credit, and had hit over .330 in three of previous four seasons.

2005 - A-Rod again, in his 10th season. Only surprise was that he did it at 3B and that he posted the best OBP of career and bounced back from worst power numbers (36 and 106 in 2004) in years.

History says that you don't breakout and win the MVP. You breakout, then you do it again, then again, and then you win the MVP. Pudge was a bit of breakout in terms of the spike in his power numbers, Giambi was finishing off a pretty quick rise as was Tejada, but nobody other than Ichiro came out of nowhere to win this thing. That makes guys like Crosby and Sizemore highly unlikely candidates to take home the hardware.

Based on that same history, guys like A-Rod and Vlad are far more likely to be repeat winners than a young star cash is to cash in. In fact, based on the last nine winners to come from the US system (throwing out the Ichiro season), the average winner was in the seventh full season of his big league career when he won the award. With that in mind, here are five guys that seem poised to emerge as legit candidates and join A-Rod and Guerrero as leading AL MVP candidates for 2006:

1. David Ortiz, DH, Boston Red Sox. This is a no-brainer. Beyond the fact that he should have won last year, he's also in his seventh full season, is coming off consecutive seasons of at least 41 HR and 139 RBI, and he plays for a winner. If people can just get past the DH thing, he is looking good. (Note on Manny: heading into his 13th season, Manny seems to have missed his window. None of the previous 10 winners took home the hardware this late, especially not for the first time.)

2. Michael Young, SS, Texas Rangers. The reigning AL batting champ is in his sixth season, his power numbers have been going up, and he's hit .306, .313, and .331 the last three years while manning an important defensive position. Plus, he's a Ranger, and we all know this award loves Rangers. If Texas is a surprise competitor in the AL West, he could be a terrific candidate. (Teixeira is a good bet here as well, as his fantastic 2004 and 2005 seasons offset the fact that this is only his fourth season.)

3. Vernon Wells OF, Toronto Blue Jays. In his fifth full season, Wells is the anchor of a Blue Jays team that suddenly looks capable of challenging the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East. He hit .317, mashed 33 home runs, and drove in 117 runs in 2003, but has been down a bit the last two years. He looked good in the WBC and this could be the year he puts it all together. He would fit the Tejada "pseudo breakout" mold.

4. Paul Konerko, 1B, Chicago White Sox. Konerko is in his ninth season and is coming off of back-to-back 40/100 seasons. If he gets his average back up to the .304 he sported in 2002 and the Sox win big again, he could be a surprise MVP candidate. It would really help Konerko's chances if were to hit third in the lineup, with Thome behind him providing protection. In fact, that would make sense, giving Chicago righty-lefty-righty in the middle with Konerko, Thome, and Dye. Oh well, who am I to question Tony Almeida, I mean, Ozzie Guillen?

5. Eric Chavez, 3B, Oakland A's. He's in his eighth season, the A's look like they can win big in the West, and he is due to break out to the next level. He's driven in 100 runs in four of five seasons and it still feels like he's been a minor disappointment. I think that could all change in a hurry.

Bonus: Hideki Matsui, OF, New York Yankees. Matsui is only in his fourth season, but he's like Ichiro in that he played a lifetime in what has been proven to be a very good Japanese league (see: WBC). He quietly hit .305 with 116 RBI last year. I see the Yankees falling apart this year with guys dropping from injuries and slumps, yet they will still win 95 games and make the playoffs. When people start digging around to figure out how this happened, they will note Matsui's steady mashing in the middle of the order.

Sure, it is more fun to get behind Sizemore, Hafner, Crawford, Teixeira, Crosby, or any other young stud in the American League, but the record books tell a different story. You are much better off banking on a previous winner or one of the five guys above than you are with a breakout star.

Jeff Dritz said...

We've already had this discussion privately, but Teixeira isn't really a random young stud who has potential. After hitting .301 with 43 HR and 144 RBIs last year, he's a legit MVP candidate, if he can repeat those numbers. Unfortunately, the Rangers aren't going to be very good, and it's not 1987, and he's not Andre Dawson, so he probably won't get it. On the plus side, he dropped to me at pick #7 in my fantasy draft.