It was an interesting weekend, blog-wise.
Usually -- as you've probably noticed -- not much happens here on the weekend. But, late Friday night, Tyler Kepner shot off a Tweet that shocked me, just a little bit. So I wrote something about it, and then so did Joe Posnanski and Scott Ham and Jonah Keri and God knows who all else. Mike Silva, who usually makes a fair amount of sense, responded to my post with a fair amount of nonsense (IMHO, of course).
Like I said, it was an interesting weekend. And I'm sure I saw just a small percentage of the electrons that have already been spilled on this subject, all because Mark Teixeira hit a big homer Friday night and Tyler was in Seattle to see it.
Anyway, I want to review some of the arguments that have since been made for Teixeira. My favorite -- and I swear on a stack of Baseball Encyclopedias that I'm not making this up -- has to be this one: "Sure, Mauer's the best hitter in the league. But it's not a best hitter award; it's a most valuable player award."
Which might be a compelling argument, if Mauer was a first baseman and Teixeira was a catcher. If Mauer was a first baseman and Teixeira was a catcher, then Teixeira's big edge in defensive value might well balance Mauer's big edge as a hitter. But they're not, in fact they're exactly the opposite of those things. Mauer's got a big edge as a hitter and as a defender.
How big is that latter edge? Hard to say. Our friends at FanGraphs don't even try to measure a catcher's defense, other than giving each catcher one standard adjustment. Mauer gets 3.5 "extra" runs for being a catcher, while Teixeira "loses" 8.8 runs merely for being a first baseman. The principle -- as I hope you and Tyler Kepner and Mike Silva and everyone else already know -- is that it's significantly easier to find a first baseman who can hit, than a catcher. Quite simply, if you have a catcher and a first baseman who hit the same and play average defense at their positions, the catcher is obviously more valuable than the first baseman. I mean, this is basic stuff.
In Kepner's post, he did backtrack some, and it's probably not fair to hold someone accountable for a late-night Tweet that was, by law, limited to 140 characters. But he does continue to make the case for Tex:
- Teixeira is the most productive player on the team with baseball's best record. He leads the league in total bases and extra-base hits. He won two games in June with his base running (June 2, with a takeout slide, and June 12, after Luis Castillo's dropped pop-up), and his defense has been off the charts.
Before we review Kepner's thoughts on Tex's off-the-charts defense, I want to address those "two games in June." ... Look, I don't doubt that Teixeira's baserunning was helpful. It's really not accurate to say he won those games, because he probably got some help from his teammates. But, OK: Let's allow that Teixeira has done some winning things that might not show up in box scores. Should we not assume that Joe Mauer and the other candidates have done some nice, non-box-scorey things, too?
The quickest way to end a discussion is to say, "Well, you just have to see him play every day, and then you'd know what I mean." Well, OK (again). ... But I'm not going to see him play every day. And if you have seen Teixeira play every day, I'll bet dollars to doughnuts that you haven't seen Mauer or Evan Longoria or Ben Zobrist play every day.
Which isn't to suggest that those two games in June don't have a place in the discussion. They do. What concerns me is that we only get to hear a part of the discussion. Once an MVP ball gets rolling, there often isn't room in the discussion for what some other guy might have done in July, or another in August. It's all about those two games in June and before you know it, the voters are adding those two games, those two wins, atop the games we know Teixeira won (which currently sits at roughly four, on the season).
Continuing with Kepner's post:
- I say off the charts because I'm convinced there is no chart that accurately measures defense. The attempt is a noble one; defense is easily the most underrated ingredient in how games are won. But I don't fully accept it.
People often cite Ultimate Zone Rating, a metric that tries to measure range and errors and how they affect runs allowed or prevented. But how can that statistic be valid when it says Teixeria has had a negative defensive impact?
Teixeira makes tremendous plays every game. He smothers everything near him, and his throwing arm is fantastic. Maybe he seems better than he is because the previous Yankees first baseman, Jason Giambi, was so adventurous in the field. But it would be hard to overstate the importance of Teixeira's defense.
Hey, maybe the numbers are wrong. It happens. I will say this, though: If you're going to completely dismiss Ultimate Zone Rating when it comes to Teixeira, just because you watch him play and you think the method doesn't work for him, then you're not allowed to employ UZR in any other argument you might someday make. You don't, for example, get to write next month, "Derek Jeter's been declining for years but this year he's been reborn as a shortstop; just look at his Ultimate Zone Rating!" You don't get to do that. If you're going to utterly dismiss an analytical method when your eyes tell you it's busted, then you should never trust it. UZR is dead to you.
You know what, though? All this jazz about defense is sort of irrelevant. UZR-wise, the best first baseman in the majors this season has been Casey Kotchman, who's been worth about seven extra runs per 150 games. Let's say UZR wildly underestimates the impact of a first baseman. Let's say it's actually 10 runs, and let's further suppose that the best first baseman in the majors isn't Casey Kotchman, but is actually Mark Teixeira. He's the obvious Gold Glove winner, the best in the universe. His defense is worth 10 extra runs.
Well, that would make him about five wins better than a replacement-level player. Right on par with his teammate, Derek Jeter. And still behind Joe Mauer, Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria.
You know what? Let's just be honest. The argument for Teixeira is an argument for doing it the way it's always been done. Teixeira is just another big RBI guy on a team with a great record. If he were a Twin and Mauer were a Yankee, Teixeira would hardly be an afterthought.
Some of you are OK with that. I'm not. But let's at least be honest about the thing. It's not about defense or baserunning or chemistry or any
of that. It's about driving in the most runs for the best team.
P.S. All the way to the end, and I haven't even mentioned Teixeira's massive home/road splits. You should check them out, though.