JETER HYPE OVERSTATED
The AL Most Valuable Player vote is in and it’s Joe Mauer. No surprise there, but the frequent mutterings down the stretch that Derek Jeter would receive a kind of John Wayne-“True Grit” career achievement MVP award proved to be pure fantasy. Mauer received 27 of 28 first-place votes, the remaining first-place ballot going, somewhat inexplicably, to Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers. Jeter did not receive a single first-place vote, and his own teammate, Mark Teixeira, out-polled him in second-place votes, 15-9, third-place votes, 6-5, and fourth-place votes, 4-3. Total points for the top three finishers: Mauer, 387; Teixeira, 225; Jeter 193.
Mauer had a historic year at catcher, even having missed the first month, and there should be nothing remotely controversial in his winning the award. What is more interesting is the way the rest of the votes fell, and the apparent perception that Teixeira, a first baseman having a very good but by no means great season. Jeter had a season that ranks among the top 25 by a shortstop in the past 60 years. Both were integral to the success the Yankees experienced this season, but there’s a huge difference between a shortstop contributing at the level that Jeter did and a first baseman doing what Teixeira did.
In the end, I suppose it doesn’t matter — Jeter has been robbed in previous awards voting. He wasn’t robbed this time. This is more a cri de coeur against misapprehensions about the replacement value of a great shortstop season versus a good season by a first baseman. Before anyone jumps on me for saying Teixeira’s season was “good,” not “great,” it’s not meant as an insult. It’s just that the hitting standards at first base are so ridiculously high that to call Teixeira’s season great would be ludicrous given the existence of Albert Pujols.
In the end, we should probably be thankful that Jeter did not get a career-achievement MVP award. That John Wayne got an award for “True Grit” doesn’t change the fact that he didn’t even get nominated for “The Searchers” (indeed, “The Searchers” was not nominated for a darned thing), “Red River,” or even his gritty sergeant with a heart of gold in “The Sands of Iwo Jima” (he was nominated but lost to Broderick Crawford chewing up the drapes in “All the King’s Men”). Henry Fonda getting a deathbed for “On Golden Pond” doesn’t forgive the lack of notice for “Young Mr. Lincoln,” “The Grapes of Wrath” (nominated but lost to Jimmy Stewart for “The Philadelphia Story”), or “Fort Apache,” among others. Cary Grant’s honorary award doesn’t make up for the lack of recognition for “His Girl Friday” or “Only Angels Have Wings,” to name just two. These are apologies, not awards that carry the power of in-the-moment recognition.
As I said, Mauer deserved the award, but there is a certain sadness that Jeter, one of the most-celebrated players of his day, will never get an MVP award despite playing excellently on five World Series winners. It’s a strange discordance that he was both the best and someone else was always perceived to be better — apparently including Miguel flippin’ Cabrera, who went out on a drinking binge and brawled with his wife during the Tigers’ last series against the Twins. Tigers’ GM Dave Dombrowski had to go pick him up at the police station. That vote is not only an insult to Jeter, it’s an insult to Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis, Ben Zobrist, and every other candidate for the award — not to mention that everything I said about the replacement value of a first baseman versus more demanding positions goes double for Cabrera, a mediocre fielder. Cabrera is a heck of a hitter and carried the weak Tigers offense, but yipes, if you truly thought he was a better or more important player than Mauer, Jeter, Teixeira, Zobrist, Youkilis… You either weren’t paying attention and you don’t understand the game… And don’t even get me started on fifth-place finisher Kendry Morales, who wasn’t one of the 20-most valuable players in the league. It’s pretty hard to be most valuable when you have a .355 OBP, but home runs and RBIs still forgive so much. How can Morales have been more valuable than Evan Longoria, or Alex Rodriguez, who propelled the Yankees out of a terrible rut when he came off of the disabled list?
Ah, forget it. I’m going off to watch “The Ox-Bow Incident.” Do not disturb.
WHADDYA KNOW, THERE’S BASEBALL TODAY…
…And unless the game never ends, Iowa Baseball Confederacy-style, the Yankees might even have a playoff opponent before it’s too late.
Meanwhile, the conclusion of the PB awards ballot. Check out Part I here.
AL CY YOUNG AWARD
1. Zack Greinke, Kansas City Royals
2. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
3. Roy Halladay, Toronto Blue Jays
4. CC Sabathia, New York Yankees
5. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
Jon Lester and Mariano Rivera rank just out of my top five. If Greinke wins, that will be three Cy Young awards and five winning seasons for the Royals since 1989. His 16-8 record doesn’t seem like much until you consider that he received only about four runs of support per start and that his .667 winning percentage towers over the team. Adjusted for time and place, his 2.16 ERA against a league average of 4.75 is top 40 all-time.
What’s most impressive to me is the weak contact batters made against him when they weren’t striking out (9.5 times per nine innings); though Greinke is a fly ball pitcher, he allowed just 11 home runs in 229.1 innings, which is a number out of 1909, not 2009. Parenthetically, Andy Pettitte allowed only seven home runs in 240.1 innings in 1997, something I don’t recall hearing a peep about at the time.
Hernandez had a terrific season, the combination of a still-young pitcher maturing and a Mariners defense that was best in the league at turning balls in play into outs. Halladay was his usual excellent self, his only failing being not approaching Greinke’s level of dominance. The Jays have been on a treadmill for his entire career; let’s hope he has something left to give to a real team. Sabathia had a 3.83 ERA after his first 22 starts, a 2.52 ERA in his final 12, even with the embarrassing October 2 blowout by the Rays. The stretch-drive CC is an award winner; the guy who was around before that was just very good. You can say something similar about Verlander, except that he was unhittable at midseason and after that he was still very good, but not quite at the same level (3.90 ERA in August-September).
NL CY YOUNG AWARD
1. Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
2. Chris Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals
3. Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals
4. Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants
5. Jair Jurrjens, Atlanta Braves
The differences in quality among Lincecum, Carpenter, and Wainwright are so small as to be insignificant, and you could pick any of the three and the other two would have no kick coming. Carpenter boggles the mind — twice in his career he’s disappeared for more than a year and come back to pitch well. Carpenter was important to a division winner, while Lincecum helped the Giants make an unlikely, pitching-based run at contention. I’m giving the kid the edge, but I’m open to arguments that see it another way.
AL MVP AWARD
1. Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
2. Derek Jeter, New York Yankees
3. Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay Rays
4. Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees
5. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
Sentimentally, I’d quite like to see Jeter pick up this award in the way that John Wayne got one for “True Grit,” or Henry Fonda did for “On Golden Pond.” Unfortunately, the magnitude of Mauer’s season dwarfs such considerations. Though he missed 25 games, the season he did have (is having, through tonight) was essentially the best in the American League by a catcher in over 50 years (only Mike Piazza’s 1997 slides past it). Mauer’s impact was not only historical; by tonight, the Twins might be on their way to the postseason, something that would not have come close to happening had Mauer not been so good.
Jeter had one of the top five seasons of his career and was a better defensive player than he was in his offensive prime. Zobrist had what will probably prove to be a forgotten great season of 2009, hitting like a right fielder while also playing the middle infield. Teixeira had a big offensive season, though not a special one by the standards of his position, and his defense was a key to the Yankees’ success this season; the Yankees tied for second in the league in defensive efficiency, and Teixeira’s vanquishing of the Jason Giambi clank was a big part of that. Just as without Mauer there would be no Twins tonight, without Cabrera there would be no Tigers. Extending this list to include a top 10 would see Jason Bartlett, Evan Longoria, and Kevin Youkilis added.
1. Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
2. Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins
3. Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies
4. Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies
5. Prince Fielder, Milwaukee Brewers
Pujols is the easiest No. 1 here, even with some weird power outages during the season. Ramirez’s season wouldn’t look out of place on the back of Honus Wagner’s baseball card. Tuluwitzki rebounded from a slow start to bat .325/.402/.616 from June to the end of the season, helping to propel the Rockies’ unlikely comeback. Utley had his usual fine season in helping the Phillies defend their pennant, and missed little time despite hip surgery. Fielder had bigger slugging seasons than any of the three middle infielders I listed ahead of him, but the middle infielders reap a huge positional bonus from me, one so huge that it’s bigger than Fielder himself. My top 10 would also include Ryan Braun, Pablo Sandoval, Adrian Gonzalez, Ryan Zimmerman, and Derek Lee.
Head to head rankings of the Yankees against whoever the heck they’re playing already. If we don’t know soon, I may just substitute the 1949 A’s or 1980 Indians… Johnny Damon ’09 better than Miguel Dilone ’80? The mind reels…
Swisher hit his 27th home run Monday night and has begun to show more consistency at Yankee Stadium II, which bodes well for the playoffs. Right field is a traditional power spot, especially for the Yankees (that Ruth guy, you know), but the last time the Yankees had a right fielder hit over 30 home runs, Gary Sheffield was still young, or at least younger. He hit 36 home runs in 2004 and 34 in ’05 while spending most of his time in right. If you want a Yankees right fielder who topped 25 home runs before Sheffield, you have to skip past Paul O’Neill (who was a great hitter but averaged 22 round-trippers a season) and Danny Tartabull (who did a lot of his work at designated hitter) and point to Jesse Barfield in 1990. As mention of Sheffield, O’Neill, and also Bobby Abreu should make abundantly clear, the Yankees have largely gotten excellent production from the position — we will skip quietly past the Raul Mondesi Interregnum — but with the exception of Sheffield it has come in the form of high averages and on-base percentages and only average home run power. Nothing wrong with that if you can get it. Swisher lags those players in exactly one regard — fewer singles.
With last night’s 3-for-4, Teixeira upped his numbers to .285/.381/.551. Teixeira has been terrific, both with the bat and with the glove, and if he finishes with roughly this level of production, his season will rank somewhere in the top 10 for production by a Yankees first baseman/post-Gehrig division. Incredibly, though, it won’t rank anywhere near the top. That’s no insult to Teixeira, but a measure of just how good Don Mattingly was in the 1984 to 1986 period. He out-hit Teixeira in each of those seasons, doing so in a vastly different league. The American League of 2009 slugs .429. The AL of Mattingly’s glory days slugged about .400. Power comes more easily now than it did then.
As frustrating as he could be at times, the best-hitting Yankees first baseman of the last half-century not named Mattingly was Jason Giambi in 2002. Giambi hit .314/.435/.598 that year, a devastating combination of power and patience. Of course, he couldn’t field like the other two guys. Heck, he couldn’t field like anybody.
Went 3-for-3 to raise his average to .371. At one point it seemed as if .400 was the goal, but now the question is if he can record the highest batting average in history by a catcher. Depending on where you want to place your cutoff, the highest batting average in a full season by a backstop was .362 by the Yankees’ Bill Dickey in 1936 (472 plate appearances) and Mike Piazza in 1997 (633 plate appearances). Smoky Burgess hit .368 in 1954, but had only 392 plate appearances. One wonders what having a minor record like that would do to strengthen Mauer’s MVP candidacy….
I don’t think I have single thing to complain about today. Analysis is about finding problems and advocating solutions, but everyone is playing well right now. Even Nick Swisher, who I’ve (reluctantly) become disillusioned with, pulled out of his slump with a two-homer day. To quote a line from John Lennon and the Beatles, “I’ve got nothing to say but it’s OK.” (“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” the happiest album about alienation, distraction and disconnectedness.) That’s not quite accurate, now that I think about it — I’ve always got something to say, and it’s not “Billlllly Shears!” Though I wish it was.
ANOTHER RUN AT AN MVP FOR JETER?
On last night’s broadcast, my fellow YES-man Michael Kay suggested that Derek Jeter is putting together a campaign worthy of the Most Valuable Player award. My first reaction was, “Nah,” first because Jeter’s year seemed to be in the good-not-great category, second because if he didn’t win the award in 1999 or 2006 he’s not going to win it now — voters go wild for RBIs, not runs scored — and third, because there are so many other good candidates. However, on further examination, the idea is not as wild as it at first seemed, though still unlikely.
Thanks to his .402 on-base percentage, fifth in the American League, Jeter is having one of his strongest seasons. He hasn’t reached base 40 percent of the time since 2006, and has gotten there in only two other seasons, 1999 and 2000. He’s also fifth in batting average and second in hits behind Ichiro Suzuki. He ranks ninth in runs scored. He’s not having the best season of any AL shortstop — Jason Bartlett currently ranks him, but that’s going to change over time. Jeter also has had 120 more plate appearances than Bartlett due to the latter’s stint on the disabled list.
Still, the line in front of Jeter is long, and starts with two Twins, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. The latter, a past MVP balloting favorite, leads the league in home runs and RBIs, which is usually enough to nab the award. In fairness to Morneau, he’s having a tremendous year, one that is far superior to his 2006, when he last won the award. Mauer has been the best all-around hitter in the league, but he has come back to the pack a bit in July. If the Twins can come back and win the AL Central, still a strong possibility, the M&M Minnesota boys are going to get an extra push, whereas if the Yankees hang on to win the AL East, Jeter will be perceived as one among a cast of talented performers.
Since an April batting line that was indifferent by his own standards, Jeter has hit .337/.418/.459. He’s going to have to top those rates the rest of the way to make a serious dent in the gaudier statistics put up in the Twin Cities. He seems a long-shot to get serious consideration, though it would be only fair if the voters stiffed Morneau to give Jeter an award just as they stiffed Jeter to give Morneau an award in 2006.
Rumors surfaced yesterday that Brian Cashman has been burning up cell-phone minutes in calls to Cincinnati, trying to get the richly-salaried Bronson Arroyo for the Yankees’ rotation. The Bronse is under contract next year for $11 million, and there’s also a club option for 2011 at the same price, with a $2 million buyout if Arroyo’s presence is no longer desired. Thus the Yankees would get the right-hander for the remainder of his age-32 season, age 33 and potentially, 34. Arroyo is having a very strange year, in that he’s either unhittable or he has no idea how to pitch. That’s no exaggeration: In his wins he has an ERA of 2.19. In his losses, it’s 11.01. I asked the statistical geniuses at Baseball Prospectus if that differential was particularly dramatic, and indeed it is. Among pitchers with at least 10 decisions, it’s the second-largest spread in baseball this year behind that of Brian Moehler, who has an ERA of 2.62 in his wins and 12.13 in his losses. Felix Hernandez, Jason Marquis and Clayton Kershaw round out the all good/all bad top five. Pitchers with fewer than 10 decisions in this category include Brett Cecil, who has a 1.33 ERA in his wins and a 15.43 ERA in his losses, and Rich Hill, who is at 1.86 in his wins and 15.75 in losses.
If you’re the Yankees, which Arroyo are you going to see most often? There doesn’t seem to be much of a pattern to his periodic lapses into incompetence. This is a deal you might make only if Dave Eiland and the rest of your organizational pitching gurus view hours of tape and say, “We see the problem and we think we can correct it.” If not, the aggregate — a quality start half the time, a sure loss the other half of the time — may not be worth the money and the low-level prospects necessary to spring the pitcher from the Queen City.
MORE OF ME
My take on the Omar Minaya-Tony Bernazard affair can be found in my You Could Look It Up spot.