Is Adrian Gonzalez the AL MVP? Or Even the Red Sox?


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.

fWAR: Bautista 6.6, Gonzalez 4.8
bWAR: Bautista 6.6, Gonzalez 4.9
wOBA: Bautista .487, Gonzalez .429
Triple Slash: Bautista .334/.468/.702, Gonzalez .354/.414/.591
wRC++: Bautista 215, Gonzalez 172″

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.

Instead, my team MVP thus far as been Dustin Pedroia with a nod to Jacoby Ellsbury, then Gonzalez.  Let’s look at the numbers:

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.

Categories: Adrian Gonzalez Boston Red Sox Dustin Pedroia Jacoby Ellsbury

After being slapped with a restraining order for stealing Nick Cafardo's mail, I was forced into retirement for a brief period of time. As fun as it was to lounge around the community pool and play shuffleboard with noted internet columnist, Murray Chass, I quickly felt a yearning to write again. Now in my second tenure with Fire Brand, I have set lofty goals of achieving world domination, ending the plight of the hipsters, and becoming BFFs with Mike Trout. I am fluent in two languages (Sarcasm and English, in that order); have an intimate relationship with M&Ms; firmly believe that Lucille is the best character on Arrested Development; and spend my spare time trolling select members of the Boston media. You can follow me on Twitter @Chip_Buck.

23 Responses to “Is Adrian Gonzalez the AL MVP? Or Even the Red Sox?” Subscribe

  1. kahlil July 22, 2011 at 8:13 AM #

    to me A-Gon's value is beyond the numbers that he has put up (which are respectable on their own) and reaches into the intangible side of baseball.
    since he has arrived we have seen un-forecast numbers from left handed batsmen. ortiz never went into that dark april and may and is hitting to all fields now, albeit from time to time (did you see that joe maddon, widely credited with 'inventing' the ortiz shift did not employ the shift this past series? even with no one on.) a 'light has gone off' for josh reddick who does an interesting impersonation of a-gon at the dish where it looks like he is cycling through information. and let's not forget ellsbury, who is putting together a career year in terms of home runs, hits, averag, bb/9, obp, etc.
    i think bautista will win. he is deserving of it. pedroia is deserving as well– he is our derek jeter. but a strange thing has accompanied gonzalez in his 2011 campaign: a hitting aura.

    • Chip Buck July 22, 2011 at 9:49 AM #

      @Khalil – All of those things you mentioned could just as easily have occurred with Casey Kotchman at first base. Just Ortiz is playing better, it doesn’t mean it’s attributable to another player in the lineup. As for Reddick, he’s 24/25 y/o, and has matured greatly. Plus, he was hitting well in AAA. As for Ellsbury, he’s 27 years old and in his prime. A better than expected season was certainly possible coming into 2011. The only reason people downgraded his forecast was due to his lost 2010 season. I’m not saying your wrong, but there are plenty of reasons that are not A-Gone related for all of the events that have occurred thus far.

      • Bertram July 23, 2011 at 12:18 AM #

        The main thing I can disagree with you on there, Chip, is that Reddick was NOT hitting all that well at AAA before being called up.

  2. Rob T July 22, 2011 at 9:38 AM #

    My only criticism of this article would be that it may be undervaluing the impact of Adrian's bat on the rest of lineup's production. It's hard to equate statistically, as it is likely more to do with a pitcher's mental endurance than anything else, but I have to imagine the percentage of quality pitches in the strike zone goes up when you have an RBI machine like Gonzo hitting behind you – as is the case for Pedroia and Ellsbury. I think you could also attribute some of Ortiz's success this year to Adrian taking pressure off him in the middle of that lineup. But perhaps it is more of a collective thing, and that lineup as a whole that takes such a toll on a pitcher, it allows for better pitches to hit as the game progress. Either way, this is one of those times for me, where no statistical evidence can sway my opinion that Adrain Gonzalez is absolutely the team MVP thus far.

    • Chip Buck July 22, 2011 at 9:52 AM #

      @Rob – If you haven’t read BPro’s Baseball Behind the Numbers, I strongly suggest you do. They disproved the notion that of lineup protection. Furthermore, in “The Book,” Tango, Lichtman, and Dolphin did a great deal of research on IBBs. They found that only in the case of a Barry Bonds (circa 2000-2004) type hitter were IBBs even worthwhile in most cases. There’s no evidence (only subjective speculation) that A-Gon has changed the complexion of the lineup. Until something comes along proving otherwise, I’ll assume it’s about as real as catcher intangibles.

  3. Matt July 22, 2011 at 10:26 AM #

    To me, the thing that puts Gonzalez ahead of Pedroia has been his consistency. Pedroia was stumbling in the first couple months of the season, and Gonzalez was carrying the offense during that stretch. Now, Pedroia has been raking since then, and Gonzalez has also kept up his production. If Pedroia can keep up this surge over the rest of the season, I'd be more inclined to agree with your argument. But for now, I still go Gonzalez

    Also, love the @PeanutFreeMom reference. Good stuff.

    • Chip Buck July 22, 2011 at 10:47 AM #

      A-Gone was pretty inconsistent in April though…at least in terms of his power. Slumps and hot streaks occur throughout the season. The fact that Pedroia’s topped A-Gon by nearly a full win (per fWAR) despite struggling for 5-6 weeks is a testament to how good he’s been.

      Also, you know my love for PFM. Even those she (read: he) is not a real person, I still crack up every time I read her (his) tweets.

  4. mtcorrigan July 22, 2011 at 11:21 AM #

    Hello, the man is correct. People tend to get locked into their perceptions early in the season, good and bad — which is exactly why we get travesties such as Russell Martin making the All-Star team. AGon had such a transcendent start, we tend to overlook his cooler July. It all counts. Yes, AGon's arrival has been widely anticipated in lucky, lucky Red Sox Nation — I mean, we did get the guy, finally, and good job there Theo. But, face it, we knew the guy would contend for the MVP Award, didn't we? Then after we saw him play, people started saying he was "better than advertised." But I'll tell you what I "expected" of AGon in Fenway, in a sort of typical great season: .320 or so and 40 HR, and maybe 135 RBI. Really, I don't think these expectations were unrealistic, just optimistic. So we are getting the ribbies, more hits and fewer HRs. Fine. We are certainly seeing a great season, and the man is a joy to watch hit. I am delighted he's a Red Sox, for freaking AESTHETIC reasons! But, adding everything together, Pedroia has been slightly more valuable, to this point, off the numbers and HIS intangibles — plus the tangibles of defense. More than any other defender, he saves a shaky pitching staff runs. Really, it's a great play a day, sometimes two.

    The only caveat I can add to the argument is that batting in front of AGon, Pedroia does get fastballs to hit, more than he would batting any other place in the lineup; and, like most major leaguers, Pedey feasts on fastballs. But it's a cumulative thing too, and not just the addition of one guy; if it went Youk, Ortiz and Crawford after Pedroia, leaving out AGon, he'd still get fastballs.

    As for the league MVP, it's probably still Joey Bats. If things continue as expected, Pedey and AGon finish in the AL's top five in the MVP voting, and more importantly, the Sox make the playoffs despite a year in which the pitching has been savaged almost as much as the hitting was decimated in 2010.

    • Chip Buck July 22, 2011 at 11:50 AM #

      According to Fangraphs, Pedroia’s actually seen a smaller percentage of fastballs this year than at any point in his career.

      2007 – 64.6%

      2008 – 63.4%

      2009 – 65.5%

      2010 – 61.5%

      2011 – 60.8%

      In fact, the selection of pitches he’s being thrown is nearly identical to last season when A-Gone wasn’t in the lineup. I don’t think it’s that.

  5. mtcorrigan July 22, 2011 at 1:44 PM #

    Ha, didn't know where to find that stat; thanks. I do think if you check (or maybe I will) that 2 hole hitters in general get more fastballs than most other spots, and that's my point. But I'll look it up; perhaps I hold another long-held assumption that is simply not true! (Remember when the Killer Bs in Houston went Biggio-somebody named Bell or something — who was it?-Bagwell? Well, Bell-or-something said he loved hitting second in that configuration, because of all the No. 1s — and his average when hitting in the other spots showed it. And that's why I don't remember HIS name.)
    Thanks for the Fangraphs tip, anyway. Looks as if clubs have determined to pitch Pedroia tougher, as a general rule, as they've come to see how he kills the hard ones — though wasn't his worst season 2009, when he got the highest percentage of fastballs? Heck with it. I don't "know" anything I thought I did, anyway!

  6. @El_Knid July 22, 2011 at 4:09 PM #

    Reading posts like this makes me wish I had a stronger understanding of baseball's advanced stats. What sources would you recommend? Is Baseball Between the Numbers the best place to start? Is there a website that does a particularly good job of laying out the basic theory and practice behind the statistics, and/or breaks down where these stats are available online? Where do you find the best week to week in-season analysis and interpretation? Finally, are there any particular sites (besides this one, of course) with both an advanced-stats and Red Sox focus?

    • ChipBuck July 23, 2011 at 6:49 PM #

      Baseball Prospectus is a great site, but it's a pay site. Fangraphs is free, and that's a great place to get a start. There are a ton of stats on the leader boards and individual player pages. Plus, the articles are well written, and usually easy to read. Saber Library is another great place to check out. I'm pretty well versed on the baseball blogosphere, so if you have any questions, feel free to email me. My contact info is on the author page.

  7. wordsmith July 23, 2011 at 2:11 AM #

    Anyone who’d blatantly dismiss the teams’ records and standings as a variable to his choice and conclusion may only be biased or prejudice, never objective. I suppose you also believe a player averaging 20points, 7rebounds, and 5assissts a game for the Celtics or the Spurs, and a player with identical numbers on the Kings or the Warriors roster indicate identical skill and performance. There’s only one bottom-line, winning, and although it’s measured only as a team as it should be, it separates the good from the great. I’d be reluctant to give the MVP nod to a player on a team that’s out of contention by the All star game, I don’t care if his stats are historic, which they are not. The only stat he leads AG on is homeruns, he’d a dozen behind in RBIs and even farther back in average, so what’s really your bone with Adriane? Come clean no expert would discount the impact of garbage time on a players stats, specially in baseball where the starters are hardly ever spared the meaningless at bats. Don’t get me wrong Jose’s a freak, and truly awesome ~aside from the yet to be seen performance in the clutch, and no not the 9th inning, I refer to playoffs and world series, ironically the factor that made Bonds seasonal performance seem tedious at best when he consistently choked in the playoffs, let’s hope Jose’s clutch doesn’t resemble his homerun derby~. You have to marvel at what AG has done under so much pressure and expectations, right out of the gate and coming off a pretty major injury. His approach, adjustments, and discipline at the plate are nearly unrivaled, I’m not one to calculate the value of a player, the numbers often lie, yet look at his numbers with runners on base, and in scoring position with two outs. Okay I was curious so I checked just to be fair;
    With 2outs and runners in scoring position
    49AB20runs 19hits1DB2HR26RBI9BB12SO.388ave.483OBP.5311.014
    Data provided by Elias Sports Bureau


    To be fair and objective, having Youk ahead and Papi behind makes it hard for teams to just walk you, evident in BB numbers and therefore AB numbers yet I do believe these numbers unlike the indiscriminate totals hardly ever lie, a .148 difference in average tells it all, but just to leave no stone unturned; the overall stats with runners in scoring position, any or no outs

    121AB 44runs 43hits 10DB 2HR 57RBI 18BB 25SO .355average .433OBP .488 .921

    69AB 45runs 17hits 4DB 4HR 33RBI 39BB 19SO .246average .514OBP .478 .992

    Any questions? If there ever a stat line universally deemed undisputable
    alas like that old Raider fool always says; “Just win baby”, the losers don’t deserve equal credit, just remember the quality of pitches and pitchers when a team is up 8 to 10 runs half way through, I bet if you actually check the results may shock you, if their teams head to head results are any implication at all, then it’s not just a factor but a measure, in this case just halfway through the season; a third of their head to head match ups have resulted in blow outs by the sox; 16-4, 14-1, 9-1, 8-1, and I was generous with the rest where some would consider a few more to also be blow outs. Again to be fair it’s rather easy to argue for or against the statistical advantage or disadvantage
    Head to head, the numbers put Jose somewhere between “I’m not worthy” and “please master teach me how”, certainly not in the same league. Head to head; Jose 45AB 7runs 12hits 1double 3HR 7RBI 5BB 8SO .267average .333OBP, pretty mortal, and AG 45AB 11runs 16hits 7doubles 4HR 11RBI 6BB 14SO .356ave .431OBP. Don’t hate, appreciate, to compare them would be an insult to one and a complement to the other, you and Jose would be better off praying for an injury to AG, otherwise no matter how many dingers he hits, he should never be MVP on a sub/500 non contender. So again what’s your bone with AG?


    • ChipBuck July 23, 2011 at 6:55 PM #

      Comparing baseball and basketball statistics is comparing apples with oranges. It doesn't matter. While I respect your opinion, your analysis is overly facile and lacks originality. Players can't "turn it on" based on the moment. They don't play better in "garbage time." Bautista can't help the team that he's on any more than Gonzalez can change his own situation. I prefer to give the awards to the players who deserve it based on their performance, not some perceived and unproven idea that players have total control over their performance in a given situation. If you can show me a study that proves otherwise, fine. I've done a lot of research, and I've found nothing that supports your opinion.

      In all honestly, thanks for opinion.

    • ChipBuck July 23, 2011 at 7:01 PM #

      I will try to apply more later. I'm in NYC visiting my brother, so I don't have a lot of time. If I misunderstood or misread your post, I apologize. I will re-read it later to make sure. If so, I'll re-respond.

  8. vermont 39 July 23, 2011 at 10:43 AM #

    A-Gone is a Saner Manny!!!

  9. McKennon July 23, 2011 at 2:28 PM #

    I really enjoyed the angle of this post. The deeper you delve into the statistics, the more you can "tweak" the view of them. I don't think anyone would attest to the great season that both Bautista, Gonzalez, Pedroia et al have been having. I do however, wish to point out just how valuable Pedroia has been. While Gonzalez has been a stalwart run producer and superb defender, he fits modern mold for good first basemen. Many teams have similar players to Gonzalez at 1B – the Yankees with Teixeira ( Albeit, his average is horrible this year), the Cards with Pujols, the Tigers with Cabrera, the White Sox with Konerko, Joey Votto, Prince Fielder. While this is certainly a tremendous group of players in the upper echelon of baseball, Gonzalez is certainly interchangeable with say Joey Votto, Miguel Cabrera and many others. The team would neither gain or lose anything with another player in that tier. If you look at Pedroia, he IS the upper tier of first basemen. The only other elite second basemen in the majors are, statistically Robinson Cano and Chase Utley. Utley is extremely injury prone and his season statistics can be thrown out of this argument. Looking at Pedroia and Cano their statistics are very comparable. Between the two, Pedroia has a considerable edge in steals, walks, OBP and a slight edge in OPS. Cano has the edge in home runs and RBIs and the remaining stats are nearly identical. Granted, Pedroia's production has been primarily over the course of his 2-month hot streak and Cano's has been season long. Outside of Cano however, who compares to Pedroia? He has long been heralded for his hustle, grit, determination and contributions to the Red Sox clubhouse, but aside from that, even his on field contributions dwarf those of the other 2nd basemen. You could find another Gonzalez. You can't find another Pedroia. Highest WAR by far, highest walk%, one of the lowest strikeout %… sounds an awful lot like 2008…

  10. kariz July 23, 2011 at 3:34 PM #

    Bautista is an amazing player and is doing amazing things, but I think the real reason people are so in the tank for A-Gon is a very simple case against celebrating the Blue Jays player: steroid suspicion. Whether it's true or not (and I have no evidence that it is), there's a large population of baseball fans who are quite convinced Bautista is juicing. I think that suspicion leads to an almost subconscious avoidance of Joey Bats' numbers. Nobody wants a congressional hearing and another big mess, they just want it to go away.

    • ChipBuck July 23, 2011 at 6:58 PM #

      It's really unfair to assume Bautista did steroids. (Not saying you are.) There's absolutely no proof that he's even considered it, let alone used it. That kinda stuff really bothers me because it's reckless and borders on slander.

  11. Ian July 24, 2011 at 10:05 AM #

    Oh the Jays are league average with Bautista but mediocre without him…. Pretty sure mediocrity and average are synonomous… Thanks for the insight

    • Chip Buck July 24, 2011 at 3:27 PM #

      I see mediocrity as being something worse than average. Maybe I’m wrong, but if that’s your only complaint, then I’ll just assume you agree with me. I can live with that.

      • Ian July 27, 2011 at 5:18 PM #

        Well it isnt, so you essentially stated that the blue jays are in the same position with or without him and I agree with that (no value there). MVP does't always mean you have the best statistical season, if that were the case there would be no need to vote, we could just base it off WAR or whatever stat you want. Gonzalez is the best run producer for the best team in the American League. I see him as being more VALUABLE to his team then Bautista. You take A-Gon away and I don't see the Sox in 1st (a guaranteed playoff spot). And while you can't hold it against Bautista for playing for an average team you also can't fault A-Gon for playing for a team who puts runners on base.


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