Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Verducci's MIP Award?

I love spring training! It's the time of year when everything is new, baseball included, and I get impatient waiting for the warm weather to come and with it the new baseball season. Of course there are some downsides to Spring Training. For instance, there is very little actual baseball to write about. The players are busying themselves with practices, drills and more practices. So with no games going on, the media has to find things to write about, or in this particular case, make them up. So we get all sorts of predictions, fluff pieces about what the players have done in the offseason, and ranking articles. Ranking articles are perhaps the most pointless, though sometimes well done ones can spark an interesting conversation. Who are the top five players in the game? Who are the best pitchers in the National League? These are subjective questions to be sure, but thats their beauty. There are no wrong answers (ok, a few), and as long as you can defend your choices it makes for interesting discussion.

Recently, Tom Verducci of came up with a list of the five most indispensable players in baseball.  Heres the link: Not to spoil the suspense, but here's his list:

1. Bonds
2. Santana
3. Thome
4. Tejada
5. Berkman

I have a few quarrels with this list in both conception and follow-through, but hey, at least he got the first guy right, eh?  Bonds is at the top of just about any top five list in baseball, including the top five hitters, the top five Giants, the top five left fielders, the top five self-absorbed a$$holes, and the top five players most likely to endorse flax-seed oil.  Still, how do you not include Vlad Guererro, Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez or Randy Johnson?  Verducci's rational is explained in this paragraph:

I know Randy Johnson means so much to the Yankees, especially in October, and Curt Schilling is the cornerstone of the Red Sox and Albert Pujols is the rock of the Cardinals, but those teams have the resources and star power to survive without them. With that in mind, based on their relative importance to their team's chances of contending, I'll give you my list of the five most indispensable players in baseball...

So, Verducci is essentially picking his top five MVPs not including anyone who plays on the Yankees, Cardinals or Red Sox.  Interesting idea.  I'm not sure what the purpose of such a list would be, but since the bastion of purposeful information that is found fit to publish it I'll just assume that it's over my head and go along with it. 

Lets talk a minute about this "relative importance to their team's chances of contending" statement.  To me, this means a couple things, namely, to qualify for this list 1) A player's team must have a chance to contend, and 2) this player must be the most important player on that team.  This would seem to eliminate players like Thome and Tejada right off. These players aren't the best players on their own team (Thome), or are on teams that have no chance of contending (Tejada). But maybe I'm being nit-picky here...

How about follow-through?  How about the list itself?  As I said, Bonds deserves the top slot.  You can't argue with that.  Jason Schmidt asside, the Giants would be the Diamondbacks without Bonds (just as the Diamondbacks would be the Giants with Bonds).  That leaves slots two through five open.  Lets take a look at those individually: 

#2 Santana:  Santana's year last season was pretty indispensable.  He deserved the AL Cy Young award and, in what was probably some sort of clerical screw up, actually won it.  His pitching was a major part of the Twins winning their third straight AL Central title.  Without Santana they might not have been able to go on to lose to the Yankees in the Divisional round of the AL playoffs.  Perish the thought!  Since Verducci mentions in his rational that he's only concerned with a player's "importance to their team's chances of contending" you have to wonder about this pick (and, indeed, just about every player that follows, but I'll get to that).  The fact that the Twins won the Central last year in Santana's Cy Young year was obviously taken into account, but what about the 2003 season when he won only 12 games?  (Ok, to be fair he was 12-3.)  Or maybe in 2002 when he went 8-6?  The Twins won the Central the last three years with Santana as a major contributor ('04), an important cog ('03), and a member of the pitching staff ('02).  But maybe I'm not being fair here.  Verducci was talking about a player's team's "chances of contending."  Maybe he's only concerned with this upcoming season.  I'll give him the benefit of the doubt here.  Verducci's rational seems to be 'the Twins are a small market team with the best pitcher in the AL last season, so obviously that pitcher deserves to be on this list.'  Ok.  I'll go along with that.  If Santana goes down this year the Twins are probably in some trouble.  But the lousiness of the AL Central division leads me to believe that they might win it anyway, with Brad Radke as their ace. 

#3 Thome: This might be the one I have the most trouble with. First of all, Thome isn't even the best hitter on his team. That would be Bobby Abreu. Check out last seasons stats:

Thome: .274/.396/.581
Abreu: .301/.428/.544

Thome has an edge in slugging percentage (42 homers to Abreu's 30), but that's mitigated by Abreu's higher batting average and higher OBP (which is essentially a function of his higher batting average, but I digress). Then add in that Abreu plays a good right field and has a great arm (13 assists last year), Neither guy has missed many games, Abreu has missed a total of thirteen games in the last four seasons, while Thome has missed 22 in his two years with the Phillies. You might not agree that Abreu is better, but even if you don't you have to conceed that it certainly is close, and that alone should knock Thome off Verducci's list.

Secondly, Thome has had two monster seasons in Philly, but in both years the Phillies haven't won anything. With the lineup essentially unchanged from the past two seasons, how can you claim that Thome's bat is the most vital piece of the Phillies chance to contend when they haven't 'contended' the last two seasons with his bat. Last season the Phillies finished ten games behind the Braves, which was an improvement over the previous year when they finished fifteen games behind the Braves. To quote the great Branch Rickey, former GM of the Dodgers, "We finished last with you, we can finish last without you." If the Phillies couldn't win their division or the Wild Card with Thome, it makes it difficult to argue that he's one of the five most indespensable players in all of baseball.
#4 Tejada: Tejada has been a vital part of a lousy team. The Orioles finished last year 20 games behind Boston for the Wild Card and 23 games behind New York for the division lead. How this is contending I don't know. Considering that the O's haven't added any starting pitching in the offseason to sure up their major glaring weakness, I don't think you could call Tejada's team contenders. Unless Verducci is figuring that the Red Sox or Yankees aren't going to win about 100 games each I don't see how the O's are going to play any important role in the upcoming season other than spoiler.

#5 Berkman: This is an curious pick by Verducci. Why not Mark Prior, Pedro Martinez or Josh Beckett? Sure, Berkman is an excellent player, but we already know he's going to miss at least the first two months of the season after injuring himself playing flag football in the offseason. Are four months of Lance Berkman worth more to the Astros than six months of Mark Prior or Josh Beckett are to their teams? I'm not so sure. Or how about this: are four months of Lance Berkman worth more to the Astros than six months of Roger Clemens? I'd bet the Astros would rather have Clemens. In the article Verducci says that he put Berkman here because of the Astros loss of Kent and Beltran. That makes sense in that with the defection of those two guys Berkman becomes the de facto most important offensive player on the Houston roster. Maybe it's just me, but I think the Astros are headed to a clear third place finish this season with Berkman or without him, so in that vein I wouldn't have Berkman anywhere near the top five most indispensable players. Roger Clemens or Roy Oswalt would make a better argument, but not Berkman.

I won't bother coming up with my five MIP but here are some names that I think Verducci missed on: Jake Peavey, Tim Hudson, JD Drew, Pedro Martinez, Bobby Abreu, Barry Zito, Josh Beckett, Mark Teixera, Mark Buehrle. All these guys are going to play major roles in deciding where their respective teams will finish this upcoming season. To me, I'd put all of these guys above the last three that Verducci mentions.

Thanks for reading.

No comments: