Monday, October 20, 2008

Are the MVP Voters All Stoned?

Matt Garza was the American League Championship Series' Most Valuable Player? Really?

Who votes for these awards?

I understand that Garza pitched an amazing game and won Game Seven. But look at that sentence. Two words should jump out at you: 'an' and 'seven.' As in one game of seven. So it was the last game, so what?

Am I the only one who thinks it's ridiculous that these people have no capacity for memory beyond the last 24 hours?

Readers can accuse me of beating a dead horse because this column is essentially a distorted echo of the one I wrote about Chase Utley and Cole Hamels in the Senior Circuit. I can't really mount a defense except to say that I'm consistent.

And it gives you a chance to call me an idiot again. Yahtzee!

At first blush, the MVP voting for the ALCS doesn't seem like a miscarriage of justice on the same scale as that in the NL.

It seems like no single everyday player on the Tampa Bay Rays out-performed the competition.

It seems like no pitcher besides Garza made significant and consistent contributions.

Whereas Chase blew the other Philly everyday players away, there were several Rays who made a strong case for the award. Whereas Hamels had help from Brad Lidge, Garza's mound looked like a deserted island.

An overabundance devalues each individual's contribution while scarcity drives it up. And that seems to be the case here. But look closer.

Starting with the statistics:

Upton: .321 average, .394 on-base percentage, .786 slugging percentage, 1.180 OPS, four homeruns, 11 RBI, eight runs, two steals without being caught, and stellar defense in centerfield.

Longoria: .259 average (that hurts him and, by association, Upton); .333 OBP, .815 slugging, 1.148 OPS, four homeruns, eight RBI, eight runs, 3 doubles, and good defense at third base.

Garza: 14 innings pitched, two wins, 14 strikeouts, eight hits, six walks, a homerun, a .278 opponents' batting average, a 1.38 earned run average, and surprisingly important defense from the mound.

All three make a very persuasive numerical argument for the award. Once again, it's helpful to look beyond the cold, hard stuff. I'll focus on the games the Rays won.

The importance of Game Two cannot be understated.

Remember, the Rays were already down 1-0 to the defending champs. They had fought back from several early deficits, taken two leads, and watched both slip away. They were in extra innings staring at the prospect of a loss that would drop them into a 2-0 hole and send them off to recover in Fenway (not known for its restorative effects on the opposition). This was a game a veteran team would have required and the Rays rely heavily on babies.

When they won in walk-off fashion, it catapulted them to an ultimately insurmountable 3-1 series lead; both Upton and Longoria figured prominently.

Bossman Junior was the star. He hit the game-winning sacrifice fly to win the 11 inning affair. In his first at-bat during the third inning, he hit a game-tying bomb off Josh Beckett to immediately answer Dustin Pedroia's shot. He walked in the fifth, stole second, and scored from that base on a single to tie the game. This after Boston had rallied for three runs to take the lead in the top half.

Longoria played a strong supporting role. After Boston jumped out to two-run first inning lead, he returned fire with a game-tying two-run bomb off Beckett. He doubled in the third to drive in the go-ahead run after Upton matched Pedroia's solo shot to tie the game. He was good; Upton was better.

Game Three was a largely unspectacular affair because it was a blow-out early.

However, that makes it significant because this was Garza's first win. He pitched well (six IP, six hits, three walks, five Ks, one ER), but was working with a five-run lead before he saw the lineup a second time. And it's worth mentioning that his performance was shaky until receiving that cushion.

Meanwhile, Upton contributed by blowing the game open in the third inning with a three-run homer. Longoria did his share as well. He walked and came around to score the first run of the game. He also added a long fly, following Upton's tater in the third with a solo shot of his own and pushing the lead to five.

Game Four was another romp for the Rays on which Upton and Longoria placed their stamps.

Upton walked in the first, stole second, and scored the game's first run on Pena's big fly. Longoria followed Pena with a back-to-back shot that gave the Rays a three-run lead, which they never relinquished. That homerun set a rookie record for gofer balls in the postseason. Both players drove in runs when the Rays put the game away in the five-run sixth.

Game Seven is obviously where Garza won the award.

He pitched seven spectacular innings and shut down a Boston team that was streaking towards another improbably comeback. His right arm held at bay the demons of history while allowing only two hits, three walks, and a solo homerun in the first inning. He fanned nine and worked the entire night without a net. Not to mention the whole "trip-to-the-World-Series" thing that hung in the balance.

Neither Upton nor Longoria helped his case, combining to go 1-7 with a double and an RBI. True, Longoria hit that double and the RBI was the first run of the game. Still, voters clearly had this game in mind when throwing their support behind Garza.

And it makes as little sense as the groupthink that carried Hamels to the award.

If you look at the whole series - series that lasted seven games - Matt Garza appeared in two games. He was unremarkable in his first appearance and spectacular in his last one. In between, Upton and Longoria took turns leading the Rays to wins, but Upton was the more consistent of the two (and Longoria had a couple costly errors in the losses) and had the biggest moment of the series (sac fly in Game Two).

Yet Upton went 0-4 in Game Seven while Garza was blowing up the voters' skirts.

And Garza got the award because his most glamorous performance was freshest in the voters' minds.

Which is just stupid. I'm sorry.

Game Seven seems more important because it gets the high-powered microscope treatment from fans and the media. But you have to win three games just to get there. Yes, a great performance in the deciding game should carry more weight because of the insane pressure. However, to give an award that covers seven games based on the performance in one, just because it is the last game, is pathetically short-sighted and plain dumb.

For those of you who would argue that Garza deserved the award for standing alone while Upton got help from Longoria (and others), I would agree. Except for one last trump card: the left arm of young David Price.

Price made three appearances, got the Rays first win of the series, closed out the clincher, surrendered no hits or runs, and recorded four of his seven outs via the whiff. He righted the ship known as the Tampa Bay bullpen, which had been taking on serious water the whole series and was threatening to turtle after blowing that seven-run lead.

He did all of this despite 14 innings of Major League experience. Despite working in alien territory; he was a collegiate starter and assumed that role in the minors.

Yes, it only covered seven batters.

But if Garza's seven great innings and six good ones add up to more value than Upton's 65 innings of excellence, how can you dismiss Price's near perfection in huge but short doses?

The answer is laziness.

If you factor in Price's performance, it diminishes Garza's. And that means going through the rigorous scientific analysis above.

On the other hand, if you succumb to the hype, there's no need. You can simply convince yourself that a great performance under the do-or-die atmosphere is all that matters.

You can convince yourself the MVP of that game is the MVP of the other six.

You can forget that there were three other wins.

You can forget that a sacrifice fly may have been the only thing that saved the Rays from a sweep.

You can forget that it is your job to watch and remember two weeks of compelling baseball.

You can forget everything except Matt Garza and seven scintillating innings.

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