In case you missed it last week, Patrick Sullivan at Over the Monster wrote a fantastic piece on why Adrian Gonzalez was not the American League’s first half MVP. (Please note the stats below are as of July 13th.)
“Sometimes I think Boston, and especially its sports culture, gets a bad rap for being extraordinarily provincial. Then I read something like the excerpt above and think “how could anyone ever suggest differently?” Someone in the very same division as the Red Sox is putting up numbers we haven’t seen since Barry Bonds was playing. Let’s just do a quick Gonzalez - Jose Bautista comp.
When it comes to overall offensive production and value, the difference between the two players is pretty significant. Whereas Gonzalez’s season is on par with something we might have seen from Frank Thomas in his prime, Bautista is doing something that only Barry Bonds has done in the last 20 years or so. His season has been impressive; maybe even historic. The fact that anyone is touting A-Gone’s season over Joey Bats is a bit ridiculous. Those who disagree with my opinion will likely invoke the “but Gonzalez is playing for the best team in baseball and Bautista’s playing for a non-contender” argument. I’m sorry, but that’s an incredibly weak angle that doesn’t hold water. The Blue Jays are a league average team with Bautista, and a mediocre team (at best) without him. Without Gonzalez, the Red Sox are, at the very least, still contenders for the playoffs. Honestly, which player do you think has added more wins to his team’s bottom line? If you come up with any name other than Bautista, you’re probably being a little biased.
Unfortunately, not everyone got Patrick’s memo about the AL MVP race. Yesterday on Twitter, ESPN‘s Buster Olney retweeted a comment by one of his followers regarding the state of the AL MVP race. Here it is.
“@Buster_ESPN ummm anyone thinking that Adrian Gonzalez isn’t the MVP is flat out wrong. This coming from a life long Yankees fan.”
While it’s always nice to see a Yankee fan (no, I don’t mean Olney) give props to a player on the Red Sox; his opinion, though clearly unbiased, doesn’t stand up to objective analysis. In fact, I’m not certain Gonzalez is even the team MVP at this point! Yes, I know I’m treading into some dangerous waters here, and I promise you that I’m not being controversial for the sake of being controversial. I’ll leave that to Skip Bayless, Mike Lupica, and @PeanutFreeMom. Instead, I’m trying to right a perception that I feel is wrong.
While A-Gone has put up some very good numbers, it seems that people are blinded by the allure of RBIs. I’m sure 78 RBIs through 96 games sounds spectacular to some, but hitting in the clutch and driving in runners is not a repeatable skill. Hitting for average, hitting with power, speed, defense, throwing ability, plate discipline, and ability to draw walks are all repeatable skills. Driving in runs is a function of luck, opportunity, and position in the batting order. So while A-Gone used a couple of his talents (hitting for average and hitting for power) to help drive in those runs, we can’t give him credit for the batters getting on base ahead of him. Therefore, his RBI totals are pretty irrelevant.
fWAR – Pedroia 5.4, Ellsbury 5.0, Gonzalez 4.5
bWAR – Pedroia 5.0, Gonzalez 4.7, Ellsbury 4.6
wOBA – Gonzalez .414, Ellsbury .392, Pedroia .386
UZR + Positional Value – Pedroia 12.6, Ellsbury 7.4, Gonzalez (-0.3)
Baserunning – Ellsbury 0.4, Pedroia 0.3, Gonzalez (-3.8)
Pedroia bests Gonzalez in overall (per both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference WAR), defensive (adjusted for position), and base running value. Although Gonzalez tops him in overall offensive production, don’t we expect our first basemen to outproduce and outslug second basemen? Historically, first base has been an offensive power house, while second base has had a far stronger defensive orientation. When a second baseman does what Pedroia’s done, both offensively and defensively, it tends to stand out. This isn’t meant to take anything away from Gonzalez’s accomplishments. He’s deserved the lion’s share of the accolades he’s received this season. Instead, I’m trying to prop up Pedroia’s outstanding resume, which has sadly been undervalued due to a poor six week stretch in late-April and May.
It’s time for us to look beyond the most visible, facile numbers available to us. A-Gone’s been great this year, but the MVP award is about value. Based on the numbers this year, the little man known as “Laser Show” has been more valuable. The stats don’t lie.