Thursday, November 20, 2008

Dustin Pedroia Is Weak...And a Totally Reasonable 2008 AL MVP

The parrot is like the pheasant to those who have nothing. - Jules Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

That is exactly what Dustin Pedroia is - a parrot turned pheasant amongst the comparable nothingness of the 2008 American League Most Valuable Player race. Consider the statistics of the four top candidates:

Justin Morneau 163 623 97 187 47 23 129 76 85 0.374 0.499 0.300
Kevin Youklis 145 538 91 168 43 29 115 62 108 0.390 0.569 0.312
Carlos Quentin 130 480 96 138 26 36 100 66 80 0.394 0.571 0.288
Dustin Pedroia 157 653 118 213 54 17 83 50 52 0.376 0.493 0.326

Pedroia is woefully behind in the power numbers while actually having a lower on-base percentage than both Youklis and Quentin. Yes, he blew the others away as far as runs scored, but that's because he sat atop the Boston Red Sox lineup and was on-base a lot. The problem is that Quentin and Youklis reached base at a higher rate and Morneau only trailed by .002.

In other words, put any of those players in Pedroia's spot and they're gonna score those runs. Maybe not exactly since Pedroia's faster than the others, but it would be close.

So it comes down to Dustin's average, stolen bases (he had 20 while the others were led by Quentin's seven), doubles, and dearth of strikeouts. For the stat-heads out there, those four categories have to make up for his considerable deficiencies in runs batted in, homeruns, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage.

They don't. Pedroia's four strengths are simply not as valuable as the strengths of the other candidates.

But I'm not a pure stat guy, so let's look at Dustin Pedroia's qualitative argument for AL MVP.

People will tell you he was the engine that made the Red Sox go. That may be true, but they are the Boston Red Sox. They had Youklis. They had Jason Varitek (remember this is qualitative not quantitative). They had David Ortiz. Jacoby Ellsbury. Josh Beckett. Daisuke Matsuzaka. Jonathan Papelbon. J.D. Drew. Mike Lowell.

They had Manny Ramirez for almost 70 percent of the season and Jason Bay for the rest.

Do you see what I'm driving at?

The voters just handed the MVP to a guy on a team with a payroll in excess of $133 million. That kind of paper affords a lot of engines. Yet the voters felt the Most Valuable Player was somewhere amongst all that horsepower. Despite Boston's inability to turn it into even a division crown. Despite being vanquished by a squad with almost $100 million less under the hood.

They just handed the MVP to a guy who wasn't even clearly the most valuable player on a team that grossly underachieved.

And don't give me that injury tripe.

So what Ortiz was hurt. So what Becket was hurt. So what Curt Schilling never took the field. What about Carl Crawford? What about Troy Percival? What about Evan Longoria?

As for his defense, Pedroia's a second baseman. He's not a shortstop or a catcher or a third basemen. Shoot, a centerfielder might arguably be more important than a second-sacker in the pro game. The truth is, 2B is the easiest position in the infield. It's the shortest throw, there's not the same imperative/pressure to field balls cleanly because of your proximity to first base, and you usually get easier/fewer chances since the majority of pro hitters are right-handed i.e. 2B is less frequently the pull-side.

Granted, it's still more valuable than most corner outfielders and maybe more important than a centerfielder just because it's marginally more difficult.

But it is definitely no more important than a first or third baseman. Just look at Little League.

Where does the best player go? Shortstop. Then they radiate out depending on more specific strengths and weaknesses. The first tier goes in the infield because it's harder to field a bouncing ball than a flying one and the infield sees more action: slow but good arm = catcher; less range but can field = 3B; can catch and left-handed or a big target = 1B; and the kid who's left standing when the music stops lands at second.

Then you put your fastest kid who can catch in centerfield, hope you have one more who can catch to stick in left, and then put a live body in right.

Since the athletes are elite at the Major League level, the distinctions become blurred yet the basic principles remain (although the live body switches to left since you need a good arm in right).

With that in mind, Morneau is (from what little I've seen) a very good first baseman and Youklis was particularly valuable on defense because he could switch between third or first without losing much leather. So maybe Pedroia can use defense to make up some ground between him and Carlos, but not the other two.

No, in my opinion, Dustin Pedroia was obviously the weakest of the four candidates.

Except that the above is a hatchet job. I emphasized and explored his major flaws while glossing over his strengths. I could written the same thing with any of the others (off the top of my head):

Morneau - the Twinkies faltered badly down the stretch and he had Joe Mauer for support
Quentin - totally missed the stretch run with a self-inflicted injury
Youklis - essentially the above argument against Pedroia except emphasize different stats

And that's why I don't understand all the articles I've seen vehemently attacking Pedroia's victory.

Look, I would hate the Boston Red Sox if I could. Unfortunately, I only allow myself to hate one sports team and I have currently bestowed that honor upon Notre Dame football. Consequently, I can only intensely dislike the Red Sox.

If there's ever a legitimate reason to skewer the organization or its players, I'll be the first in line. This just isn't one of them.

Sure, Pedroia's candidacy was seriously flawed. They all were.

I think Quentin should have won because the White Sox flailed without him and only made the playoffs because Minnesota flailed a bit worse. But one of the few explicit criteria for the award is games played and Carlos trailed significantly in that category.

How can I really be outraged that he lost? And the same can be said for all the candidates.

So maybe the voters chose Dustin Pedroia because they felt he was the most valuable player. Or maybe because he was very good and plays the game the right way. Or maybe they picked the little guy because most sportswriters were picked last for kickball in gym class and found themselves in a position to exact some measure of metaphorical revenge.

Or maybe because the media sees dollar signs instead of Red Sox.

The point is, without an obvious winner, does it really matter?

There has only been one real miscarriage of justice during MVP voting that I can remember and that was in 2000. Jeff Kent won the award that year because the media hated Barry Bonds. That would have been fine if the race were close, but it wasn't. Kent's value was predicated upon Bonds' i.e. take Bonds away and Kent's value would have plummeted, take Kent away and Bonds' value wouldn't have changed much.

That was obvious to anyone who watched that team. It was criminal that the voters chose to ignore that fact because it showed that, what looked like a close race, was actually a landslide in Bonds' favor.

But the subtle differences in this case don't have that profound effect.

So let Dustin Pedroia and the voters have their moment. Or tell you kids to start throwing their next generation a pity pick in gym.

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