Mauer was the better choice for AL MVP

November, 18, 2008
Yesterday, I handed off the NL MVP preview to Joe Strauss in St. Louis. Today it's Joe McDonald in Providence with the AL:

    At 2 p.m. today the American League Most Valuable Player Award will be announced.

    To save everyone the trouble of waiting, let's just say who it's going to be right now.

    Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia will be named MVP. It's not like we have some inside information to prematurely make the announcement, it's just so obvious he is the league's most valuable.

    Whether the voters from the Baseball Writers' Association of America select Pedroia as the A.L. MVP, he had an MVP-like season. If he did not produce in such a manner, the Red Sox do not have the success they enjoyed and the club does not reach the playoffs.

    That's how you should judge the MVP.


    He's a unique player, one who plays the game right every single day. He wants to win and because of that the Red Sox do win. He's a good hitter who becomes a great hitter in big situations. He's a good base runner who becomes very good in key spots.

    Defensively, there aren't many balls that get by him. Actually, he's probably helped the Red Sox win more games with his glove than his bat.

Unique? From

    u-nique -adjective 1. existing as the only one or as the sole example; single; solitary in type or characteristics: a unique copy of an ancient manuscript.

    2. having no like or equal; unparalleled; incomparable: Bach was unique in his handling of counterpoint.

Aside from his height, there's nothing unique about Dustin Pedroia. Unusual: yes. Unique: no. Chase Utley plays the game right, and is a better hitter and a better fielder than Pedroia. Utley stole 14 bases this season, and was caught twice. Pedroia stole 20 bases, and was caught once. I'm sorry, but one steal per month just doesn't contribute much to uniqueness.

Clutch hitting? Pedroia's career numbers in the clutch are nothing special.

The Red Sox wouldn't have reached the playoffs without Pedroia? That's a mighty tough case to make. At season's end, the Red Sox owned a six-game lead over the Yankees in the wild-card standings. I dare say that even if Dustin Pedroia had never been born, the Red Sox would still have finished ahead of the Yankees in 2008. (And if it's really Pedroia's pure force of will that's driving the Red Sox to win, then they won't have to worry about retaining Jason Varitek. Might as well measure Pedroia for that captain's C right now!)

It's not so obvious that Pedroia was the American League's Most Valuable Player. He didn't do anything that Chase Utley didn't do, and Utley finished 14th in the National League's MVP balloting.

Which isn't to suggest that Pedroia wasn't an outstanding MVP candidate. This was an odd year in the American League. Of the four postseason teams, three -- every team but the Red Sox -- simply lacked a viable candidate. Chicago's Carlos Quentin quite probably would have won the award if he hadn't missed the last five weeks of the season. But he did, which left only Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis among those in the playoff money. There's really not a great deal to choose from between them. If you value hitting most of all, Youkilis is your man. If you value the other things, it's Pedroia.

On the other hand, if you value players who missed the postseason, there were other fine candidates, particularly Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. And their team just missed the postseason; in fact, I suspect that a fair number of MVP voters completed their ballots before the Twins lost to the White Sox in their one-game playoff for the Central flag.

We know that Joe McDonald was right: Pedroia did win, and convincingly. While he didn't significantly outpoint runner-up Justin Morneau, he did pick up 16 first-place votes compared to only seven for Morneau. That's apparently the difference between making the playoffs and not making the playoffs.

But now I want to make the case for my choice: Joe Mauer.

This season Mauer became the first catcher in major league history to win two batting titles. He finished second in the American League in on-base percentage. He won a Gold Glove. Measured by Baseball Prospectus' Wins Above Replacement Player (which considers defense), Mauer finished a close second to Pedroia. Measured by Bill James' Win Shares (which also considers defense, along with clutch hitting), Mauer finished first in the American League, with Pedroia a couple of wins behind. Measured by Win Probability Added (no defense, but clutch hitting especially), Mauer finished first in the league, with Pedroia eighth.

None of these things can tell us everything we need to know, but I'm willing to say that Joe Mauer was one of the three best players in the American League, and that Dustin Pedroia might have been.

What I'm not willing to say -- what I'll probably never be willing to say -- is that Joe Mauer deserved to finish behind Justin Morneau in the MVP balloting again. Two years ago, there was virtually no evidence that Morneau was more valuable than Mauer, yet Morneau finished first and Mauer finished sixth. This year, there is virtually no evidence that Morneau was more valuable than Mauer, and yet Morneau finished second and Mauer finished fourth.

Maybe that's a sign of progress. But for as long as I've been doing this, I've been told that I don't see enough games, that I don't know what it really takes to win, that I don't appreciate the little things that don't show up in the box scores.

And for as long as I've been doing this, every time the MVP voters have a choice between the guy with the power stats and the guy who does the little things, they pick the guy with the big numbers.

Pedroia isn't a poor choice, and I believe that even if the Twins had won that playoff game, Pedroia still would have won the award. There was just never any buzz, at any point in the season, surrounding Morneau or Mauer. You might recall the spate of stories about Youkilis early in the season, when he was batting well over .300 and driving in scads of runs. But that buzz died, and it never came back in the second half as he just kept plugging along, batting in the .310-.320 range throughout. Meanwhile, Pedroia got off to a great start, went through a rough patch in early June, but started hitting in the middle of that month and never really stopped. Beginning on Aug. 22, Pedroia hit five homers and drove in 18 runs in 12 games. And though he didn't hit a single home run after the third of September, that power-packed two-week stretch stuck in the voters' heads and was probably the decisive factor in the voting.


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