The NL MVP Award--No to J-Ro
I do not understand this week's voting for the National League MVP award.
Jimmy Rollins, shortstop for the Philadelphia Phillies, won the trophy this year for a very, very fine season in which he hit .296 with 38 doubles, 20 triples, and 30 homers. He barely edged out Colorado’s Matt Holliday in the voting.
Let’s first dismiss with the whining that Holliday was screwed by this vote.
People say a lot of things about baseball, many of which are untrue. One of those things is that Colorado Rockies hitters are no longer unduly helped by the thin air of Denver’s Coors Field. Well, in 2007, Holliday batted .376 with 25 homers at home, .301 with 11 homers elsewhere. That’s a good player, but not MVP caliber. Then add Holliday’s mediocre defense in left field? Next question.
Other NL sluggers had big years—Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard—but didn’t do so well in the voting. Maybe the voters wanted to reward a “complete” player. And that’s great.
But if you believe that a shortstop should win this thing, then you should make damn sure that the shortstop you pick is the best shortstop in the league. And in 2007, Jimmy Rollins wasn’t.
First of all, the fact that Rollins won a Gold Glove doesn’t make him a great shortstop. Pete Palmer’s Fielding Runs system this year rated Rollins below league average at the position. Even MLB.COM's fielding range totals, which at times have been inaccurate, track with Palmer's numbers in this case.
Sportswriters are incredibly unqualified to analyze fielding statistics, so most of them go with fielding percentage as their measure. (That, and “I saw him make a great play once where he…”)
And Rollins has a very good fielding percentage, which means he doesn’t make a lot of errors. But he also doesn’t make that many plays, and this ends up hurting his team’s pitchers.
So who was the best fielding shortstop in the league? If you were watching the post-season, it shouldn’t surprise you to know that the best defensive player in the NL—at any position—according to Palmer was Troy Tulowitzki of the Colorado Rockies. And not by a small margin.
But then there’s the great year Rollins had as a hitter, right? All those extra-base hits?
Believe it or not, Ladies and Germs, Rollins wasn’t even the best offensive shortstop in the NL in 2007; that honor goes to Florida’s Hanley Ramirez.
And Hanley Ramirez was not just a little better—he was a LOT better. Rollins, with his 88 extra-base hits, slugged .531 on the season. Pretty good, huh? Well, Ramirez slugged .562—yes, thirty one points higher, even though Rollins plays in a much better park for home runs. In addition, Ramirez had an on-base percentage of .386, forty-two points higher than Rollins’. That’s not just huge; it’s seismic.
Jimmy Rollins, who almost never draws a walk, had 716 at-bats in which to collect all those extra-base hits, and made an astounding 504 outs, more than anyone else in the big leagues.
Rollins does beat Ramirez in one offensive category, though: speed. Ramirez stole more bases, but was caught far more often, and Rollins did hit those 20 triples. Of course, that alone doesn’t put Rollins ahead.
One can’t give Hanley Ramirez the MVP, though, in good conscience—his defense at shortstop in 2007 rated below even Rollins’. And Tulowitzki didn’t hit enough to rank with the big boys. (Not this year, anyhow.)
So who was the MVP?
Well, on our way there, let’s look at some numbers.
OPS—on-base plus slugging—is a decent way to rate a player’s offensive value, though not the only way. It IS better than just letting your eyes bug out at batting average or a high doubles total.
Here are the top ten NL hitters, in order, in OPS: Chipper Jones, Fielder, Holliday, Ryan Braun, Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Miguel Cabrera, David Wright, and Hanley Ramirez. Rollins’ OPS is down in the mid 20s, below luminaries Jeff Kent, Pat Burrell, and Corey Hart. (Corey Hart?)
OPS tends to reward guys who do the “big things”—hit for extra bases and get on base. It doesn’t reward speed, and I’m cool with that. Evidence that speed helps a team is far more anecdotal than provable. Nobody yet has proven conclusively that a leadoff man with a .300 OBP and 60 stolen bases is really helping his offense.
Back to Jimmy Rollins. His OPS this year rated fifth among starters on his own team—below Howard, Utley, Burrell, and even Aaron Rowand. So let’s have no more talk about how J-Ro “drove” the Phillies’ offense. He’s a very good offensive player with middling defensive skills. An MVP? No way.
Did Rollins have an impact on the pennant race? Sure, he did. The Phillies put on a furious rush to make the playoffs, which of course would not have made a difference had the Mets not completely crumbled in the last week and a half of the season. But all the Phillies pitched in, and Utley and Rowand play key up-the-middle positions too—and arguably do it better than Rollins.
So who should be the 2007 NL MVP? Here are five candidates and the case for each:
Chipper Jones of the Braves had a spectacular season at the bat, posting the league’s best OPS and finishing second in the batting race to Holliday at .337.
Battling injuries all year, he still ripped 42 doubles and 29 homers playing half his games in a home park not especially helpful to him. (He batted .353 with 15 homers on the road, far better than Holliday.)
He’s one of those odd players who is both overrated and underrated at the same time. People know who he is, but not many appreciate just how good Jones can be at his best. Defensively, he’s not everything you’d hope for, but he gets the job done most of the time.
Prince Fielder of the Brewers is an immobile first baseman who runs and fields poorly, but he may have had more impact on his team than any other player in a pennant race.
Take away his league-leading home runs and what do you have? Not even Ryan Braun could have helped a Fielder-less Brewers club. (And had Braun played in 20 or so more games, he’d be in the running for the MVP as well.)
And the Prince is no one-dimensional offensive player, drawing 90 walks, fanning “just” 121 times—a very good ratio for a bomber—and even batted .261 with 10 homers against left-handers.
Philadelphia’s Chase Utley is no butcher at second base, although he probably won’t win any Gold Gloves because he isn’t particularly smooth around the bag. But he’s good enough to play the position, and there’s that little matter of hitting .332 with 48 doubles and 22 homers. And he plays hard every day.
Miguel Cabrera of Florida is just 24, and had another terrif season even though he struggled at times. There are rumblings that he’ll end of pushed off of third base, and he truly is not that great with the glove. But batting .320 with 38 doubles and 34 homers, and 119 RBI, for a team with only a couple of other good hitters is quite a feat. On a good club, he’d have scored 125 runs.
David Wright. Not only is Wright a hell of a hitter, he is a good defensive player, and the fact that the Mets spit the bit in September isn’t his fault (he batted .352 with six homers in the last month). And did anyone notice that this guy, who hit .325 with 30 homers and 94 walks, also stole 34 bases and was caught only five times?
The rest of my top ten, in alpha order: Braun, Howard, Pujols, Ramirez, and Rollins.
So who’s the best? Who, in my eyes, WAS the NL’s MVP in 2007?
Tough call. In fact, a very tough call. But I’m going to go with Prince Fielder.
It’s hard to find an all-around player who can match up to Fielder’s very real impact on his team and on the rest of the league.
David Wright is a close second in my vote, and Chase Utley is third. Jones finishes fourth, and Miggy fifth. Round it out with Howard, Ramirez, Rollins, Braun, and Pujols.
Disses and kisses welcome.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.