Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Coronation Interrupted

Don't get too cocky. It should be a Yankee fan mantra by now, on the order of "Don't believe Carl Pavano" and "Never pitch to David Ortiz." It's hard to keep from getting carried away if you root for the Bronx Bombers, since the huge media presence in the Big Apple and surrounding metro area make for an echo chamber, which creates self-reinforcing impressions. Such as "Eric Duncan's a top prospect" (nope, he wasn't), "Chien Ming Wang was the second-best pitcher in the AL" (close, but no cigar), and "Derek Jeter is a shoo-in for MVP."

I allowed myself to get carried away in that last one. It just seemed like we'd hit on the right conditions for Jeter to win the league's top prize--first place team; Jeter the clear best player on the Yankees; second-best player in the league (Minnesota's Joe Mauer) having a couple of fellow candidates on his squad, to split up the vote (RBI machine Justin Morneau and Supernatural Johan Santana); middle-order mashers like David Ortiz and Travis Hafner being out of contention pretty early in the year. There hadn't been a season before this one where the Captain had this clear a shot at the award.

Yeah, that turned out to be wrong. The AL MVP results came in about an hour ago, and the writers snubbed the Captain in favor of Morneau, by a narrow 320-306 point margin. In terms of first place votes, Morneau was clearly the consensus pick, receiving 15 out of a possible 28, and no votes below 4th place. Jeter got 12 first place votes, 14 second place votes, one fourth-place vote and one sixth-place vote. The other first place vote that went to neither Jeter nor Morneau went to Morneau's teammate, AL Cy Young winner Santana.

The writers made a mistake, here. I could understand if Mauer won the award--he was the best hitter on the Twins; I could understand if Ortiz won the award, since he was probably the best hitter in the league, overall (the AL's best hitter, Cleveland DH Travis Hafner, suffered an injury-shortened season and a victory-challenged ballclub). Santana getting the nod would have burned a little--visions of the 1986 Clemens/Mattingly controversy in the air--but no one doubted that Santana (like Clemens 20 years ago) was at least the dominant pitcher in the league, by a wide margin.

Morneau is by all indications a nice guy. The first Canadian MVP winner (I think). He's someone I touted and stuck with on my fantasy team even when he was struggling to hit .200 in April. But he wasn't even the best player on his own team! Sure, the Twins came back to win the AL Central, and Morneau was a huge part of that resurgence, but remember: part of the reason they had to make a big comeback was because Morneau was killing the team early in the year. Morneau gets credited for the comeback, but not for the initial disappoinment.

I'm tempted to pull out the statistical measures--all the silly-sounding stats like WARP, VORP, EqA, and such--to show that Jeter deserved the award, and that Morneau was far from the next-most deserving candidate. But in a world where mainstream sportswriters would likely dismiss me as a stats-geek, I need to just point out that the MVP voters come off as the ones who are statistics-obsessed: they're simply obsessed with old-school statistics like RBI and home runs. Look back at the way they vote, and for all their talk of character and leadership and most valuable to their team, you'll see the "experts" are just a bunch of guys who look at homers and RBI.

Derek Jeter played a tougher position than Justin Morneau, on a better team. He hit better than Morneau did, just with fewer homers and ribbies. That's because he's a different kind of player than Morneau is, a kind of player who doesn't win the MVP award.

  • Given today's results, can we put to rest the legend of the East Coast bias? With bias like this, who needs enemies?
  • Maybe not tomorrow, but soon, the angle that's going to play out is that Jeter's "failure to support" Alex Rodriguez cost Jeter the MVP. Y'know, 'cause a leader supports his teammates. We have yet to see the end of the fallout from September's Sports Illustrated hatchet piece on Rodriguez. Unless someone finds a way to defuse this bomb, Jeter and A-Rod will go into 2007 with more reason to resent each other than ever.
  • This should really be its own column, but Mike Mussina is reportedly back in the fold, accepting a two-year $23 million contract to come back to the Yanks. Good timing, too, since the Mets are reportedly close to losing Tom Glavine, and might be trolling the avenues soon looking for more pitching. With the free agent market going crazy this winter, Mussina's deal seems fair in light of his 2006 performance.
  • In other news, Scott Proctor is being considered a candidate for the rotation. On the one hand, the Yankees have picked up a lot of righthanded middle relievers, which would free Proctor up for the rotation. On the other hand, this smells of a bluff by Cashman, which I will hereafter term a "Bubba" after Cashman's claims last winter that Bubba Crosby would be the Yankees' centerfielder in 2006. An example of usage: "The idea that Andy Phillips will be the starting first baseman in 2007 is a classic Bubba."
  • The Cubs sign Alfonso Soriano to an eight-year $136 million contract, and I wonder: does Jim Hendry realize that Soriano's birth year is 1976, not 1978 as it was when he first came up to the majors? The Cubs are betting that Soriano's going to be worth eight figures in 2014, at the age of 39; meanwhile, Hendry must be betting that he'll no longer be the GM of the Cubs when this contract starts to be a problem.

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